12 April 2005

Old Elephant Tree collapses

One of Durban's living national monuments, a 200-year-old umkhuhlu tree (a forest mahogany or Trichilia Dregeana), collapsed in March. It was known as the elephant tree because it was part of the old Berea forest which served as a refuge for elephant herds until the mid 1850s. Many attempts had been made to preserve the tree. Although the main trunk and some branches of the elephant tree survived the collapse, the remains of the tree are now so unstable that a decision would have to be taken soon on whether to fell it completely or to fence off the area to prevent injury to passers-by.
Durban's Berea used to be thickly forested. In 1839, Swedish naturalist Johan Wahlberg got so lost in the dense groves around Mitchell Park that he had to fire several shots from his hunting rifle to summon a rescue party. According to Durban historian Prof. Donal McCracken, elephants used to wander through the forest 150 years ago on their way to the Umgeni River. When the village of Durban was established in 1824, the Berea forest was inhabited by elephant, buffalo, leopard and the occasional lion. In the 1850s the larger game animals were killed, or forced to vacate their grounds. The last recorded lion left its footprints next to the Botanic Gardens in 1854.

Heritage transformation

Speaking at the recent opening of the Heritage Transformation Indaba in Kempton Park, Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan promised that the transformation of the heritage sector will not seek to "negate or obliterate the experience of any of our communities". He said the transformation process aimed to correct historical distortions of the past and that his department intended to liberate, depict and give equal prominence to the cultures, experiences and stories of indigenous peoples. Legislation such as the SA Geographical Names Council Act and the National Heritage Resources Act were proof of the government's vision to "emancipate our heritage terrain from colonial bondage". Jordan also announced he would be establishing a panel to help in the development of a national strategy that would focus on the collection, preservation and promotion of living heritage. The panel would consist of practitioners and other experts who dealt with the various forms of living heritage. Experts in various aspects of living heritage, defined as intangible cultural heritage such as oral history, rituals, skills and technique, were set to meet in September at a national consultative forum.

Reclaiming family art

A US District Judge dismissed a lawsuit in February by four descendants of a German woman who had sought to recover a Vincent van Gogh painting from actress Elizabeth Taylor. According to the descendants of Margarete Mauthner, the actress failed to review the ownership history of View of the Asylum of Saint-Remy before acquiring it. The family asked for restitution and the painting, which has been appraised between $10 million and $15 million.
The plaintiffs were Mauthner's great-grandchildren - Andrew J. Orkin, a lawyer in Hamilton, Ontario, and his two South African siblings Mark Orkin (head of the Human Sciences Research Council) and Sarah-Rose Josepha Adler, and their uncle A. Heinrich Zille. The plaintiffs have never claimed that Nazis took the painting off Mauthner at gunpoint. European Jews sold property during the Holocaust era under acute political pressure and economic duress. In 2002 the Orkins first indicated that they were investigating Taylor's painting. In June 1954, the German government compensated them for the forced sale of their home in Berlin in August 1938 and for the loss of pension funds seized by the Nazis.
Judge Gary Klausner ruled that a state law only permitted the plaintiffs to sue in the three years after property was taken. Another state law that froze the statute of limitations until the property was located didn't apply. The 1998 federal Holocaust Victims Redress Act was passed to compensate Holocaust victims who lost possessions during World War II. It urges all governments to facilitate the return of private and public property, including artwork, to victims of Nazi pillaging who can prove they are the rightful owners.
Taylor's lawyers said Mauthner voluntarily sold the painting, which depicts the asylum where van Gogh lived toward the end of his life. Citing a German art book, they said Mauthner owned more than one van Gogh painting and sold her last one, View of the Sea at St Maries, in 1933 to help finance her family's move from Berlin for South Africa in 1939. According to Taylor's court documents, a letter dated 21 October 1933 by one of the employees of the gallery to which Mauthner sold the painting wrote: "Mauthner would certainly not have decided upon this course of action were it not for her nephew's moving away to seek a new life in another country [South Africa], and this provides a use of the money for a purpose that is dearer to her heart than owning the painting."
Taylor said Mauthner bought the disputed painting in 1907 from Paul Cassirer and later sold the painting back to him. It was then acquired by a Berlin art dealer, Marcel Goldschmidt, and later by Alfred Wolf. In 1963, Wolf's heirs decided to sell his collection through Sotheby's in 1963. That year, Taylor's father, Francis Taylor, bought the painting on his daughter's behalf for £92,000. The sales brochure had warned that the painting was likely confiscated by the Nazis, according to the lawsuit. Two catalogues raisonnĂ©, one written in 1928 and another in 1939, named Mauthner as the owner of the painting. A catalogue raisonnĂ© is a complete documentation, compiled by a recognised scholar, of an artist’s production. The documents are widely accepted in art circles as the definitive history of a piece of art.
Mauthner died in 1947 at age 84. As a young woman in Berlin, she was part of an association of progressive artists, and was instrumental in introducing van Gogh to Germany. She also translated his letters into German in 1907.

First location in South Africa?

Beaufort West became South Africa's first fully-fledged municipality in 1837 and is the birthplace of world famous heart surgeon Chris Barnard and politician Patricia de Lille. The area is also said to be a favourite with many ghosts. The mountain winds of the Nuweveld are said to carry the cries of a mother searching for her child. The waterspook whips up clouds to hide himself, while a Jewish peddler hitches a ride near Prince Albert and then disappears after getting out of your vehicle.
Circa 1878, the city fathers banished Blacks and Coloureds to the outskirts, probably the first location in South Africa. By the 1900s the township, called The Location, was home to 466 adults and 514 children, the majority of whom were Coloureds, and by 1925 the government proclaimed it a Bantu area.


