You know that mansion Mal Jurie is building on his farm? It’s a harem!
A HAREM! A place where you keep lots of ladies in rooms and they lie around swimming and eating grapes and looking beautiful. When they do have clothes on its not clothes like your mother wears. He says he’s going to bring French dancers to his harem from the Moulin Rouge in Paris! A lot of French ladies in Harrismith in the Vrystaat!
Aag, man, You Lie!
No, I swear. He told me himself!
This is how an Urban Legend – in this case really a Rural Legend; or, as historian Leon Strachan calls them, a ‘Lieglegende’ – got started.
First of all, it’s true. Jurie Wessels DID say that. His neighbour wasn’t lying.
But what Jurie was really saying was ‘Leave Me Alone!’ ‘Los My Uit!’ ‘Mind your own Business.’
Jurie was a successful farmer, an intelligent, interested man, married to an outgoing and attractive woman and he was building her a home unlike any other in the district. His problem – his sin – the reason he was called Mal Jurie – was that he was an introverted and eccentric character. He didn’t ‘play by the rules.’ And for that you get punished in most communities, maybe more so in small communities. And Harrismith would have been no exception.
For starters, Jurie had brought his lovely engaging wife from far away. People didn’t know her mother and her grandmother. She was actively involved in the community, well liked, and often entertained; but still . . she was from far away. And also, often Jurie wasn’t at her gatherings, preferring to keep to himself, even when she entertained at home.
So when Jurie got Italian stone masons to start building a large sandstone structure on the edge of a hill above his ordinary homestead, overlooking the Wilge river valley and the west end of the dorp, the people started wondering . . and talking.
But it was when a consignment of beautiful and really big wooden windows and doors arrived from Italy at the Harrismith spoorwegstasie that the rumours started building and gathering momentum. From ITALY? Nothing from ITALY arrived at the Harrismith stasie! Where was Italy, anyway? This was weird! Just what WAS Mal Jurie up to? Here was evidence, not just skinner, that Mal Jurie was mal.
Well, he was actually building a beautiful home, but he didn’t want people sticking their nose in his business. People always asked too many questions! So when his neighbour asked, he deliberately gave what he probably thought would be an obvious exaggeration. And it would have been taken as just that, had his reclusive behaviour not made him ‘suspect’ – ‘different.’ And so the rumour – the legend – grew wings and became ‘the truth.’
My mother Mary grew up with one of his sons, Hugo. Hugo was a popular, good-looking and talented Harrismithian who would go on to qualify as a medical doctor, then come back to farm and practice medicine as a GP on the farm. He and Mom matriculated in the same class of 1945 and both did well in their exams. Here’s Mom on the piano and Hugo enjoying her playing and getting ready to sing at Mom’s 45th birthday party in 1973:
And here’s one of his sons, Max Wessels, who played rugby with me in primary school:
The beautiful new home never got finished. Jurie joined the 1914 rebellie – a rebellion against the government. He was angry – mad as hell – as were many others, that this blerrie government was joining the blerrie British to fight World War 1! Hadn’t the blerrie Engelse just been killing them a mere twelve years before? Hadn’t they locked up their women and children in concentration camps, starving them and killing them off through disease? Why the hell was South Africa fighting WITH those invaders who had ruined the country just a short decade ago, burning their houses and killing their livestock?
Building on his lovely home ceased. Today the impressive ruins of the home Jurie wanted to build for his wife still stand:
Thanks to Leon Strachan for keeping Harrismith’s history alive – and for the photos. For more and better info, read his book Blinkoog. He wrote four: Blafboom; Blinkoog; Botterbek and Bergburghers).
See this excellent blogpost by former Harrismithian Sandra Cronje, where she wrote a longer, better story with the help of Harrismith historian Leon Strachan – :