Harrismith’s Gold Cup

Harrismith had a Gold Cup winner!

First run in 1921, or in 1926 over 3200m for a stake of just 2000 pounds, the Gold Cup is Africa’s premier marathon for long-distance runners. It boasts a proud history and captures the public imagination. The race starts at the 400m mark in the short Greyville straight; there’s much jockeying for position as the runners pass the winning post for the first time before turning sharply right and head towards the Drill Hall; normally many runners are under pressure before they turn into the home straight; the race is known to suffer no fools when it comes to fitness and stamina, and it takes a special type of horse and jockey to win the event.

Usually the final big race meeting of the South African racing season, the Gold Cup is often decisive in determining the Equus Award winners for the season. Initially a Grade 1 race, the Gold Cup was downgraded to Grade 2 in 2016 and to Grade 3 in 2017. Nevertheless, it is still the most important horse-racing marathon in the country.

1985 - Occult
1985 – Occult

The distance and unforgiving conditions that prevail as the field go past the Greyville winning post twice, are great levelers and a look at the list of champions beaten in the Gold Cup is a long one, with less-fancied runners carrying less weight often winning.

Sun Lad won the first running in 1926. He raced in the silks of leading owner-breeder Sir Abe Bailey, and the Gold Cup was one of just two wins for Sun Lad during the season. He is frankly unlikely to be regarded as one of the race’s better winners.

In 1930, the winner was Artist Glow. The first horse to win the Gold Cup on two occasions was Humidor, who was victorious in 1933 and 1935.

Harrismith’s winner was the horse Rinmaher (pronounced – and maybe spelt? Rinmahar) owned by the Jim Shannons of Glen Gariff. What year? Probably around 1927 to 1929? Or 1931, 1932 or 1934?

Mom and Dad both tell the story of raucous parties on the Shannon farm where at a suitably ‘sensible’ stage the Gold Cup would be taken off the mantelpiece, filled with champagne or whatever hooch was going and passed around to the ritual comments from the more sober of “Here we go! We’re drinking moths and mosquitoes again!”

Here’s a nephew of the winning owner on a slower horse:

Jack Shannon on his Shetland pony on Kindrochart

Did You Got A Licence?

When I got back to Harrismith in December 1973, we were moving house. The ole man had sold the old house . .

. . and built a new one in Piet Uys street uptown.

I filled the blue kombi with stuff – small furniture, paintings and odds – and drove it the kilometre or so down Stuart Street to Piet Uys street; then back, again and again. Load after load. I loved it, I had driven very little in the USA.

We had LOTS of stuff to go. Including Jock, the brindle staffie terrier.

Finally when I’d moved all the stuff I went for my drivers licence. Overdue. I had turned eighteen eight months prior. I drove myself there. After a short drive the traffic cop turned to me and said “You’ve driven before”. I said Um, Ja and he told me to turn round, go back and he signed on the dotted line.

As I was leaving he asked “Who drove you here?” Um, Me I said. He just grinned.

Comrade Skim

Six foot four inch Pete Stoute was running the Comrades Marathon, that foolish 89km exercise in torture held annually in KwaZuluNatal, when suddenly he heard a shout from around knee-level: “Yiss, Stoute, hoezit?”

He looked around, nothing. He looked down: There was Skim, short and round as a beachball, choofing alongside. Skim du Preez, kranige scrumhalf of the great Optometry rugby team of 1975.

Skim! What the hell are YOU doing here! he exclaimed. No, I thought I must do this thing, seeing I’m a boykie from Dundee, said Skim. – Dundee pronounced “DinDear” the Afrikaans way; it means ‘steenkool.’

They chatted a few minutes and then Skim said, Oh Well, Be Seeing You and ran off into the distance!! Left the long-legged Stoute in his dust!


As often, one of my dodgy history lessons: Dundee, pronounced DinDear, is the famous site where British army troops, tired of being shot through their red coats and their white helmets, finally wore khaki uniforms for the first time in battle. I wonder if their commander Major-General Sir William Penn Symons KCB still wore his red coat that day, though? He got shot in the stomach and died three days later as a prisoner of war in Dundee. These Boers would know: The caption says they were ‘watching the fight’ that day! Like a movie!

