Big sister Barbara Swanepoel Tarr met Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the travelling rabbi, who I wrote about some time back. He very kindly gave her a book.
Barbara tells of her voyage of discovery looking up old Jewish friends. This post is snippets from a letter she wrote:
Many of the names and surnames have been mentioned to me in conversations over the years with my parents and some I knew personally and grew up with. We’re still lucky enough to be able to contact our folks, Pieter Swanepoel (98) and Mary Bland Swanepoel (92), who now live in Pietermaritzburg and still have amazingly good memories. They fill in the gaps with names and places and help make our history come alive.
In Harrismith, the Royal Hotel was built by my great grandfather Stewart Bain and was sold to Mr. Sookie Hellman; the Central Hotel was built by his brother James Bain and was sold to Mr. Randolph Stiller.
We lived in the Central Hotel for about three months in 1960. Mom and Dad had bought our first house in town – 95 Stuart Street, and were waiting for the tenant’s lease to expire. There we got to know the Stiller family (Isa was a young girl at school, I think) and Becky Kaplan, the receptionist. The Deborah Retief Gardens were our playing fields, under the watchful eye of Ted and Fanny Glick, sitting on their balcony in Van Sandwyk Flats No 1.
Fanny Glick and my grandmother Annie Bain Bland were the best of friends. Sunday afternoons these two characterful old dears would pick up the three Swanepoel kids in Annie’s big cream Chev and tootle down to the Park on the Wilge River. There we were each given a sixpence and left to our own devices at the round kiosk. ‘Glick’ and ‘Anna’ (that’s what they called one another) enjoyed tea and scones in the Chevy, and us three would swing, slide and no doubt fight on all the wonderful ‘things’ in the playground.
Around 2015 a bee flew into my bonnet, and I started looking for old Harrismith High School scholars. Finding Ivan and Brenda Katz in Joburg was a gem of a find; I also found another strong Harrismith sister, Adele Cohen.
In 1961 in Std 1, I received my first bicycle for Christmas – a blue Raleigh that kept me going to matric in 1970. I remember going into your Dad Eddie Cohen’s shop for a patch, a new tube, a bell or just to look around. All too soon, the three Swanepoel kids were finished with school and our bikes were no longer needed. Happily they became the property of new owners…the three Cohen kids.
Joy Kadey, your parents’ shop, Jack Kadey’s Jewellers, still stands and is very much alive. Now called Louis’ Jewellers. While the name has changed, very little else has changed in the shop and in the whole building, thanks to Louis Nel and his daughter Erika Nel du Plessis (the owner). She has managed to make time stand still in a little place of long ago. Absolutely worth a visit to this ‘lil ‘ol shoppe’ of our childhood. Erika and husband Pierre du Plessis live in Louis Green’s old home in Warden Street, which they have also restored beautifully. One of Harrismith’s magnificent old homes.
Other Jewish people from old Harrismith are Essie Rosenberg Lunz, John French (great nephew of Fanny Glick, who sent a Facebook link on the Harrismith Jewish Cemetery), David Babbin, son of Isaac and Joey Babbin from the Tickey Bazaar, where you could buy ‘everything.’ How I loved that shop! Walking in through the door took one into an amazing fairyland. Baskets of all sorts on the floor, glass compartments of sweets at mouth-watering eye level, and counters of ‘what you will,’ and everything that could hang was hanging …just ‘as you like it’…..it was all there!
Who knows more about this lovely story? Let me know!
Andrews Motel on van Reenens Pass was a well-known landmark to anyone who drove the busy N3 between Jo’burg and Durban. The unusual triangular, or pyramid- or ‘wigwam’ -shaped chalets were visible as you drove by.
Old Mr Andrews had retired to Harrismith and was now dying. He asked his GP, Mike v Niekerk to please scatter his ashes on top of Platberg.
When the time came, Mike took Mr Andrews’ nephew to the airstrip on 42nd Hill; clutching the little box he got into Mike’s plane; they took off circled, climbed and headed for the western end of nearby Platberg, that iconic mountain that most people who live in Harrismith claim as their own. When the time was right he signaled to the nephew to open the window and empty out the ashes as requested by the old man.
The nephew did; he opened the box; opened the window; and flicked out the ashes. Or tried to – they blew straight back into his face and all over the interior of the plane!