Pieter du Toit is one of the Breedekloof area's oldest residents and the local historian. He is a 10th-generation descendant of the du Toit who settled on the farm Klipdrift in 1716 and after whom the Du Toitskloof mountain range was named. His Huguenot ancestors first settled the area in the early 1700s on lands granted by Governor Willem van der Stel. Generations later, the same families still farm there - du Toit, du Preez and le Roux. A branch of the du Toit family has farmed Jasonsfontein for five generations.
Besides wine, Breedekloof is also famous for its moskonfyt. Jan le Roux of Pokkraal, a farm named after the deadly pox epidemic of the early 1700s, is renowned for making vast quantities of the preserve from fermented ripe grapes. He owns a collection of trekker wagons built in 1717.
Six generations of Louws have farmed in the Slanghoek Valley. Eensgevonden is one of the oldest farmhouses in the area, dating back to the early 1700s. Owner Sally McDermott left the oil industry in Dallas to settle in the area. She farms grapes for Daschbosch winery and runs self-catering cottages.
Sutherland House, the newest guest-house in the area, is owned by Victor and Kyle, who swapped careers in London for Rawsonville where they renovated the 1890 homestead.

King Langalibalele of the AmaHlubi

The 19th century King Langalibalele of the AmaHlubi in KwaZulu-Natal may become part of declared national heritage. Representatives of the AmaHlubi are in discussions with the South African Heritage Resources Agency (Sahra).
According to the king's great-great-grandson, Prince Bekithemba Langalibalele, chairman of the AmaHlubi National Working Committee, the AmaHlubi was the largest tribe in south-east Africa during the 1800s. On 03 November 1873, the Battle of Langalibalele broke out after King Langalibalele refused to register guns which his male tribal members had received as payment for working on the Kimberley diamond mines. The Natal Carbineers under Lord Durnford attempted to storm Langalibalele Pass losing five men in the process. According to the AmaHlubi royal house, the imperial troops had been ordered to eradicate the amaHlubi. More than 200 young men, women and children were killed, cattle valued in today's terms at R21m were slaughtered and villages destroyed. Lord Durnford spent nine months in the area.
The king fled to Lesotho where he was eventually arrested. His trial was South Africa's first treason trial, and he was convicted of murder, treason and rebellion and exiled to the Cape Colony, and banished to Robben Island for life in 1874. In August 1875, he was transferred and held at Uitvlugt near Pinelands, where he was incarcerated for 12 years. He died under house arrest in 1889. His grave, kept secret by the amaHlubi for over 60 years, lies within the borders of the Giant`s Castle Game Reserve and was has been visited by one of his most illustrious blood decedents, Nelson Mandela. Langa, the oldest township in the Western Cape, was named after him in 1923.
King Langalibalele was born in the Umzinyati area in Utrecht in 1818. After a skirmish with Zulu king Mpande in 1848 he settled his people around the Klip River and after a few years they were forced to move by the British colonial authorities and relocated to Estcourt. The amaHlubi won more than 8,000 hectares of their land back in 2000 under the government land restitution. They are still demanding restitution from the British government in terms of the 1875 proclamation by Queen Victoria, which promised to compensate them for their losses during the Battle of Langalibalele. In October 2004, the then British High Commissioner to South Africa, Ann Grant, handed over a chair, a leopard skin cape and a staff, symbols of monarchy taken by the troops, back to King Langalibalele II.

09 April 2005

Pretoria Rugby Club

Pretoria's oldest rugby club, the Pretoria Rugby Club located in Totius Street, Groenkloof, could close down. According to Chris le Grange, chairperson of the Pretoria Sports Union (PSU), main organising body administering the rugby club, the City of Tshwane Metropolitan Municipality (CTMM) served an eviction order on them in October last year, ordering them to vacate the premises by 28 February 2005. PSU has since appealed this notice on the grounds that their rent has been paid up until December 2010, and according to the legal firm representing the CTMM in this affair, Roestoff, Venter & Kruse, this appeal is still pending in the High Court.

Uitenhage's history

A book on Uitenhage's 200 years, Uitenhage 200: 1804-2004, was recently launched. The work was started by Dr. C.G. Henning, who was born in Uitenhage and formerly of the University of Durban-Westville. He passed away before he was able to complete it. In April 2003, Dr. Otto Terblanche, senior lecturer in history at the University of Port Elizabeth, was asked to complete the lavishly illustrated coffee table book. The previous book on Uitenhage was W.S.J. Sellick's Uitenhage Past and Present, 1804-1904, which was published in 1905. Copies of the new book can be ordered from Ms. van der Mescht by phoning 041-9941371.

Award for Olive Schreiner

Former activist Barbara Schreiner, great-great-grand-niece of Olive Schreiner, was present at the recent presentation of a Presidential Citation, the certificate of The Order of Ikhamanga, presented posthumously to the Schreiner family, by President Thabo Mbeki. Professor Deneys Schreiner and his wife, Else, well-known Pietermaritzburg academics and philanthropists, were also present. The event also included the official opening of the newly built Ikhamanga Hall at the Olive Schreiner Museum in Cradock, which houses all of Olive Schreiner's works, as well as those of other South African human rights activists and politicians. Among the most popular works by Olive is the highly-acclaimed novel, The Story of an African Farm.