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.
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 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 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 have a new book out! ( – get it on takealot.com – )
OK, the author has a new book out, his first. School friend Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots is Harrismith’s latest published author, following in the footsteps of FA Steytler, EB Hawkins, Anita van Wyk Henning, Petronella van Heerden and Leon Strachan. There must be more?
So far he has it as an eBook – you can get it now already.
Real paper hard copies to follow. I had the privilege and fun as one of his proof-readers, of reading it as he wrote and re-wrote.
UPDATE 10 Feb 2021: It’s he-ere! In my hand!
Now you gotta realise, Pikkie is a mountaineer and trekker. These are phlegmatic buggers; unflappable; understated. So when he says ‘we walked and then crossed some ice and then we got here’:
. . with lovely pictures and fascinating stories along the way . . you must know what he doesn’t show you. And this is only the third highest peak he climbs in Africa! There’s more!
Those of us who climbed Mt aux Sources should also remember how we drove to within an hour or two’s walk from the chain ladder. To get to these higher mountains there’s days of trekking before you reach the point in the picture. And way less oxygen!
I can’t wait to hold a copy in my hand . . Goddit now. Here’s the back cover blurb: ( – get it on takealot.com – )
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.
I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.
Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:
The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!
I recently found some old papers which told me I once ran the race in 79 mins and in 85 minutes another year.
We also walked the race for fun a couple times:
The 12km distance was enough. But no, some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb when I ran with Jon and Dizzi Taylor one year.
Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.
Some history from friend Ettienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:
The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (I once spent a wonderful day with Wally).
It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.
The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.
During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top. In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds – from town to the top of the mountain! Amazingly quick).
The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.
Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, JN ‘Koos’ de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.
Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.
I’ve always been a bit confused about the hartebeest and the tsessebe, which I thought must be closely related.
weekend we saw a nice herd of hartebeest on the slopes of Platberg in
the pine forest, so I thought I must look into this.
its quite complicated!
As always with classification you get ‘lumpers’ who say ‘They’re the same,’ and ‘splitters’ who say ‘No! Look, it’s a different colour.’ I’ve been a lumper by nature meself, needing real DNA differences before I’d want to say something was a completely different species, no matter how different they look. Hunters are often splitters, wanting to say they shot a red bushbuck and a grey bushbuck and a brown bushbuck; or a brindled wildebeest and a Cookson’s wildebeest; or a Burchell’s zebra and a Crawshay’s zebra; and if you have the money they’ll even sell you a ‘Blue,’ a ‘Golden’ and a ‘King’s’ wildebeests – all on the same farm!
DNA has helped a lot – it’s harder for people to ‘invent’ species now. But even now, debate continues and not everyone agrees on all sub-species vs separate species!
So let’s start with a family of big well-known mammals – the Bovidae, which evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene. Cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals, including domestic cattle, sheep and goats. A member of this family is called a bovid; the family Bovidae consists of eight major subfamilies with about 143 species.
The subfamily I’m interested in here, where the hartebeest fits, is called Alcelaphinae, which has four genera:
Hirola, Beatragus hunteri – very rare, found in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Tsessebe, Damaliscus lunatus
Bontebok, Damaliscus pygargus
Hartebeest, Alcephalus buselaphus
Black wildebeest, Connochaetes gnou
Blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus
Things that fascinated me in looking this up:
The hartebeest has only one species, with eight sub-species (although some splitters will dispute this; some like two species, some like three – adding a Liechtenstein’s and a Bangweulu Hartebeest).
The tsessebe is closer to the blesbok than the hartebeest. Except there’s no blesbok! Those buck we saw on top of Platberg? They’re sub-species of the bontebok.
The kudu, nyala, sitatunga, bongo and bushbuck spiral-horned antelope are closer to the cattle, bison and buffalo than they are to other antelope.
The impala is all on its own. Its closest relative being the rare and shy suni.
Not easy, and this with only 143 species. Imagine how hard it is to classify the small mammals: like mice – there are about 2200 species of rodents; and 1200 bats. Never mind plants!
