Anglo-Boer War (South African War)

Middelburg is one of those towns one usually bypasses while travelling to the Loskop Dam, the Kruger Park or the Mpumalanga Escarpment, not realizing it offers interesting sightseeing opportunities.

There is a historic Dutch Reformed Church established by the controversial Reverend Frans Lion Cachet in 1866, when the community was still known as Nazareth. Later the town’s name was changed to Middelburg, as it was midway between the two principal Transvaal towns of Pretoria (Tshwane) and Lydenburg (Mashishing).

A friend who grew up in Germiston claimed at his recent birthday bash that while you could leave Germiston, it would never leave you. His words mulled through my mind as I arrived at the Primrose Cemetery. Visiting a historic cemetery like Primrose is similar to visiting an interesting museum. Instead of viewing artifacts one sees the tombstones of people who participated in events that may have shaped one’s life in one way or another. One also starts better interpreting the tombstone symbols and appraising the epitaphs. 

 

September was Heritage Month but here I was in October invited to spend a weekend at Kedar Heritage Lodge to join the celebrations for the unveiling of a memorial to Sir Winston Churchill. Why October? Why Churchill in the Bushveld? Then I remembered. Kedar is a modern reincarnation of President Kruger’s farm and country estate, Boekenhoutfontein (meaning Beech-wood Spring). Now located in the Northwest Province, it was once a jewel in the Transvaal Republic.

Most Gauteng holiday makers break their journey to the KZN Coast at one of the Ultra City or Star Stop facilities at Harrismith or Van Reenen’s Pass. Once fortified with fuel, fast food and soft drinks, they continue on their way, aware they are halfway to Durban.

This is a pity as they miss the opportunity to visit one of the more interesting and historical cemeteries in South Africa. This is the old Harrismith Municipal Cemetery, situated north-east of the corner of Laksman and Greyling Streets.

A few years ago, I needed to write my memoir to understand myself but as my mother had had a great effect on my childhood and the person I became, I realised that that was where I should start. However, it soon became apparent that her childhood was the reason for who she became. So perhaps I needed to start with my grandmother, who died when my mother was eleven years old. But I didn't even know my grandmother’s name!

Photography is the only “language” that is understood worldwide, resulting in a bridge being created between nations and cultures – it connects the family of humanity. Independent of political influence – where people are free – it provides us with an honest reflection about life and events, allows us to share in the hope, joy and despair of others, and potentially lightens political and social burdens. This way we become witnesses, not only of humanity, but also of the brutality of human kind (Gernsheim as quoted in Sontag 1977).

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.

Heinrich Ueckermann

The town started with Heinrich Ueckermann, he set up the first trading store in what now is the town.

 

We South Africans live in a polyglot society, which under our Constitution, has 11 official languages that “must enjoy parity of esteem and must be treated equitably”. Mother tongues range from Afrikaans to IsiZulu, from isiXhosa to Setswana, however to stop us being a modern Tower of Babel we largely use one language to communicate between each other and that is English. In doing so we are reflecting a world wide trend. In today’s world English has become the “Lingua Franca” replacing French as the language of diplomacy and German in the field of science.

Jannie Roggeband, a Dutch citizen, was a field ambulance volunteer during the Anglo Boar War (1899-1902). Roggeband had a powerful accolade published in the Ficksburg community newspaper on 4 January 1923, a few days after the death of General George Alfred Brand (10 February 1875 – 24 December 1922). General Brand, one of President and Lady Brand’s 11 children, passed away at the young age of 47. A family photograph circa 1882, in the author’s collection, shows George and his older siblings, 7 of which were boys.

As a collector and researcher of Anglo Boer war related images the author, on occasions, finds original letters or newspaper clippings that relate to the “sitter” (person in the photograph) who was either a participant in the Boer War or simply a citizen caught up in the war.

Photographs in themselves tell stories, but to find personal letters either written by, or addressed to, the sitter enriches the story. The author feels compelled to record some of these personal stories – like this one:

Stereo photography is a craze that has swept the world since 1851, so much so that modern View Masters are still being produced commercially today. Stereo images (two photographs of the same subject, taken from slightly different angles but covering the same subject area, and mounted side by side) must be viewed through a special viewer where the two images then fuse into one giving a visual impression of subject depth – or a three dimensional effect.

With a melodic sounding name the Riemland is largely an area of wide flat horizons interspersed with not much else. It is however home to some very interesting heritage hotspots in the country. The Riemland covers most of the north and north-eastern Free State, including the towns of Sasolburg, Heilbron, Petrus Steyn, Lindley, Arlington and Senekal.

In 2014 The Heritage Portal Team visited Irene and were taken on an emotional tour of the Concentration Camp Cemetery. Below are a few historical details of the camp courtesy of the Centurion Heritage Society.

The Irene concentration camp was opened on 2 November 1900. The population of the camp increased rapidly and refugees were housed in tents under extremely poor conditions.

During the South African War of 1899-1902 blockhouses formed an essential part of British military strategy against Dutch forces. Initially these were fairly substantial and were used to guard key military points, but once the war moved into its final stages, they were used, together with barbed wire, as a means of limiting the movement of Republican commandos. All in all, some 8000 blockhouses were built over a period of two years, and although most were eventually dismantled, a number still remain in silent testimony of a bitter and foolish war.

Following hot on the heels of the 'Race to the Rand' here is the third installment of the History of Southern African Railway Series by Peter Ball. The article looks at the role of the railways during the South African War (the Second Anglo-Boer War).

The Battles of Magersfontein and Modder River are two well known engagements that took place during the Anglo-Boer (South African) War. Below are excerpts from an incredibly moving article written by W. Westerman about his experiences ensuring many of the dead received an honourable farewell. The piece appeared in the March 1908 edition of the South African Railway Magazine. Thank you to the Heritage Office at Transnet for giving us access to their archives.

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