Mike turned and landed back at the strip – and said he spent the rest of the day spitting out Andrews Ashes!
Some of the ashes surely must have landed on top of Platberg though? As requested.
Here’s a great painting of the western end of Platberg – the end nearest the aerodrome – by Alan Kennedy, artist who grew up spending holidays with his uncle and aunt Leo and Heather Hilkovitz at magic Little Switzerland Hotel.
We should have been more biblical. Us Swanie kids should have listened in Sunday School and been a lot more faithfully Biblical.
Doesn’t the Bible say quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Obey Your Father’!? And Pieter Gerhardus said quite clearly and unambiguously, ‘Shoot Me When I Turn Sixty!’
We shoulda been obedient children.
Luckily for him (now aged 98) the Bible might also say ‘Obey Your Mother.’ Does it? Lemme check.
Yep. Ephesians 6 v1 – Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.
On the other hand, our disobedience (or mine, as a son) could have led to this:
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, . . . that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother (Ah, Mom woulda saved me) lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place . . . And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die . . . (Blimey! But God Loves ya! Eish!) – Deuteronomy Chapter 21 v18
We drove off the dirt road and onto a green hill, stopped the light blue Holden station wagon and walked up to the top of the low hill which ended in a steep cliff overlooking Natal down below. About 30m below us (I’d guess) was a nest, just as Robbie Sharratt had told Dad there would be, and on the nest was an eagle chick.
The main reason the ole man had taken his dearly beloved son on an outing was his new Canon FT QL SLR camera with a 200mm telephoto lens. It needed a subject, and there was the Black Eagle chick right there in the hot sun. Aquila verreauxii, now called Verreaux’s Eagle.
The way I recall it, we got pics of the nest and the chick, and a parent landed on or near the nest while we waited, but I could be imagining that part. Wonder where those pics are? I’d guess this was ca.1965 when I was ten years old.
If you’re writing an olden days blog you run out of material. Only so much happened from when I was born till I met Aitch, which is the timeline of this blog. My Born, Bachelorhood and Beer blog. So there’s recycling. Here’s a post I wrote in 2014, slightly updated:
In high school we had an older mate who was in the Free State koor. He was famous in Harrismith for that. You could say he enjoyed Harrismith-Wide fame. His nickname was Spreeu but we called him Sparrow. Everyone knew Sparrow – Chris Bester – was one of ‘Die Kanaries – Die Vrystaatse Jeugkoor.’ Fame! Travel! Bright lights! Girls threw their broekies at the kanaries! OK, maybe not.
One day a buzz went round school that Septimus – apparently he was the seventh child – Smuts, Free State Inspector of Music was there – here! in Harrismith, city of song and laughter – to do auditions for new members for this famous koor.
We were there! Me and Gabba. Neither known for having the faintest interest in warbling before (my membership of the laerskool koor a distant memory). Nor any other form of culture come to think of it, other than the fine art of rugby. Gabba was a famous – beroemde, kranige – rugby player, having been chosen for Oos Vrystaat Craven Week in Std 8, Std 9, Std 9 & Std 10. Strong as an ox, great sense of humour, good heart.
People were amazed: “What are YOU ous doing here?” they asked as we waited in the queue. We just smiled. We’d already missed maths, biology and PT.
Septimus was a dapper little rockspider full of confidence. He gave Gabba exactly three seconds and sent him packing. Gave me ten times longer and said ‘Nice enough, but no range.’ So back to class we went, crestfallen look on our dials, mournfully telling our mates and the teacher that we COULD NOT understand how we’d been rejected and there must have been some kind of mistake. Tender-rigging, maybe? Maybe our voices were taken out of context?
The teacher raised his eyebrows but we stuck to our story: It had been a longtime deep desire of ours to sing for our province and the rejection cut us deep.
It became mine & Gabba’s standing joke over the decades that followed. Every time we met we’d have a laugh and then he’d update me on our athletics records: his for shotput and mine for the 100m sprint. Mine was eventually beaten. Gabba said ‘hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het.’ His shotput record probably still stands, as far as I know. It was a mighty heave.