The northernmost hartebeest – the bubal hartebeest – was found in Morocco and Algeria, north of the Atlas Mountains. The subspecies declined sharply during the course of the 19th century, especially after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by the colonial military. By 1867 it could only be found in the mountain ranges of north-western Africa that are near or within the Sahara desert. In Morocco the last known herd, numbering only 15 animals, was located by a hunter near Outat El Haj in 1917; He shot twelve of them. The last specimen was ‘collected’ in 1920. The bubal hartebeest was finally ‘protected’ under the London Convention of 1933. Too late . . .
A well-drilled, orderly troop of Queen and Empire Poms marched up Platberg. And when they were up they were up **.
They reconnoitered the surrounding area looking for Boer commandos, ready to report any sightings to some grand old Duke, or Lord, or someone. Ridiculously dressed in anti-camouflage they stuck out like sore thumbs, but at least they were together and obeying the orders of Field Marshall Lello RSVP. This would not last very long.
Once on top the cohesion started to wobble and soon a small breakaway happened. Some of the troops began behaving like Boers, thinking they could just go home when they felt like it. Five of them headed off down One Man’s Pass, misled by a trooper who said he had local knowledge and ‘it wasn’t far.’
It was far and it was steep and soon more than just cohesion was wobbling.
The remains of the patrol, now only nineteen strong, headed East back to Flat Rock Pass – or Donkey Pass – where a further split took place with trooper Soutar suddenly developing a deep longing for his ancestral home, Howick. I know, who would want to go to Howick?
Down to fifteen, the remainder headed for the Akkerbos for lunch and booze, where another defection saw four more wander off the beaten track and puncture the one wheel of their Ford Platberg Cape Cart. Field Marshall Lello RSVP set off to rescue them, dispatching sergeant Garth, corporal Nigel and Generaal Leon to rescue the original five deserters. Who of course, didn’t need rescuing as they had the whole thing under control and knew exactly where they were as they had a knowledgeable local guide with them. (Right!)
Back at the Oak Forest – where the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been kerfuffling in the bushes with equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend back in 1947 when most of us were busy being born – a laager had been formed and tables laden with provisions, especially booze.
A re-grouping took place and the size of the force stabilised at fifteen, with no wounds or injuries other than some grazes and some wobbly legs and some mild miffedness. (Justified, BTW). The disorderly conduct and the booze, together with the coating of dust and black soot on all the troops made the patrol look less and less like a plundering invading force from a small island, and more and more like good, patriotic, camouflaged local defenders.
Back down at the bottom of the mountain, the numbers swelled to nineteen and confidence grew to such an extent that a decision was made by the now almost completely Boer commando, to attack the blerrie Breetish in their blockhouse situated on the banks of that sparkling brook called the Kak Spruit. A clever encircling movement was made and we attacked the crows nest from above, putting the occupants to flight.
So ended another successful campaign by us Boer guerillas. Generaal Leon could heave a sigh of relief and return to his farm after successfully converting a motley band of misled ‘joiners’ and getting them to support the right side at last.
PS: I forgot to mention – During the whole campaign there was a westerly breeze.
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 . .
. . . 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.
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 (Harrismith), 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. Shembe’s bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Dube alleged that Shembe was 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 paid 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! Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. 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’. Often implicit, but explicitly verbalised by Shembe, this has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission – or European – churches. They wanted their own identity. However, discontent has continued to plague these church formations, even 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? Very modernly, it is not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . nor a new legitimate national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. They’re 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 big factor.
So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? I 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.
Talking about the magic photo of the Soap Box Derby on 42nd Hill with Fluffy’s Dad Charlie in it, I got into an extended email conversation with my good mate from Mrs Putterill’s nursery school and Methodist Sunday school in the late 1950’s all the way to matric 1972, Leon Crawley:
Fluff: Amazing the dress code!!!
Me: Yes, from kaalvoet kid to full jacket & tie. And three ‘hoeds’. And a cop. Even the most casual of the ‘racing drivers’ has long pants on. I see your Dad clearly, is that Michael Hastings next to him crouched over the reins with his chin between his knees?
Fluff: Yep, Michael Hastings; I sent the photo to Mom to see if she can identify any others on it. My Dad crashed his kart and came a whopper, apparently had no skin left. He was the moer in when we had our races on the old road, because of the accident he was in. He still owes me a hiding with the kweper lat (quince switch). I bet he is waiting for me in Heaven! But we will just chat about it!!
