When I picked up a tourist brochure in the Northern Cape and read something about German war graves at Kakamas, my interest was piqued. The existence of German war graves implies that there must have been German troops in South Africa. I do possess a fair knowledge of German and South African history and just couldn't think what the historical event was. What were some of my countrymen doing in South Africa fighting a war and why?
Settlers from Northern Germany came into Natal in two main groups. The first to arrive was a group contracted to the Natal Cotton Company. This was a company established by Jonas Bergtheil, who had come from Germany in 1843 scouting for business opportunities in the region. He found one when he noticed cotton being grown.
On the road from Reitz to Bethlehem (R26) in the Free State one crosses over the railway line about 10km out of Bethlehem. Inspecting the area under the bridge one finds a grave next to the rails a few meters from the bridge. It is marked by some upright railway sleepers, totally overgrown and with a largely illegible gravestone. I could just make out... ‘Nov 1931’.
Who is buried here? And why next to the rails, not in a cemetery?
On the 21 January 1960 a major calamity befell the coal mine at Coalbrook, situated in the Northern Free State 21km south west of Vereeniging. 437 miners were buried alive 180 meters below the surface when an estimated 900 pillars collapsed. A major rescue effort was undertaken, unfortunately without any positive results.
This article covers the history of the coal mine, the events leading up to the disaster, the causes, the aftermath and what we find there today.
The Vaal river, a formidable obstacle at times, had to be crossed by the early settlers to open the way to the North. One of the crossing points in the days just after the Voortrekkers arrived was Viljoen's Drift. Josua Jacobus Viljoen had occupied the farm, Oshel, to the south of the river opposite what is now Vereeniging. The name Oshel (translated ox hell) came from the sandy ground which made life difficult for the oxen pulling a wagon.
On the shores of the Vaal Dam, on the Free State side opposite Vaal Marina, is a small graveyard containing a few graves but only a single gravestone. This marks the grave of Hermanus Lombard.
The inscription on the gravestone in the image below has been enhanced to make it more readable. Translated into English it reads:
Lombard died at Erfbloem 9 May 1930
Driving on the gravel road from Edenville to Heuningspruit in the Free State one will notice a strange looking tower sticking out from between the trees. What is/was that?
The answer is that it was a lime kiln, that is a technical term to describe an oven or furnace used to heat limestone to convert it to burned lime for use on the gold mines (as a neutralising agent and as building material). It was owned by the New Honingspruit Lime Works.
German missionaries and colonists left their mark in the form of churches along the northern border of KwaZulu-Natal. These were mainly the missionaries sent out by the Hermannsburg Mission Society (HMS), who entered Natal from the 1850s onward. Missionary work amongst the Zulus was their predominant aim. Later they spread out to the Transvaal.
Out in the middle of the Northern Free State farm land is a little church. Not a very special building, not very large, not very beautiful but it has history and this is the reason I have decided to write about it.
On the farm Leeuwpoort near Heilbron in the Northern Freestate are two residential houses built for the Weilbach family, both Provincial Heritage sites.
In this article, I'd like to cover a bit more than just the Klipkerk (translated stone church) and delve into some pre-history and related history. Two related church communities appear in this history. There is the Nederduits Hervormde Kerk and the Nederduits Gereformeerde Kerk, both translated to English as Dutch Reformed Church. Throughout the article I will use the abbreviations NH and NG respectively.
Bothaville is a small town in the North-West Free State. It is known as the maize capital because it is surrounded by endless maize fields. The skyline is dominated by numerous silos feeding the maize processing industry as well as the tower of the main church, the Dutch Reformed Church or in short NG church (from the Afrikaans name Nederduits Gereformeerte Kerk).
Beautifully situated in the Heidelberg Kloof is the Kloof cemetery, the original and oldest cemetery of the town. In fact, the oldest grave goes back to before the town was established. I'd like to take you on a walk through the graves, picking up a specific grave stone here and there.
The town started with Heinrich Ueckermann, he set up the first trading store in what now is the town.