Decades later research has uncovered what Septimus was looking for. If only we had known! Here’s the criteria they were looking for in aspiring choristers in the late 60’s:
We may have scored E’s and F’s on most, but on 126.96.36.199 Intelligence and Dedication we surely got an A? Also if we’d known that Septimus the choirmaster had ‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies,’ we’d have practiced that shit.
spreeu – starling, but mistranslated as sparrow
Die Kanaries – the canaries
Vrystaatse Jeugkoor – Free State Youth Choir; it must be confessed we would mock it as the Yech Choir
broekies – panties; maybe bloomers
beroemde, kranige – famous, outstanding
Oos Vrystaat – Eastern Free State; our neck of the woods
hier’t n nuwe oukie gekom wat soos die wind gehol het – a new guy arrived who ran like the wind
‘n besondere liefde vir die gedrae polifonie van Palestrina se koorkompetisies – fuck knows
Sheila sent me a surprise postcard. So I have re-posted this blogpost from 2015 about a magic 1969 tour, and attached the postcard at the end. Enjoy!
The Kestell bus was like a half-loaf, but still the metropolis of Kestell – which we regarded as a densely-populated Afrikaans suburb of Harrismith – couldn’t roust enough boys to fill it, so we Harrismithians had been invited along. Johan Steyl announced in the hall one assembly that Kestell was inviting Harrismith boys to join their ‘seunstoer’ to South West Africa. It would be for fifteen days in the July holidays, and the cost would be twenty five South African 1969 Ronts. Leon ‘Fluffy’ Crawley, Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots, Pierre du Plessis, Tuffy Joubert and I said YES! and then our parents said yes and forked over the cash, so we were off! (The new postcard tells me Jan van Wyk – who would be 1970 head boy in matric the next year – also went along).
It was boys-only, a seunstoer, but Mnr Braam Venter of Kestell took his daughter along. She was about Std 4 we were Std 7 to 9. She was very popular and soon became like the tour mascot, second only to Wagter the tour dog – who was actually a found holey corobrick with a dog collar through one of its three holes and string for a leash.
The short bus had a longitudinal seating arrangement. Long rows running the length of the bus so you sat facing each other, sideways to your direction of travel.
We all bundled in and set off. After a few hours we had the first roadside stop. Mnr Venter lined us all up outside the bus and said ‘Right, introduce yourselves,’ as the Kestell ous didn’t know us – and we didn’t know them. Down the row came the names, van Tonder, van Wyk, van Niekerk, van Staden, van Aswegen, vanne Merwe, van Dit, van WhatWhat, Aasvoel, Kleine Asenvogel, Marble Hol. Fluffy standing next to me murmured ‘Steve McQueen’ but when his turn came he let out with a clear ‘Leon Crawley’ so I said ‘Steve McQueen’ out loud. Without a blink the naming continued before I could say ‘Uh, just kidding’, so I became ‘Ou Steve‘ for the duration.
Our first stop was Kimberley, where we camped in the caravan park and had some fun; then on to the Augrabies Falls on the Gariep (Orange) River, stopping at the roaring dunes near Hotazel in the Kalahari. On from there to the borderpost at Onseepkans.
When we entered SWA we headed straight for a pub. The first pub we found. Us fourteen to sixteen year-olds. Read about that here.
We went to the Fish River Canyon. Like all canyons, it is billed as the biggest, longest, deepest, whatever in the (insert your province, your country, or ‘world’ here). We stood on the rim and gazed down. Then Pikkie Loots and I couldn’t stand it; so – against orders – we zipped down the pathway, slipping and sliding down as fast as we could. Before we got to the bottom we decided we’d get into big kak if we took too long, so we reluctantly stopped and returned to the top, slowly.
We camped next to the Vingerklip, or Mukorob (or Finger of God) near Karasburg, a sandstone rock formation in the Namib desert, while it still stood (it fell down nineteen years later on 8 December 1988, so its obviously it wasn’t our fault, nê). About 30m high from the vlaktes at the base, the little neck it balanced on was only about 3m by 1,5m, making it rather precarious.
Later we camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.
On to the Brandberg, where a long walk would take you to some rock paintings. I chose not to make the walk. Pikkie did, and remembered: ‘the terrain was barren, hot as hell, and rock strewn. The rocks had a rich red-brown colour, and I thought it was amazing that the local indigenous people had painted a white lady, which according to legend was the Queen of Sheba, who they would probably never have seen! Some people wanted to pour water on the paintings but I think Braam stopped them and of course today I realise that he was a hundred per cent right in not letting us do it. If we all poured water on it it would have been washed away by now!’