The British claimed a ‘tactical victory’ in the battle. Here’s the actual scorecard – a lesson whenever you read battle reports:

British casualties and losses – 41 killed, 185 wounded, 220 captured or missing;

Boer casualties and losses – 23 killed, 66 wounded, 20 missing.

And so the dispatch goes back to Mrs Queen in Blighty (perhaps sent by war correspondent Winston Churchill?): “We won.” Maybe he added “Um, send reinforcements” – ?


stoute – the Afrikaans pronunciation “stotah” as in kabouter; it means ‘naughty.’

kabouter – Snow White and the seven kabouters

choofing – running like a gazelle

kranige – capable; brave; gallant; dashing

scrumhalf – not only a scrumhalf – see the comments

No – yes

DinDear – Dundee; coal-mining village; not in Scotland

steenkool – coal; or stone coal; but you can’t say just ‘kool’ cos that would mean cabbage

Film ‘ZULU and the Zulus’

The film Zulu
Released in 1964, ‘Zulu’ has become one of most iconic British films ever – directed by Cy Endfield, and starring Stanley Baker, Jack Hawkins and Michael Caine. I joked here that we had held the World Premiere of this famous film in our lounge in Harrismith!

Now, fifty five years later, a new film, ‘Zulu and the Zulus’ is planned. Scheduled to be a ninety minute feature length documentary to be shot in England and in KwaZuluNatal, South Africa, the film will tell about the making of the classic war film ‘Zulu’, and also tell the stories of the Zulu people involved in the making of that famous film.

Here’s a trailer of the planned movie:

‘Zulu and the Zulus’ promo trailer

Director Henry Coleman is sole owner of the only print of the making of ‘Zulu’. Shot in Natal in 1963, it contains 26 minutes of unique black & white behind-the-scenes footage showing cast and crew at work and play while making one of the most iconic and loved war films of all time.

Coleman and Producer Mark Tinkler, will take this Behind the Scenes footage back to KwaZulu Natal, screen it for the Zulu people and talk to them about this historic and well-loved film – Zulus who appeared in the original film as extras. Many rural Zulu people have no access to cinemas, and no electricity in their villages, and so would have not seen the film. The production team will travel out to the remote parts of KwaZulu and screen the film either in huts or on a portable screen outdoors using a generator, DVD player and screen, film the audience watching the film, interview them and draw out their stories on the making of the film in 1963. Some of them saw the film and rushes at special screenings organised by star & Producer Stanley Baker – as seen in this rare still of film extras watching themselves in the rushes:

But many of them have never seen it since, or indeed ever. ‘Zulu and the Zulus’ will examine the making of film to the Zulus, visiting the locations in Natal where the film was shot, a Then and Now sequence. They will also visit the original battle site at Rorkes Drift. It will be a fascinating journey.

It will be a very visual experience, with Zulu warriors watching themselves and their parents playing their ancestors. Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi, who became a minister in the first legitimate government of South Africa upon liberation in 1994, appeared in ‘Zulu’ as his Great Grandfather, King Cetshwayo ka Mpande. He has agreed to participate in this project and has given us his full support.
At the heart of ‘Zulu and the Zulus’ is 26 minutes of never-seen-before ‘making of’ footage. This original 16mm silent footage has been painstakingly restored in a top post-production house in London, and this unique footage not only features the film’s ‘famous’ cast and crew on set, it also includes the building of key sets in KwaZuluNatal as well as costume design, creation and fitting, stunt work, battle scenes and much more. But more importantly, it is an historical record detailing the extent of contribution from the local community in bringing the famous film ‘Zulu’ to life.

We have also found, and gained exclusive access to, another 40 minutes of colour home movie footage shot on set, giving us a unique insight into the production of Zulu.

Seven minutes of these forty minutes of ‘home movie’ footage were taken by Dad with his new Eumig 8mm cine camera when he and Mom went to the set in the Royal Natal National Park back in 1963. Sister Sheila had the film digitised, but I won’t be showing it here as Henry Coleman has asked to use it for his movie. Hopefully some of it will make it onto the big screen!

