17 May 2008

Anglo-Boer War cannon in Ottawa

The Battle of Witkloof (aka the Battle of Leliefontein), south-east of Belfast, took place on 07 November 1900, during the Anglo-Boer War. In 1951 it was still remembered with an annual service and parade - in Ottawa, Canada - on 07 November. A memorial service was also held at Witkloof each year until 07 November 1964.

On the morning of 24 January 1900, Cmdt. Hendrik Frederik Prinsloo, led the small Carolina Commando to the top of Spioenkop. During the defence along the Tugela River, this small mounted united was of vital importance. Prinsloo and his 11 year old son supplied fresh horses for the unit. In November 1900 the unit focused on the important Delagoa Bay railway line. Gen.-Maj. Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was tasked with stopping them. He referred to them as "brave risk takers who tested us like Cossacks". On 06 November the General and his 1400 men and six cannons were on their way to Carolina. Gen. J.C. Fourie and Cmdt. Prinsloo were top riders, but that morning both their horses were difficult to handle. The two forces clashed at Witkloof. In the final advance, Fourie and Prinsloo decided to take the cannons. Three Canadians risked their lives to save the cannons. Fourie and Prinsloo were killed, and Gen. Grobler was wounded. Of the 95 Colonial troops lost, 31 were Canadian. The day after the battle, Ou Mei, Prinsloo's faithful musket bearer (agterryer), took a letter from Smith-Dorrien dated 07 November (written before the battle), and Prinsloo's bush hat back to Mrs. Prinsloo. The battle took place within sight of Prinsloo's farmhouse, where his wife and children were. The Canadians won three Victoria Crosses and one D.S.O. in this battle. After the war, Smith-Dorrien collected money in London and built a memorial for the two Boer officers.

Cmdt. Hendrik Frederik Prinsloo was a descendant of a Slagtersnek Rebel. He was born in 1861 near Kroonstad and given his father's names. As a child, he moved to the Lydenburg area with his parents. He started his military career in 1880-1881 when he took part in the first Anglo-Boer War. Two years later, he risked his life during the Mapog War, when he rescued a wounded comrade. In 1896 he was made a Firld Cornet in the Carolina Commando.

Nature reserve in Johannesburg

The Melville Koppies, in Johannesburg, are popular with walkers and hikers. The nature reserve, split in two by Beyers Naud√© Avenue, compromises 50 ha and has a number of routes. For those who are interested in the area's history, there are guided tours led by knowledgeable guides. The Melville Koppies has the remains of an19th century kraal, as well as an iron smelter. Parking is available at the Mark’s Park Sports Grounds, and the reserve is patrolled by security guards. Join a Cross Koppies guided walked on Saturday 24 May, starting at 08:00 at the entrance opposite Mark’s Park in Judith Road, Emmarentia. For more info contact Wendy at 011 482 4797.

St Cyprian’s Cathedral centenary

St Cyprian’s Cathedral in Kimberley concluded its centenary celebrations this month. The Bishop of Kimberley and Kuruman, the Rt Rev. Oswald Swartz, unveiled a centenary plaque to mark the occasion. The cathedral’s centenary was launched last year when Bishop Crowther visited forty years after his deportation from Kimberley in 1967. Bishop Tom Stanage unveiled a plaque marking the century since the laying of the foundation stone. A new Garden of Remembrance was dedicated by the Dean of Kimberley, the Very Rev. Fr Brian Beck. Two longer-term centenary projects are under way. One is the installation of a ring of bells in the tower to be dedicated to the memory of victims of HIV/Aids. The other looks back to the historical role of St Cyprian’s in establishing some of Kimberley’s earliest schools in the late 19th century.

Mpumalanga needs help

The Mpumalanga Provincial Government is taking steps to record, preserve and present the province’s rich history. Premier Thabang Makwetla’s office is looking for private companies to implement and co-ordinate the province’s flagship programme - the Heritage, Greening Mpumalanga and Tourism Programme. The Heritage, Greening and Tourism Programme required expertise in various fields such as heritage preservation and management, environmental conservation, waste and pollution management and tourism development. Successful service providers would be appointed for three years. The heritage component involves identifying, recording, preserving and representing the province’s heritage sites and other resources. Last year, the provincial government published a book called Mpumalanga History and Heritage to raise awareness about Mpumalanga’s rich history and heritage.