We got to Etosha National Park after dark so the Okakuejo gate was closed. We didn’t pitch our tents that night to save time, simply bedding down outside ready to drive in first thing the next morning. On spotting us the next morning the game ranger said ‘Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek.‘
On our way back, we passed Lake Otjikoto, the ‘bottomless lake’:
The Hoba meteorite next. Weighing about 60 tons, made of iron and nickel, it is still the largest single intact meteorite known, and also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of ferronickel known on Earth’s surface. Estimated to have fallen 80 000 years ago, it was discovered around 1920.
On the way out of SWA we reached the South East corner of the country, heading for the border with the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, when we spotted something tangled up in the roadside fences. Turned out to be a few springbok, some dead, some still alive but badly injured. As we spotted them one of the farm boys yelled out ‘Ek debs die balsak!‘ He cut off the scrotum, pulled it over the base of a glass cooldrink bottle. What? we asked. When it had dried he would break the glass and he’d have an ashtray, he explained. Oh.
The alive ones were dispatched and all were taken to the nearby farmer who gave us one for our trouble. It seems some hunters are indiscriminate and less than accurate and the buck panic before the onslaught and run into the fences.
That night we made a huge bonfire on the dry bed of the Nossob river or one of its tributaries and braai’d the springbok meat. It was freezing in July so we placed our sleeping bags around the fire and moved closer to the bed of coals all night long. Every time we woke we inched closer.
A wonderful star-filled night sky above us.
edit: Updated since Fluffy found his 1969 pictures of SWA. Taken with Ma Polly’s Kodak camera. So now our story has real pics, not just internet pics. – Pikkie says: Even reading it a second time brings back great memories! Fluffy asks: Can you guys remember the freshly baked brown bread we bought from a plaas winkel… Twee Rivieren… On our way back… Pretty expensive if I remember well – 17 cents . .
That was truly an unforgettable fifteen days! We’re so lucky to have enjoyed such an adventure. We still talk about it. Pikkie tried to get us to go again in 2019 – fifty years later! Inertia, work, family and all the usual shit put paid to that great idea. No longer could we just say, “Ag pleez Daddy!” and go without a backward glance, as we did in 1969!
seunstoer – boys tour;
Wagter – Rover; in America, Fido
nê – y’understand?
“Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” – Your Afrikaans Are Atrocious; or Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!
Ek debs die balsak! – ‘Dibs on the ballbag!’ or ‘I lay claim to the antelope scrotum’;
Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek – Right here where you’re camping a lion killed an antelope the night before last; ‘be nervous’ was the message;
April 2021 and a surprise from Sheila: A postcard I wrote to them on 7 July 1969 while on tour:
Can’t say I remember ‘Sorris Sorris’ at all, but I see it’s just north of the Brandberg, so maybe we camped there?
Fine, thank you. I’m tucked up in bed already, waiting for the sister to bring my pain muti and eyedrops. They put a drop in my left eye and five minutes later another drop. Same eye. Only my left eye.
It’s 6pm. Early to bed, my Ma in frail care.
Do you sleep well?
Like a log. I’m warm and comfortable. And Kosie! I’ve been having the most wonderful dreams lately. Nice, happy dreams. I wake up smiling.
That’s so nice! Can you remember what they’re about, or are they too racy to repeat in polite company?
No, they’re about the farm. The wonderful farm, the beautiful view, the walks with my Dad. It’s all underwater now, of course.
The farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Now submerged beneath the waters of Sterkfontein Dam. About ’15 miles’ from Harrismith towards Oliviershoek Pass and ‘on the Witsieshoek road.’
I was eight years old when we left the farm.
That was 1936.
muti – medicine;
Kosie – my nickname; Ma pronounces it the Afrikaans way, Kuwa-see; unlike Annie and her friends who all called me Koosie, rhyming with pussy or wussy; True fact; Accounts for a lot?
Nuwejaarsvlei – New Year Marsh or wetland
Nuwejaarspruit – New Year creek or stream
Sterkfontein – strong fountain
Oliviershoek – the place of the Oliviers, a surname
Witsieshoek – the place of the Basotho chief Witsie who lived there from 1839 to 1856.