More from Henry: ‘Zulu and the Zulus’ will tell the behind the scenes story of the classic British Movie ‘ZULU’. We will be interviewing European cast and crew and for the first time, hear the tribal ZULU actors, stuntmen & crew stories from behind the scenes. We hear tales of the making of the film, what it meant to the Zulus, then and now, and the film’s legacy to Zulus today. Everyone knows the film, it’s iconic set pieces, and the lead European actors… but no-one has ever spoken to the hundreds of Zulu warriors who took part in the film, the Zulus of the title. This is a unique opportunity to get the Zulu peoples’ point of view on a classic film named after them, but whose voices we’ve never heard before – there will be stories we’ve never even imagined, illustrated, intercut with the rare footage of the making of Zulu.

An illustration of props, equipment and ‘stuff’ used on the remote location of the set of Zulu in 1963 (from Henry Coleman’s Zulu and the Zulus twitter feed), giving an indication of the challenging logistics:

Harrismith’s Mild Winters

I just read a lovely post from an Irish woman who grew up in the sixties. She wrote:“In 1960, we had no fridge, no TV, no car, no central heating – only open fires, water heated by an old ‘pot-bellied’ stove, no electric immersion heater, no automatic washing machine. Chilblains were a fact of life every winter. Stuffed material sausage dogs were at the bottom of many doors to keep the draughts out (and there were many draughts!)”

. . . and those stuffed sausage doorstops got me thinking. So I wrote a bit about what I can remember about “Harrismith’s mild winters” and asked friends to add their sixpence worth! How cold was Harrismith?

Ceilings had no insulation and the windows were wooden sash or steel frame, single-glazed; Windows would mist over, but you would still try and see if Platberg had its table-cloth on. Always coldest when the east wind blew and put a ‘blanket’ or ‘table cloth’ on the mountain like this:

Weather – that blanket settles on our mountain
Door-stop ‘sausages’ to block the icy breeze whistling under doors – sometimes plain sausages, sometimes made into sausage dogs!

Huddling in front of a red-hot bar heater giving a little ring of warmth;
Move back a yard and the room was frigid!

The black coal stove in the kitchen was lit through the whole of winter, thank goodness; A cruel boyhood confession: I murdered a few flies at this stove in our kitchen! Tore off their wings and turned them into ‘walks’ then tossed them into the stove to die! Yikes! Here’s an old one, no longer installed, no longer black:

coal stove

On the beds lots of blankets, no duvets; If you were lucky your Mom would cut the tassles off the Standard Woollen Mills blankets and sew on a strip of smooth silk-like tape that didn’t tickle your nose! I remember some of our old pillows weighing ‘a ton’. Probably a quarter ton of feathers, a quarter ton of live mites, a quarter ton of dead mites and a quarter ton of sweat and snot! Luxury was having flannel ‘winter sheets’ rather than those smooth, thin, cold ordinary cotton sheets.

We were lucky to have hot baths from an electric geyser warming us up. You would wallow in the big old iron bath with ball-and-claw feet, trying to get your scrawny carcass under the shallow water, then start dreading having to get out; Soon, though, the decision would be an easy one, as the water cooled rapidly.

Getting into those long flannel winter jarmies was such a treat. Cosy. Some of ours were hand-made – machine-sewn by Mom.

Leaving for school in the mornings was jersey on, socks pulled up high, gloves on, and off you’d go on yer bike; Riding along Stuart Street your eyes would water and your nose would run, so gloves and sleeves had to do snot duty; When you got there you’d slide your hands off the handle-bar grips as they didn’t want to ‘uncurl’! Your bare knees would be frozen yet somehow you didn’t feel them as much as you felt your toes in your socks and shoes! Funny that. As uncool as it was, sometimes you’d even wear the grey balaclava Mom had knitted for you.

I remember it like this:

Except, it wasn’t really. That’s Europe and maybe their winters are worse!

We had a horse trough in the backyard about 2m long, 40cm wide and 40cm deep. It was concrete grey but later on it got painted Caltex green. A lot of our stuff got painted Caltex green. Thanks, Annie! The water in the trough would freeze solid. The ice would thaw a bit by day and freeze again every night. That was OK, though, we didn’t have horses.


Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots added his memories:

How about: Frost in the fields, with little wind blown ice crystals making it look like a sprokiesland instead of the grey-yellow vrystaatse vlakte that it was once the frost melted . . .

frost on dry grass2

The little black tube-shaped coal stoves in the classroom where we thawed our hands – remember how it hurt as they ‘defrosted’? . . Newspaper under your mattress to stop the cold coming from below . . Taping up the air vents in the bedroom to stop the cold air from coming in . . Doing homework (occasionally) by the coal stove in the kitchen . . Hot water bottles . .

