1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 9_KZN

Platberg Pilgrimage

Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking okes fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .

– a rhino rally – I think –

. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.

– shembe buses and cars – 95 Stuart Street in the circle – our house 1960 to 1973 –

In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’

Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions’; He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself’;

The call of Isaiah Shembe to his life’s vocation can be traced back to an experience at Ntabazwe Mountain in Harrismith. The mountain is also called Platberg in Afrikaans, meaning ‘Flat Mountain;’ and Thabantsho in seSotho, Black Mountain. Earlier he was on a farm (near) Witzieshoek in the Harrismith district; and then he moved to the land on the outskirts of Harrismith, (near) the mountain of Ntabazwe. Here Shembe experienced several revelations as a young boy, and it was through the means of lightning that he received his call.

When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God’, he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!

Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing. In 1913 Shembe visited Nhlangakazi Mountain which became the movement’s holy mountain. At Nhlangakazi he was told by the Holy Spirit to form his own church. This place later became his place of annual pilgrimage every first Sunday of the year.

The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910; It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Free State), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KwaZulu (Natal).

In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his biography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms: his bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. In it, Dube alleged that Shembe was in fact overtaxing rentals; that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church; that he was extorting money from members as he payed lobola for young girls whom he married; and that he was corrupt and exploitative Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer! Hey! You know that book my father asked his friend, uMfundisi Dube to write? Don’t Read It!

A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans’. This rationale, explicitly verbalised or implicitly assumed, has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission churches. History shows that this initial discontent has continued to plague these church formations after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.

So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . not a national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. Like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions. As with all human endeavours, greed is always a factor.

So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? Don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.

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hagiography – biography of exaggerated, uncritical praise, usually of a religious person; I had to look that up;

Pippin Oosthuizens’ THEOLOGY OF THE AMA-NAZARITES WRITTEN AT THE REQUEST OF THE RIGHT REVEREND LONDA NSIKA SHEMBE – BY G. C. OOSTHUIZEN

Magnus Echtler’s Shembe is the Way: The Nazareth Baptist Church in the Religious Field and in Academic Discourse

Lucky Dube’s song ‘RESPECT’

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1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family

The Mass Choir Amasses

A large gathering of the Goor Koor – that assembly of happy inebriates led and accompanied by virtual-teetotaller Mary Methodist, our Mom, gathered together – assembled, amassed – on the occasion of Mom’s 45th birthday. Usually there were far fewer of them gathered at any one time, an occasional Lubricated Quartet perhaps, but this was a special occasion!

And Sheila – thanks goodness! – took pictures. She was in matric at the time, I was in Oklahoma, Barbara in Pietermaritzburg.

– Joyce Joubert; Marie Roux peeping out; Isobel Kemp; Stella Fyvie; Mary the birthday girl, wearing specs, grog in hand; Mary Wessels; Martie Dreyer; Baby Mandy; Annemarie van Wyk –

. . and here – precious picture! – Mary at the keyboard and Hugo Wessels right there, ready to belt out a number! Two very talented people, 45 years old, who were in matric together in 1945. And this fun gathering happened 45 years ago, as Mom is now 90! I think all my stats are right . . .

– in earlier years my ear would be near the floor right outside that door behind Hugo – listening in fascination –
– Dina de Kock; Hester Schreiber; Koekie de Bruyn; Hugo Wessels; Hannes van Wyk; Jack Kemp; Pierre Roux; Hector Fyvie; Steve Schreiber; Dad; Bennie Dreyer; Joyce Joubert Isobel Kemp; Stella Fyvie: Anna-Marie van Wyk –

Wonderful memories of crawling down the long passage to get nearer to the sound of Mom playing the piano; Also of sundry ‘choir members’ over the years, belting out popular songs with high enthusiasm and various degrees of talent. If spotted by any of the choir it would be ‘Hello Kosie!’ – if spotted by Mom or Dad it would be ‘Get back to bed!’

Also memories of the smell of ash trays! Always plenty of ash trays. Ours were from tyre companies, so they were glass inside miniature Dunlop or Goodyear tyres!