Me: By the time we raced down that hill the trees were tall next to the road, and it had become the ‘old road’, a new one having been built above it. Traffic volumes had increased and we could no longer just stop the N3 and all the Jo’burg – Durban traffic!
= = = = = Canoe trip from Swinburne = = = = =
Me: So we did the full Swinburne to Harrismith in a day? I remember being picked up at the bridge – I think the same bridge you once caught a huge barbel under – correct? You may remember I went again a few years later with Claudio Bellato. The river was up and we both lost our glasses, spent a wet night sharing one sleeping bag, which was only half wet, the other one was sopping; then wrecked the canoe, which I had borrowed from the Voortrekkers, on a tree block in a rapid on Walton farm. Charlie Ryder fetched us and we got the wrecked boat out two weeks later. Claudio lives in Durban and I see him from time to time. He still introduces me as “Meet my friend Peter. I slept with him.”
Fluff: Your Dad picked us up in Town, but we did not sleep over en route. The river was terribly low and we did a lot of foot work crossing or bypassing the rapids. We made the trip in one day. I can remember the trip you had with Claudio, jeez terrible to sleep wet, and that with a man. You fixed up the canoe in the backyard if I can recall. That fish: It was a huge barbel from the bridge and that with a split rod, Dad used for bass!! Haha early one morning standing on the bridge, it was still too dark to go down to the river.
= = = = = The Voortrekker Camp = = = = =
Me: I joined up briefly, thanks to you. Or to your description of the upcoming camp on Bok or Boy Venter’s farm! I remember the camp in the wattles, a campfire, canvas tents with wooden pegs – and not much else.
Fluff: I remember the Voortrekkers and I think our membership lasted until after the camp. A huge bonfire, that night; Boy Venter. That was about it.
= = = The 1969 South West Africa Trip . . That Kestell Trip = = =
Fluff: We have good memories of the SWA Trek and I still have some photo’s as well.
not of the group or individuals!! I will scan at some stage and put
them in mail.
The welwitchia plant; Namutoni in Etosha; the Finger of God; the ‘bottomless’ lake Otjikoto with schools of small fish – apparently the Germans dumped their weaponry in these lakes, close to Tsumeb. Did we go to a disco in Tsumeb?
The visit to the karakul farm, the meerkats!! Eish the price of that lovely freshly baked brown bread near Twee Rivieren….17 cents OMW – the price of brown bead was about 6 cents back home!!!
Lovely memories; Braam Venter was the guy from Kestell…and who were the brothers who played cowboy and crooks with .303 rifles on horseback!?
I can recall yourself, Pierre, Tuffy, myself who else was in the party from Harrismith?
Swakopmund’s Dune 7 with that huge Chevy bonnet that did not work!!
Me: Was the hiding “on the cards” when he died? Heart attack, was it? How old was he? That was such a damned shame. I can actually still feel (feel, not remember) how I felt standing in the kitchen at 95 Stuart Street when I first heard uncle Charlie had died. And here’s my old man turned ninety one after sixty two years of smoking and all that dop – cane spirits – in the Club and Moth Hall!! Each old toppie I see – and my work consists of seeing old toppies! – has a theory of why he has lived so long but I can tell you right now there’s one main factor: LUCK. For every “formula” they have for their longevity I know someone who did just that but died young. About the dop my old man used to say, “Ah, but remember he drank cane and WATER. It was the mixers other ous drank that stuffed them up (!!)”. That was his theory and you can say what you like, he’s sticking to it! You know you’re not drinking for the taste when your dop is cane and water!
I’d love to see the SWA photos. I didn’t take any. I still have the ossewawiel (axle centre – what’s it called?) that I got there. It had everyone’s names on it, but they’ve faded now as it has spent a few decades outside propping up my offroad trailer’s disselboom.
From HY I can only add Pikkie Loots and Marble Hall’s names. From Kestell I remember ‘Aasvoel’ and ‘Kleine Aischenvogel’. And my name was Steve McQueen thanks to you suggesting it then not using it at the last minute!
I don’t remember a disco but I do recall the beers at Karasburg and the oke storming in to ask Waddefokgaanieraan? Wie’s Julle? Waar’s Julle Onderwyser? Also the springbokke caught in the fence and the shout Ek Debs Die Balsak! from a savvy farm kid. I’d never heard of turning a balsak into an ashtray till that day! And the huge bonfire in the riverbed and sleeping out in the open and shifting closer to the embers as the fire died down. COLD nights! Also slept on the ground outside Etosha gates.