And a couple he remembered from his gran, who lived in Clocolan: She never had – nor apparently ever wanted – an indoor bathroom or toilet, despite her children offering to have one installed for her; The potty under the bed so that you didn’t have to walk to the outhouse in the middle of the night . . And bathing in a tin bath in the middle of the kitchen, filled with water boiled on the coal stove . .


sprokiesland – fairytale land

vrystaatse vlaktes – like the Siberian flatlands


Save Precarious Platberg!

Platberg, overlooking the town of Harrismith in the Free State, is an inselberg that presents a refuge for indigenous plants and animals. And its status is precarious.

‘Little is known about the different taxa of Platberg and hence a detailed floristic and ecological survey was undertaken in 2009 by UNISA’s Robert F. Brand, Leslie R. Brown and Pieter J. du Preez to quantify threats to the native flora and to establish whether links exist with higher-altitude Afro-alpine flora occurring on the Drakensberg. Vegetation surveys provide information on the different plant communities and plant species present and form the basis of any management plan for a specific area. No extensive vegetation surveys had been undertaken on Platberg prior to this study;

Only limited opportunistic floristic collections were done:

Firstly in the mid-1960s by Mrs. Jacobs. These vouchers were mounted and authenticated in 2006 and are now housed at the Geo Potts Herbarium, Botany Department, University of the Free State;

Secondly 50 relevés were sampled between 1975 and 1976 by Professor H.J.T. Venter, Department of Genetics and Plant Sciences, University of the Free State.

Mucina & Rutherford 2006 say: ‘Platberg is the single largest and best preserved high-altitude grassland in the Free State. ‘ I say 2019: Look how tiny it is! You can hardly see Platberg on this map of all nearby high altitude places. Yet this is our single largest tiny piece of this grassland left! The authors plead: ‘As an important high-altitude grassland, it is imperative that Platberg be provided with protection legislated on at least a provincial level.’ At present, Platberg is still municipal, with very little protection!

That tiny island above the ‘th’ in Harrismith = Platberg
Harrismith townlands
Harrismith townlands


The UNISA study found 669 plant species in Platberg’s 30km2 area. To compare, Golden Gate Highlands park has 556 species in 48km2.

Koedoe, African Protected Area Conservation and Science, is a peer-reviewed, open access journal published since 1958, which promotes protected area and biodiversity science and conservation in Africa.

Platberg’s altitude ranges from 1 900m to 2 394m ASL. The surface area covers approximately 3 000ha. The slopes are steep with numerous vegetated gullies and boulder scree slopes below vertical cliffs that are 20m to 45m high. Waterfalls cascade down the southern cliffs after rain. A permanent stream arising from the Gibson Dam on the undulating plateau flows off the escarpment and cascades as a waterfall.From a distance, Platberg appears to have a distinct flat top. However, once on the summit the plateau is found to be undulating, with rolling grass-covered slopes. The vegetation of the plateau is dominated by grassland, with a few rocky ridges, sheet rock and rubble patches, as well as numerous seasonal wetlands and a permanent open playa (pan) on its far western side. Woody patches of the genera Leucosidea, Buddleja, Kiggelaria, Polygala, Heteromorpha and Rhus shrubs, as well as the indigenous Mountain bamboo Thamnocalamus tessellatus, grow along the base of the cliffs. The shrubland vegetation is concentrated on the cool (town) side of Platberg, on sandstone of the Clarens Formation, in gullies, on scree slopes, mobile boulder beds, and on rocky ridges. Shrubs and trees also occur in a riparian habitat in the south-facing cleft, in which the only road ascends steeply to the summit up Flat Rock Pass. Platberg falls within the Grassland Biome, generally containing short to tall sour grasses. Platberg is a prominent isolated vegetation ‘island’ with affinities to the Drakensberg Grassland Bioregion, embedded in a lower lying matrix of Eastern Free State Sandy Grassland. Platberg also has elements of Fynbos, False Karoo and Succulent Karoo, as well as elements of Temperate and Transitional Forest, specifically Highland Sourveld veld types.