– I couldnt find one overflowing with butts and ash! –

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Goor Koor – Dire Choir

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– 45yrs later here’s Mary, still beautifully at it –

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1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 9_KZN, sport

Conquering of the Boers, 2018

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

See this report – reproduced below – of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament last year.

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Conquering of the Boers

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace

London, England

4th June 2018

Our dearest and beloved Queen,

After the marriage of Prince Harry to Ms Megan Markle, I wish to convey further good news to you, and to the rest of your Royal family.

As your military attaché in Africa, it gives me great pleasure to advise that the Boers have been conquered at the battle of Harrismith which took place on the 2nd & 3rd June 2018. The white flag of surrender was raised by General Hamman, at 13h00 on this historical day for your universal British Empire.

During my lengthy military career I have never witnessed a display of such loyalty and courage, as shown by your troops in this bloody battle. Your forces received only a few minor scratches and bruises, while the Boer field hospital has called for additional nursing staff, surgeons and even psychiatrists to treat their mentally scarred soldiers. There were no fatalities.

Your Majesty will also be most pleased to hear that during the cease-fire period, as declared by Chief Justice Lord George Galloway, the British and Boer troops were treated to an elaborate Royal Banquet. At this very grand occasion, the soldiers from both sides mingled and socialized well. In some cases, too well! This developing inter-continental relationship seems to be getting stronger, despite the humiliating defeat dealt out to the Boers.

On a personal note, please pass on my fondest greetings to my old friend Prince Phillip. I trust he is enjoying his retirement.

I await your instructions regarding any further military operations required .

Your loyal Military Attaché,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

– The Field Marshal tall, left of middle – Venning in jacket and tie next to his ossewa –
– Jelliman in the mid-background, most of his hair on his upper lip –

After the 2017 tournament Field Marshall Russell VC’s report to Her Majesty, Mev Queen had been far more tragic . . . and despondent.

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lekker – romantic

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; lager, ale, bitters

boerewors – sausage; and like laws, you may not want to know how it’s made – based on a quote by: John Godfrey Saxe American poet

moer-en-soek – golf as prescribed by the Royal and Ancient, which only frowned on women membership for the first 260 years, kindly allowing them in after that cooling-down period

boere musiek – noise emitted by farm implements called ‘constant screamers’ and ‘pull pianos’

volkspele – dance in which you can grip your meisie in a dominee-approved manner

meisie – lass

dominee – veld pope; village vicar

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 5_Army days, 8_Nostalgia, sport

Conquered by the Boers, 2017

Harrismith is still a lekker dorp thanks to some hard-drinking maniacs that hang out there, bitter-einders clinging to life behind the boerewors curtain.

Here’s a dispatch to Mev Queen on the result of a highly important, highly competitive Boer War re-enactment golf – or moer-en-soek – tournament in 2017. It did not go well.

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“Boer War” Defeat – 2017 – Letter to the Queen

Her Majesty The Queen

Buckingham Palace,  London, England

5th June, 2017

Our Dearest & Beloved Queen,

It is with deep regret that I inform you that your courageous soldiers have been severely defeated, at the hands of the Boers, at the battle of Harrismith on 3rd & 4th June 2017.

Although there were no fatalities, the Boer Commando, led by General Wessel Hamman, showed immense bravery, superior marksmanship, and deft field skills in the heat of battle. Your loyal soldiers raised the white flag of surrender at 12 noon on this bloody Sunday.

The Royal Medical team of nurses, led by Sister Mandy Pollock on Spionkop, are still very busy treating your loyal and wounded troops. The most severe and common treatments, were for the after effects of the toxic Boer medicine ‘Mampoer’. All your troops are showing signs of making a full recovery. I would recommend that our soldiers be shipped back to London, and returned to Her Majesty’s Military Academy, Sandhurst, for further instruction in the skills of warfare.