The pic shows Mom floating on the water above her old farm in 1990. Its somewhere in the background in this pic:
We good people of the Harrismith Methodist Church would never have taken Mrs Brunsdon to court for her singing! Sure, her singing was awful, but church would have been duller and there would have been less giggling and less to skinder about without her. She would bellow off-key and at her own pace, sniffing loudly from time to time and gazing all round the church mid-hymn; sometimes through her glasses, sometimes over her glasses; sometimes turning right round to see who was behind her. The sniffs would put her behind, so soon she’d be a few words and then a few lines behind but no way she would play catch-up. She got her money’s worth, singing every single word. In fact, our Mom Mary Methodist, the organist, would wait for her, as would we all.
Not so the Methodists in Lumberton, North Carolina USA. They were considerably displeased when William Linkhaw sang hymns very loudly and very poorly. Deviating from the correct notes, he continued singing well after the congregation reached the end of each verse. On one occasion, the pastor simply read the hymn aloud, refusing to sing it because of the disruption that would inevitably occur. The presiding elder refused to preach in the church at all. Upon the entreaties of a prominent church member, Linkhaw once stayed quiet after a particularly solemn sermon. But he steadfastly rejected the repeated pleas of his fellow congregants to remain silent altogether, responding that “he would worship his God, and that as a part of his worship it was his duty to sing.”
In their defence it must be noted that some of the better congregants of Lumberton Methodist – like us in Harrismith – found Linkhaw’s singing hilarious, but the bitter lot won out and decided to show him! They had the law hand down a misdemeanor indictment against Linkhaw, charging that he had disturbed the congregation. Obviously the LumberMeths had never heard Jesus’ clear instructions in his sermon that we ‘Turn The Other Tympanum.’ Or if they had, they were ignoring him! No wonder Ghandi reputedly said, ‘I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.’ And if he didn’t he should have, as ‘Christians’ were mismanaging both his countries at the time: India and South Africa.
The case went to trial in August 1872. Several witnesses, including the church’s pastor, testified that Linkhaw’s singing disturbed the church service. One witness, being asked to describe the way in which Linkhaw sang, gave an imitation of it, singing a hymn in Linkhaw’s style. He provoked what the court described as “a burst of prolonged and irresistible laughter, convulsing alike the spectators, the Bar, the jury and the Court.” Witness testimony also showed, however, that Linkhaw was a devout and spiritual man, and the prosecution admitted that he was not deliberately attempting to disrupt worship. Linkhaw asked the court to instruct the jury that it could not find him guilty unless it found intent to disturb the service. He was right, but the judge rejected his request, ruling instead that the jury only needed to determine whether Linkhaw’s singing actually disrupted the service. The jury found Linkhaw guilty, and the judge fined him one penny.
William was not gonna take this lying down. He appealed the judgment to the North Carolina Supreme Court; the case was heard in 1873 and the court unanimously set aside the verdict. It accepted the jury’s ruling that Linkhaw had indeed caused a substantial disturbance. It also agreed that intent can generally be presumed when the defendant could have anticipated his actions. However, the court observed that the prosecution had expressly admitted that Linkhaw had no malicious intent. The justices therefore held that the presumption, being contradicted by uncontested evidence, did not apply. The court issued a writ of venire de novo, nullifying the jury’s verdict.
Well! We of the Harrismith Methodist Church liked our Mrs Brunsdon and we did not take her to court. We instead thought like the 1873 Supreme Court that since she was attempting in good faith to worship, she could not be subjected to criminal penalties. And we also thought thus:
“Although the proof sure did show / Ms Brunsdon’s voice was awful / us judges found no valid ground / For holding it unlawful.”
“While LumberMeths grumbled / and acted all nefarious / us Harrismithians benevolently / Thought it all hilarious.”
“If all things bright and beautiful / the Lord God made them all / Then sniffs and squawks discordant / Are welcome in the hall.”
“Old Brunsdon raised the rafters / some congregants did cringe / But she was screeching to her Lord / so we laughed, we did not whinge.”
I’ll stop now.
“Some thought that they could bellow / in holy tones so fine / but oo’s to know what the Mighty One / regards as a voice divine?”
I mean, how do we know the Good Lord likes it when he hears the famous Three Fat Blokes Shouting (some call them The Three Tenors)?