Spot Platberg’s highest point, Mtabazwe 2394m ASL
Looking from highpoint Mtabazwe towards Boobejaanskop eastern tip

I wonder if there are any grey rhebok left?


inselberg – from the German words Insel, meaning ‘island,’ and Berg, meaning ‘mountain,’ the word first appeared in English in 1913, apparently because German explorers thought isolated mountains rising from the plains of southern Africa looked like islands in the midst of the ocean. Geologically speaking, an inselberg is a hill of hard volcanic rock that has resisted wind and weather and remained strong and tall as the land around it eroded away. Wikipedia says in South Africa it could also be called a koppie but I think we’d klap anyone who called our mountain or inselberg Platberg a ‘koppie’

koppie – a smaller thing than Platberg; Just west of Platberg is Loskop; you can call that a koppie, maybe

relevé – in population ecology, a plot that encloses the minimal area under a species-area curve


Aside: Talking of special places, and in this case special high altitude grasslands, who knew of the Korannaberg near the mighty metropolis of Excelsior of dominees-wat-meidenaai fame? It has 767 plant species in its 130km2! It sure looks like a must-visit place! 227 bird species too.

dominees-wat-meidenaai – practicing what you preach against

Let’s Save Us Some Souls!

The new preacherman at the Christian Church of Apache Oklahoma, looked me up after he’d been in town a while and invited me over to his place. Turns out he was interested in becoming a mission-nary to Africa and wanted to meet one of the real-deal Africans he’d heard and read so much about. Maybe suss out just how much we needed saving?

A HUGE man, six feet and nine inches tall, Ron Elrick wore a string tie, a ‘ten gallon’ stetson and cowboy boots, making him damn near eight feet tall fully dressed as he stooped through doors and bent down to shake people’s hands. I met his tiny little wife who was seemingly half his height, and two lil daughters at their house, the church ‘manse’ or ‘vicarage’.

there’s the house next to the church

Ron was an ex-Canadian Mountie and a picture on his mantelpiece showed him towering over John Wayne, when Wayne was in Canada to film a movie.

The actor Mountie in the movie had to be shorter than John Wayne!

Soon he invited me to join him on a men’s retreat to “God’s Forty Acres” in NE Oklahoma (the yanks are way ahead of Angus Buchan in this “get away from the wife, go camping on a farm, and when you get back tell her you’re the boss, the head of the house, the patriarch – the ‘prophet'” shit. I mean, this was 1973!). I had made it known from my arrival in Apache that I would join anybody and go anywhere to see the state and get out of school – I mean hey! I’d already DONE matric!

So we hopped into his muddy pink wagon with ‘wood’ panelling down the sides – it looked a bit like these in the pictures. We roared off from Caddo county heading north-east, bypassing Oklahoma City and Tulsa to somewhere near Broken Arrow or Cherokee county  – towards the Arkansas border, anyway. Me n Ron driving along with the wind in our hair like Thelma and Louise.

Non-stop monologue on the way. He didn’t need any answers, I just had to nod him yes and he could talk non-stop for hours on end. At the retreat there were hundreds of men and boys just like him, no women. Unless you count them in the background who made and served the food. The men were all fired up for the Lawrd, bellowing the Retreat Song at the drop of a hat:

“In Gahd’s Fordy Yacres . . !!”♫

We musta sang it 400 times in that weekend. If I was God I’d have done some smiting.

We left at last and headed back, wafting along like on a mattress in that long slap wagon, when Ron suddenly needed an answer: Had I ever seen a porno movie? WHAT? I hadn’t? Amazing! Well, jeez, I mean goodness, he felt it as sort of like a DUTY to enlighten me and reveal to me just how evil and degraded these movies could be. So we detoured into Tulsa. Maybe he regarded it as practice for the mission-nary work he was wanting to do among us Africans?

We sat through a skin flick in a seedy movie house. It was the most skin ‘n pubic hair ‘n pelvis ‘n pulsating organs this eighteen year old boykie from the Vrystaat had seen to date so it was, after all, educational. Thin plot, though.

I suppose you could say I got saved and damned all on one weekend.



Ron did get to Africa as a mission-nary. He was posted to Jo-hannesburg. Lotsa ‘sinners’ in Jo-hannesburg, I suppose. I’m just not sure they need ‘saving’ by a Canadian Mountie.