Jail time for cutting old trees

Three family members from Mooi River in KwaZulu-Natal have been sentenced by the circuit High Court for stealing a yellowwood forest. Another three members of the Malenge Tribal Authority were also sentenced for their involvement in the crime, which conservationists estimate caused damage worth R8-million to the State forest. The trees were between 300 and 400 years old. Victor Terblanche, his sons Pierre and Morne, and three members of the Malenge Tribal Authority ­ Nkosi Wilson Ntlabathi, Eric Sithole and S.P. Satywa ­ were convicted of cutting down 89 yellowwood trees in the Umzimkhulu area. They were arrested in 2001. The Terblanche family members and the Tribal Authority members each received an eight-year prison sentence, of which three years were suspended for five years, while the Terblanches received an additional three years in prison. The Tribal Authority members also received two-year suspended prison sentences. The men were charged with various crimes relating to the illegal cutting, possession, sale and transportation of forest products from the Gonqogonqo State Forest. Rod Potter, a KwaZulu-Natal wildlife investigator, conducted the investigation, the first court case of this magnitude heard by a high court in South Africa. The State indicated it would appeal against some of the sentences, which it felt were too lenient.

Bush theatre

Danie Niehaus has opened a bush theatre in the foothills of the Outeniqua Mountains. He lived in Bloubergstrand for 30 years, but moved to Hoekwil where together with Elmi and Willem Smith, previous owners of Big Blue Cafe in Melkbosstrand, they've set up home. They created a natural amphitheatre behind their old farmhouse. There is a terrace with wooden tables where guests can have picnics while listening to concerts, à la Kirstenbosch. There is space available for 1000 people.

Vredefort Dome under threat

The Vredefort Dome World Heritage site is under threat. It is believed that southern Africa is the cradle of mankind, and that this site is probably where life started. A meteorite slammed into the ground near what is now Vredefort in the Free State, leaving a crater 90 kilometres wide and 20 kilometres deep. Two thousand million years later, the Vredefort Dome Conservancy is relatively unknown as a tourist spot. It is the oldest of the three largest sites where a meteorite struck the earth. The other two sites are in Mexico and Canada. Vredefort is the best preserved site and draws scientists from all over the world. The Dome Conservancy houses a finely balanced ecosystem with diversity in habitats such as open plains, bushveld and riverine bush. At least 99 plant species have been identified, including the world’s largest olive wood tree forest. It is also an important birding area with over 450 bird species identified. Recently a new archaeological find was made when the remains of a young woman were uncovered at the Askoppies ­ refuse dumps created by Iron Age settlements. Kraal foundations have been uncovered, as well as the remains of huts. Archaeological excavations are still underway.

Landowners in the area have joined the Dome Conservation Trust, started six years ago to save the Vredefort Dome area from mining activities, and getting it declaring a World Heritage Site. Now this unique site is again under threat. Illegal development was taking place. Raw sewerage was being pumped into the Vaal River, threatening the ecosystem. Three golfing estates were being built in the heart of the dome. An Australian mining company, Orbitx, wants to prospect for gold and coal in the area.

Fitzsimons Snake Park to be demolished

The Fitzsimons Snake Park, a landmark in Durban since 1938 and the second oldest reptile park in southern Africa, is a major tourist attraction, yet it faces closure any day now. That means moving the more than 250 snakes and 3000 other animals in a few days. eThekwini city manager Mike Sutcliffe gave the park notice that they had to move as demolishing the snake park was part of the city's Golden Mile regeneration programme. As soon as the building is vacated, the city plans to demolish the structure and extend the promenade. Although the park focuses on South African snakes, snakes from other parts of the world, as well as crocodiles, spiders, lizards, tortoises, turtles, and scorpions where on view. Fitzsimons Snake Park staff planned a demonstration to save the 70-year-old institution. The current owner is Belinda Quirk.