Apart from this humiliating defeat, I have pleasure in advising Her Majesty, that your troops have been well treated by the Boer Commandos, and have enhanced the tattered relationship that existed between the Boer Republic and the British Empire. Our soldiers and their spouses were treated to a Royal Gala dinner, featuring a clash of British & Boer cuisine, expertly prepared by Afrikaner chefs, Anel Bekker & Lizet Du Plessis. Your troops were further entertained by guest speakers. Nick Leslie spoke eloquently about previous battles, and the bravery of both the Boer and British forces. Dr Braam Joubert, from The Orange Free State, added a good deal of humour to this illustrious occasion. It was a grand banquet indeed!

There was a fly-past, performed by a Royal Airforce squadron of fighter aircraft, led by Flight Commander Sir Gareth Pollock (MBE). The Boers entertained our troops with “Boere Musiek” and “Volkspele” dancers and singers. Our own Captain Venning (OBE), joined in to demonstrate the British version of these Boer dance moves.

In order to commemorate this battle, and to remind future generations to further develop Anglo Boer relationships in Harrismith, Captain Venning (OBE) has donated a perfectly “in-scale” model of an ox-wagon. I wish to appeal to you to consider rewarding Capt. Venning at Your Majesty’s Birthday Honours ceremony. (with some more alphabets?)

Other candidates to receive your Majesty’s recognition at this ceremony should include Major Gert van Tonder, who chose to enlist in Her Majesty’s Army, and then donated the battle dress to all the foot soldiers. There were others who have not only enlisted in your forces, but have made considerable contributions to this historical battle. These include Private George Galloway and the Scottish piper, Dr. Martin Reeve, who certainly stirred up the patriotic emotions of your troops. I respectfully recommend that the following be granted British citizenship with immediate effect, Dries Lategan, Steve Niewoudt, Justin van Tonder, and Quintin König. I was going to request that Kobus Bester should also be granted British citizenship, but on second thoughts, your Empire could do without this rascal.

Many of your troops traveled from the Last Outpost of your Empire (Natal Colony), as well as from the Transvaal Goldfields, in order to fight this battle. They too, should receive your recognition. These include Craig Surmon, Gary Bellars, Andrew Miller, Reggie Jelliman, Richard Butcher, Wayne Warburton, Gavin Scholefield and Chris Smith. I would sincerely appreciate your kind consideration of the above. Mark Bebington also answered your call to take up arms, and should be given Royal recognition.

I am under the impression that your troops are enjoying the warm sun in Africa, and may wish not to return to your United Kingdom. Perhaps Your Majesty could tempt them to return, with the lure of a “danger-pay” bonus, of a few Pounds Sterling.

I await your further instructions.

Your humble military servant,

Field Marshall Mark Russell VC

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lekker – respectable

bitter-einders – to the bitter end; last to leave the pub

boerewors – secret sausage; used in hide-the-sausage games in bedrooms in the colonies

moer-en-soek – pointless game administered by the ancient Scots and Americans, proving that it’s pointless

‘Mampoer’ – moonshine liquor; anything distilled illegally; high octane rating

Mev Queen – that small tannie who wears the funny hats; the one with the rude Greek husband who crashes cars

tannie – auntie

1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, Family, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Caltex Calenders

Annie had a Caltex garage. Louis Schoeman traveled for Caltex. Between 1962 and 1971 Caltex gave cloth wildlife calenders as their gift to their filling station owners.

Dad says Louis would ‘forget’ to hand them out and he would demand to see what was in his boot. And there, ‘along with the sheep shit’ were the calenders!

– nothing on the internet about BK Dugdale –
1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 7_Confessions, 8_Nostalgia, 9_KZN, Family, travel

New Country, New Identity

I was reading about Andrew Geddes Bain, geologist, road engineer, palaeontologist and explorer in the Cape up to 1864, and his son Thomas Charles Bain, road engineer in the Cape up to 1888, when it suddenly struck me!

First, let’s see what these two very capable men achieved: Andrew Geddes Bain built eight mountain passes, including the famous Bain’s Kloof Pass, which opened up the route to the interior from Cape Town. And he had thirteen children. His son Thomas Charles Bain built nineteen passes! His crowning glory was the Swartberg Pass that connects Oudtshoorn in the Little Karoo with Prince Albert beyond the Swartberg mountains in the open plains of the Great Karoo. And he had thirteen children.

