Harrismith has always had Spies families. The ones I remember were horsemen; or at least, the times I saw them they were usually riding horses at our agricultural shows, playing polo or competing at gymkhanas. Leon Strachan, Harrismith’s historian, tells of one family of four brothers who all had different characters or traits – and how one became world-famous!
I found this lovely series of articles by Leon at a website promoting Stephen Reed’s hometown Clarens, Free State – inclarens.co.za. I have simply taken snapshots of the articles to save them and be able to access them again. I must check in which of his four books on Harrismith characters Leon wrote about Andries ‘Caveman’ Spies.
I have now tidied and stitched them together in sequence. If you can read Afrikaans – go for it. It’s a fascinating story, which I have translated into English here with Leon’s and the inclarens.co.za editor’s permission. Summarised, mind you, so it loses some of Leon’s spice and story-telling vernuf!
TV, harbinger of kommunisme, arrived in South Africa in 1976. This in spite of the Nationalist Party’s Posts and Telecommunications Minister Albert Hertzog’s determination not to telecommunicate.
Hertzog had vowed that television would come to South Africa over his dead body, denouncing it as ‘a miniature bioscope over which parents would have no control.’ He also argued that ‘imported fillums showing race mixing and advertising would make non-white Africans (or ‘plurals’) dissatisfied with their lot.’ Their God-ordained lot. The new medium was the ‘devil’s own box, for disseminating kommunisme and immorality.’ This, naturally, made people curious. Hetzog was better at marketing than at telecommunications. The influential Dutch Reformed Church, the National Party at prayer, saw the new medium as ‘degenerate and immoral.’ This, naturally, made people curious. The church was better at marketing than at afskrik. No doubt they had to send a few dominees oorsee to check and make sure it was as bad as vey fought. Dominees can be like that. Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd was also full of wisdom, comparing television to atomic bombs and poison gas, which‘are modern fings, but that does not mean they are desirable. The goverrinmint has to watch for any dangers to the people, both spiritual and physical.’ That was onse Hennerik, now reduced to a street name.
Very prescient of them all: I mean do we have free speech and human rights now? See! They TOLD you! Not to even mention the scourge of ree-hality TV.
But there was no holding back ve small bioscope. TV came to South Africa irregardless, only . . not to Clarens!
Citizens of Clarens had to listen enviously to Bethlehem se mense when they spoke of staring at the test pattern or watching The World At War.Then came The Dingleys and The Villagers, as well as comedy series Biltong and Potroast’s SA vs British comedians shootout, and variety program The Knicky Knacky Knoo Show. Also The Sweeney in Afrikaans, called Blitspatrollie. Things were now getting Crucial in Clarens! The frustrasie mounted.
Then: A breakthrough! Someone discovered there was TV reception on the top of Mount Horeb which looms above the dorp! Mount Horeb, where Moses got the Ten Commandments, was about to beam down much breaking of the seventh and tenth commandments – the ones about adultery and coveting your neighbour’s wife’s ass. Yes, Mount Horeb is near Clarens, as is Bethlehem and the River Jordan. They wrote a book about it.
What was needed was a ‘repeater.’ A what? A repeater. Say that again . . You get an aerial to catch the signal, then a repeater, then another aerial aimed down at the dorp and voila (or ‘daar’s hy’): you have TV.
Steve Reed, son of hizzonner, the incumbent Lord Mayor of Clarens at that historic time, writes of the ‘many trips up Mount Horeb: At one stage we enlisted the TV expert from the Bethlehem TV shop – Haas Das. Two-way radios were used to speak to the manne down in the dorp, hunched over the test TV set’:
“Hoe lyk die picture nou? – Over”
“Nee man dis net sneeu. – Over”
“En nou? – Over”
“Dis nog steeds net sneeu. – Over”
“Daar’s hy! Wag! Agge nee, weer net sneeu. – Over”
Ens, ens . . en so voorts = etc.
So that was done, and TV arrived in Clarens to groot vreugde and tidings of great joy. The mense didn’t know it at the time, but they had embarked on learning to speak Engels.
And then it died. Wat de hel gaan aan? Telephone lines buzzed heen en weer. The battery’s flat. What battery? Ja, it has a battery to drive the repeater. The what? The repeater. Wat!?O bliksem. So a roster had to be drawn up for the dorpsmense – the villagers – to take turns driving and walking up Mount Horeb to change the battery and bring the flat one down to charge it. Daily. Every day. (Moses se Moses, he only went up Mount Horeb once).
Then there was Peace on Earth and Goodwill toward Men. Except if men forgot their roster slot. Then there was hell to pay. Later a wind charger was installed so they didn’t have to change the batteries every day.
harbinger – anything that foreshadows a future event; omen; sign; ek het vir julle gese
kommunisme – communism; a vague concept, undefined, but BAD; don’t ask
fillums – motion pictures
devil’s own box – duiwel se eier doos
afskrik – dissuade; ‘don’t look!’ which made people look
goverrinmint – guvmint; Pik Botha discovered the ‘R’ in guvmint, his only achievement as Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was actually better at Local Affairs, taking gewillige meisies to farms for frolics around ve braai
gewillige meisies – willing lasses; paid
Bethelehem se mense – Bethlehem’s TV-enabled people
frustrasie – frustration, impotence, FOMO
dorp – village
daar’s hy – there it is, Suzelle; voila; see Jaap’s away you go below
manne – the boys
“Hoe lyk die picture nou? – Over” – What’s the picture look like? Over
“Nee man dis net sneeu – Over” – No man, its just snow – Over
“En nou? – Over” – And now? Over
“Daar’s hy! Wag! Ag, nee, weer net sneeu. – Over” – Shit! Over
Ens ens... – etc etc
groot vreugde – tidings of great joy
Wat de hel gaan aan? – WTF; Whatsa happening?
