Northern Cape

The Cape Government Railway’s [CGR] construction of a railway from Cape Town to Kimberley (1875-1885) was governed by the imperatives of rapid construction and the limitation of costs. Consequently the alignment followed contours and minimised cuttings and embankments. Sections of this alignment became inadequate as traffic increased and faster times for train operation were demanded. Consequently the re-alignment of certain sections became imperative for operating and cost efficiencies. This work was tackled piecemeal when funds were available.

Prior to 1902, South Arica had three photographers with the surname Kisch, two of whom were active in the Natal province (Kwazulu-Natal today) and one in the provinces of the Northern Cape and the Orange Free State (Free State today). Each one of them has left a distinct individual impression on South African photographic history.

Jack Cockerill was working for the Chester Diamond Drilling Company when he was engaged on a contract at the Leicester Mine, on one of the kimberlite pipes found on the farm ‘Holpan’ between Windsorton Road and Barkly West in the Northern Cape. He was housed in bachelor quarters on the farm and came into contact with the family of Willie Wienand, who was in the cartage business in the area. Romance blossomed with Willie’s daughter Gladys May Wienand, and Jack became attracted to the lifestyle of alluvial diamond digging.

On a trip to Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, South Africa, in 2009 I had some spare time to walk around the town and admire the clean, bright ambiance of the place. I discovered that the town’s hot streets had been planted over the years with a variety of exotic trees, mostly Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus grandis). It was evident that the smooth pale bark of the Eucalyptus trees had become the irresistible surface for informal messages and designs.

The N12 route via Kimberley to Cape Town, sometimes called the Diamond Fields route, offers a respectable alternative to the slightly shorter but more hectic N1 route. Kimberley, after all is where South Africa’s Industrial Revolution originated and if memory serves correctly was the first town to install electric streetlights.

On rare occasions when finances and time permit, planning a leisurely road trip to Cape Town can be an exciting enterprise. Should one travel via Bloemfontein on the N1, Kimberley via the N12 or Upington via the N14? Perhaps even the N9 via Graaff-Reinet and then Montagu via the R62.

The town of Calvinia is situated south of the Hantam mountains. The name connects it to the early inhabitants of the area, the Khoekhoen, who probably called the place Hantam due to the abundance of the plant Pelargonium biflorium, which they called Heyntama.

Readers will no doubt be puzzled by a supposed mining link connecting Cape Governor Simon Van der Stel (1639-1712) to US President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964). They not only lived in different centuries, but also on separate continents 12 700 kilometers apart. Well, read on and decide for yourself!

When you read the book ‘Letters of Stone’ by South African author Steven Robins, which tracks the lives and fates of the Robinsky family in Southern Africa, Berlin, Riga and ultimately Auschwitz, you may be tempted to visit Williston to experience first-hand where one of the principal figures of this poignant story lived. Here you will find Robinsky Street, commemorating Robins’ great uncle Eugen Robinski who fled Konigsberg, East Prussia to become a successful businessman, hotel owner and one-time mayor of this small Karoo town.

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?

The first thing I did when researching this piece of writing was to look at a modern physical map of South Africa and envision that the urban areas and the modern road network shown thereupon were on a thin film that could be peeled away. What remained on the under layer were the physical features such as the coastline, rivers, escarpments and mountain ranges. It was a clean canvas on which I could put settlements on, but before I could do this I had to determine a date in history.

Established during 1786, Graaff-Reinet is the fourth oldest magistrate district in South Africa. At the time, this town was also the most important Eastern Cape based interior centre of trade in South Africa in that it was on the route of many travellers, mainly to and from the Algoa Bay harbour.

Since South Africa’s first professional photographer, Julius Leger, established himself in Port Elizabeth during 1846, both local and international photographers who foresaw commercial opportunities in this newly established art form, as well as missionaries, anthropologists, soldiers, explorers and traders have contributed to the spread of photography into the interior of South Africa.

The Grange was a majestic farm in Griqualand West that became well known as the first stop after the Orange River on the journey from the Cape to Kimberley. The Fincham Family owned it for many years and welcomed many famous visitors making their way to the diamond fields and beyond including Winston Churchill, Charles Warren and Cecil Rhodes. Below are a few powerful passages from the diary of Allister Thornton Fincham that tell the story of the transformation and ultimate tragedy of the Grange.

Port Nolloth is a sleepy town located on South Africa's north western coast. Today it is a great spot for a relaxing seaside holiday but life in the town was not always so easy. In the book A History of Copper Mining in Namaqualand John M Smalberger digs into the early history of the town and describes the incredibly tough conditions experienced by those brave enough to live there.

Thank you to the Heritage Association of South Africa (HASA) and the University of Pretoria for allowing us to publish this powerful piece on the restoration of Dunluce in 1976. The article was first published in the 1978 edition of Restorica, the old journal of the Simon van der Stel Foundation.

Cutting edge 3D laser scanning technology was used to create highly accurate digital models of the historic corbelled houses of the Northern Cape. The corbelled houses are excellent examples of the ingenuity of the early pioneers who moved into the Karoo semi-desert landscape from about 1820 through to the end of the nineteenth century. They discovered that trees were sparse and set about building their dwellings using the only available material, stone.

The Kimberley City Hall is one of the city's major attractions and a declared heritage site. It may be hard for current visitors to imagine a time when the future of the building was in doubt. Below is an article describing heroic efforts to save the landmark building in the mid 1970s. It was published in Restorica, the journal of the Simon van Der Stel Foundation (today the Heritage Association of South Africa. Thank you to the University of Pretoria (copyright holders) for giving us permission to publish.

The railway line that connects South Africa to Namibia is now 100 years old and owes its origin to the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914. The cross border stretch between Prieska, Northern Cape and Karasburg (formerly Kalkfontein), Namibia was hastily built as a military railway to give logistical support to General Louis Botha’s troops in his 1915 invasion of what was then German South West Africa (a colony twice the size of the Fatherland).

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