And I suddenly knew exactly what happened when my Great-Grandfather Stewart Bain and his brother James Bain got off the ship in Durban in 1880. They were fishermen from the tiny fishing village of Wick, in the far north-eastern corner of Scotland, used to being ‘knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse.’

People in Durban asked them: ‘Bain? Are you the famous Bain road builders? We need road builders here. Can you build bridges too?’

And I know just what the brothers Bain said. ‘Roads? Och aye, we can build roads. And bridges? We can build them with one hand tied behind our back.’ The old ‘funny you should mention that! I happen to very good at it . . . ‘

And so they built the railway bridges between Ladysmith and Harrismith, learning as they went, ‘upskilling’, thus helping the railroad reach that wonderful picturesque town in the shadow of Platberg. This made them enough money to buy or build a hotel each, marry, have children – only seven and eight apiece, though – and become leading citizens of ve dorp.

Then one of the seven had two children; and one of those had me! And here I am.

  • edit: I wrote nine kids in the pic, but I think it was worse – only seven.

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Think I’m being unkind to Wick, village of my ancestors? Read what Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about it to his mother when he stayed there in 1868:

‘Certainly Wick in itself possesses no beauty: bare, grey shores, grim grey houses, grim grey sea; not even the gleam of red tiles; not even the greenness of a tree. The southerly heights, when I came here, were black with people, fishers waiting on wind and night. Now all the boats have beaten out of the bay, and the Wick men stay indoors or wrangle on the quays with dissatisfied fish-curers, knee-high in brine, mud, and herring refuse. The day when the boats put out to go home to the Hebrides, the girl here told me there was ‘a black wind’; and on going out, I found the epithet as justifiable as it was picturesque. A cold, BLACK southerly wind, with occasional rising showers of rain; it was a fine sight to see the boats beat out a-teeth of it. In Wick I have never heard any one greet his neighbour with the usual ‘Fine day’ or ‘Good morning.’ Both come shaking their heads, and both say, ‘Breezy, breezy!’ And such is the atrocious quality of the climate, that the remark is almost invariably justified by the fact. The streets are full of the Highland fishers, lubberly, stupid, inconceivably lazy and heavy to move. You bruise against them, tumble over them, elbow them against the wall — all to no purpose; they will not budge; and you are forced to leave the pavement every step.’

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Now read a sterling and spirited defence of our ancestral dorp by Janis Paterson – also a descendant of the Bains of Wick who read my post and reached for her quill (I have paraphrased somewhat):

Ya boo sucks to RLS! Robert Louis Stevenson, was a sickly child. His father and his uncles were engineers who built lighthouses all over Scotland. Robert was sent to Wick, likely to get involved in building a breakwater there with his Uncle. But he was more interested in writing stories and was just not cut out for this sort of work. I believe he was also ill while in Wick. The first attempt at building the breakwater was washed away during a storm and also the second attempt. The work was then abandoned. I therefore propose that Robert just didn’t want to be in Wick, was ill, fed up with the weather and just wanted to get away to concentrate on his writing. The Stevenson family must have been excellent engineers, as all the lighthouses are still standing. Did Robert also feel that he was a failure as an apprentice engineer?

Stick it to him, Janis! How dare he call Wick fishy? Or smelly!? Or breezy!?

Janis adds ‘Read this book review:’ ‘ . . .fourteen lighthouses dotting the Scottish coast were all built by the same Stevenson family that produced Robert Louis Stevenson, Scotland’s most famous novelist. Who, unlike the rest of his strong-willed, determined family, was certainly not up to the astonishing rigours of lighthouse building.’ Janis was right! 😉 All HE could do was scribble – like me . .

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1_Harrismith, 2_Free State / Vrystaat, 8_Nostalgia, school, Wildlife, Game Reserves

Our Mountain Burns

Once again Platberg is burning. Old school friends Noeline Bester and Annatjie Labuschagne sent these images.

Sure hope the Grey Rhebok and Mountain Reedbuck and Chacma Baboons that Koos Beukes and Pierre du Plessis tell me are still there, are OK.