O bliksem – Oh shit
se Moses – like . . . “that was nothing!”
I wanted to know more about how they did this, so I asked –
and got a reply from Jaap:
Yes this is no secret, in fact we at the SABC / Sentech, encouraged the use of TV repeaters for the smaller communities, and at one stage there were more privately owned “self- help” TV stations than those we ran for the SABC.
The right way to do this was to purchase a transposer, a combined TV receiver and transmitter that will receive a TV signal on one channel, then re-broadcast the signal on another channel. This could be UHF-UHF or VHF-VHF or VHF-UHF. Then you need a receive antenna and transmit antenna. Install on a high structure, such as a grain silo or mountain top. This transposers was in the order of 1-10 Watts output. This then would receive the distant TV signal from the TX station through a front-end amplifier on one channel before feeding into the transposer, and transmitting it on another channel.
The cheap and dirty, crude way was to get hold of a VCR with AV out, a TV tuner with a AV output, or even a modified TV set. The AV output would then be taken to a TV modulator, which you can buy off the shelf, and then tune it to a suitable channel, and then put the RF into a amplifier that could be home-built or even a commercial distribution (set-back amplifier ) connect it to the antenna and away you go. Equipment could be bought from your local TV spares/ equipment dealer, Ellies Electronics, Space TV, or even your local co-op store. Drawback was that only one channel, normally TV3 (SABC3) could be re-broadcasted like this, any other additional channels would have to have identical set-ups.
According to the law, such self-help stations had to be licensed by the SABC, but many of them did not bother to do so. Obviously the home-brewed equipment was very prone to causing interference as the amplifiers they used was not channelized, with no filtering whatsoever.
In all instances the equipment had to be placed so that the clearest possible signal could be received and the maintenance of such repeaters was obviously the responsibility of that community.
Stephen Charles Reed was the laat lammetjie son of Vincent and Doreen Reed. Vin and Dor. Butch was the big black Labrador in residence.
Vincent was hizzonner, the Lord Mayor of Clarens, so although Stevie was by a long shot not their first son he WAS the First Son of Clarens.
In the holidays I would ring up Oom Lappies Labuschagne at the Harrismith sentrale. He would say ‘seker‘ and patch me through to the Clarens telephone exchange – their ‘sentrale‘. The operator lady would answer with a chirpy “Clarr-RINSE”!
Three Four Please. Seemed somehow wrong that their number was 34. I mean, Vincent was the Mayor. Surely it should have been One Please?
Anyway, Three Four Please.
“No, Stevie’s not there, he’s at the Goldblatts, I’ll put you through”.
Old Clarens, before the rush. Here’s the Reed’s store.
laat lammetjie – afterthought child, unplanned, not to be confused with unwanted
seker – sure
sentrale – telephone exchange
Zena Jacobson wrote:
Can’t remember Steve, did your family own the garage? I remember your dad being the mayor though. And I remember the craziest dog I had ever seen called Dennis – a cross between a Labrador and a dachshund or something! I also remember the “centrale” telephone exchange lady, who kept interrupting every three minutes to tell you how long you have been talking, and one day I got irritated, and said something like “aw shut up!” and she scolded me for being so rude! I was mortified!
You should see Clarens now! Although I haven’t been back, it’s the central art and antiques weekend getaway in the country. Quite the arty place, with hotels, B&Bs and coffee shops by the dozen.
AND – they have a brewery! One of my favourite newer tales of Clarens involves young Rod Stedall. He and Karen bought a stand, built a lovely sandstone cottage, made a good income from it for years, had some lovely holidays there and then sold it for a handsome profit. Boom! I stood and watched as all this happened, thinking “That’s a great idea, I should do something about that”, and doing buggerall. Rod then bought a house in the bustling metropolis of Memel, thinking that would be the next big Vrystaat thing and I thought “That’s a great idea, I should do something about that!” Yeah, right.
OK, Memel didn’t happen in Rod’s time here (he offered to sell me the Memel house when he was leaving for Noo Zealand), but guess what: SANRAL are talking of bypassing Harrismith and running the new N3 past Memel. Boom time! Bust for Harrismith, it would be, though.
Terry Brauer wrote:
Clarens is one of my favourite getaways in SA. Who’d have thought, Mr Reed?! We stayed in that wonderful home with the Stedalls. Had we not owned San Lameer we’d have considered buying it. Fabulous place. Fabulous hosts.
Pete, join the Brauer investment club. Fail. Epic fail every time.
A brief history: Clarens, South Africa, was established in 1912CE and named after the town of Clarens in Switzerland, est around 200CE, where exiled Paul Kruger, who some think a hero of South African independence from Britain, died in 1904 after fleeing there. He fled there – yes, fled, like ‘ran away’, a coward – after calling my great-great uncle – who bravely fought the whole war against the thieving British to the bitter end! The swine!
A company wanting to establish a village in the area bought two farms: Leliehoek from Hermanus Steyn in 1910/11 and Naauwpoort from Piet de Villiers, situated near the Titanic rock. The two farms were divided into erven, and these were offered for sale at fifty pounds sterling apiece.