I’ll have to cc Pierre & Tuffy on this one!
I don’t recall cowboys & crooks and 303’s.
I got one letter from Fluffy in 1973 while I was in Oklahoma: Something along the lines of ‘Horrible inflation’ – it was the time of the fuel crisis – ‘a pint of milk has gone up to 6c a litre, and SCOPE magazine is now 20c!!’ Well, we were to learn a lot more about inflation and our Rand’s depreciation in the decades that followed!
Here’s Dr. Frank Reitz’s car OHS 71 on the banks of the Tugela River on The Bend, his farm outside Bergville. Pretty sure this is the car in the 42nd Hill soapbox derby picture.
Fluffy Crawley and I probably met at the Methodist Church Sunday School as toddlers, making us fellow-Methylated Spirits. We definitely both went to Kathy Putterill’s pre-school and then from Sub A to matric in school and Sunday school together. A fine human being.
kaalvoet – barefoot
hoeds – hats
the moer in – not happy
Voortrekkers – youth group for volk and fatherland – somewhat like Scouts, but less knots and more nots
Dad: “Victor Simmonds was a lovely chap and a very good artist. He was a little man, grey, a lot older than me. What? How old? Well, I was probably 35 then and he was grey. He was probably 50. He lodged with Ruth Wright (later Ruth Dominy) on the plot next door to ours, Glen Khyber. I doubt if he paid them any rent, they were probably just helping him out. He moved to the hotel in Royal Natal National Park where they allowed him to sell his art to the guests and that probably paid his rent.
“He was a hopeless alcoholic, unfortunately. He used to come to me begging for a bottle of brandy late at night, his clothes torn from coming straight across to Birdhaven from Glen Khyber, through the barbed wire fences. (Mom and Dad owned a bottle store, liquor store, in town) I said ‘Fuck off, Victor, I won’t do that to you,’ and sent him away. I wish I had bought one of his paintings. Sheila found these four paintings he gave me for nothing. He said he did these as a young student. As I took them he said ‘Wait, let me sign them for you.'”
So I went looking and found a lot of his work available on the internet. Once again Dad’s memory proved sound. Victor was born in 1909, thus thirteen years older than Dad:
I knew this scene! To me this looks like the stream above the Mahai campsite in Royal Natal National Park – So I went looking and at lovecamping.co.za I found this:
A number of his paintings are available for sale. I’d love to see his ‘The Gorge, Royal Natal National Park, Showing the Inner Buttress and Devils Tooth’ but I’d have to subscribe for one day at 30 euros! That one was apparently painted in 1980, so he kept going for at least 23 years after he stayed in our neck of the woods. That would have made Victor around 70 and his liver a resilient organ.
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. ‘
– and I say in 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! – In fact, I think they hire out the grazing for cattle – I hope not, as that really damages the veld and wetlands.
The UNISA study found 669 plant species in Platberg’s 30km2 area. To compare, Golden Gate Highlands park has 556 species in 48km2.
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 vleis around, and the vleis drowned by, 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) – I’ve always called it a tarn – 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.
See more of Platberg’s beauty in this amazing post. Damn! Sandra seems to have ended her beautiful blog! Pity!
inselberg – German for ‘island 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 Platberg mountain or inselberg a ‘koppie.’
koppie – a smaller thing than Platberg; Just west of Platberg is Loskop; you can call that a koppie, maybe, if you call it a beautiful high koppie with an impressive cliff
relevé – in population ecology, a plot that encloses the minimal area under a species-area curve; right
tarn – tarn is a term derived from tjörn an Old Norse word meaning ‘pond.’ The term’s more specific use as a mountain lake comes from the upland regions of Northern England where tarn is the name given to all ponds. The term retains a broader use since it may refer to any pond or small lake regardless of where it is located or its origin. In the Scandinavian languages the terms tjørn, tärn, tjern, or tjärn are used to refer to small natural lakes that are found closely surrounded with vegetation. Other definitions say a tarn is a post-glacial pond, and Platberg’s is not that, I don’t think. I think it’s fine to keep calling ours the tarn on the western end of Platberg.
Aside: Talking of 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; the old Do as I Say, not as I Do BS that patriarchs try to enforce