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The Northern Cape - Our Orange Gift

The Northern Cape is a land of many surprises and unrivalled beauty. From strong flowing rivers to arid desert regions to the floral beauty of the Namaqualand the contrast is simply spectacular.

Life in the Northern Cape is dominated by the Orange River which is a true river of the wilderness and was named in honour of the Prince of Orange. To the Bushmen and Hottentots who first discovered it, it was the mother of all rivers, the Garib (‘the great river’). It brought life to the desert areas and the course of the Orange River is some 2000 kilometres long. The river rises and falls, sometimes scarcely flowing to a raging flood eight kilometres wide. It is broad and full of islands and divided into numerous channels.

In the 1880s these islands were used as strongholds by a number of freebooters and bandits. River pirates such as Captain Afrikaner and his lieutenant who was a condemned Polish forger named Stephanus. Stephanus had escaped from a gaol in Cape Town where he was being held for execution. Captain Stuurman was another tough criminal who made the river region notorious. The Cape government had to subdue these so-called river pirates and in a gallant effort they managed and the last of them was only dispersed in 1884. This allowed settlers to make their homes on the Orange River and transform the river into a great producer irrigation for food and livestock.

The nature reserves in the Northern Cape are all outstanding and a credit to South Africa. SAN Parks have once again exceeded their expectations in bringing us no less than 6 National Parks in the province. A visit to the Augrabies Falls is a truly amazing experience, just to see that continuous flow of water that the Orange River produces is a must see for all nature lovers. The Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park is a wildlife adventure of note, the teaming antelope and the diverse vegetation puts you in the middle of nature itself and not to mention the ever present Kalahari Lions.

The Diamonds of the Northern Cape have created many historical moments and there are many cities and towns that thrive today as a result of the diamond rush in the early days. Fortunes have been created for many from the Big Hole in Kimberly to the rich diamond deposits around Alexander Bay.

Alexander Bay - The world’s richest deposits of alluvial diamonds lie in the areas around Alexander Bay. But it was copper, not diamonds, which first put the Alexander Bay on the map. James Alexander was the man who founded the copper industry of Namaqualand and floated ore down the Orange River in barges and then transferred it to ships in the bay at the mouth of the river. This system was used until the narrow-gauge railway to Port Nolloth was opened in 1876. Alexander Bay was not used up until 1926 when diamonds were discovered in the area.

The finds were so rich that within a year the government had taken over the diggings and closed off the whole stretch of the coast down to Port Nolloth to prevent the market being flooded. This caused an armed uprising in 1928 by diamond hungry prospectors but strong police forces guarding the area persuaded the mob to break up.

Barkly West - The old diamond town of Barkly West has many reminders of the old days even when the diggers declared it a republic and even elected their own president. The town lies on the right bank of the Vaal River and is overlooked by Canteen Koppie.

Nobody knew who owned the Barkley West area and it was first-come-first-serve for many greedy hands that reached out to claim possession. First Hottentot and Tswana chiefs claimed ownership and demanded taxes but the diggers banded together and drove them away. Then the republics of the Orange Free State and the Transvaal claimed the land and the Transvaal president, M. W. Pretorius, made a personal trip to the region with a magistrate but unfortunately the magistrate was thrown into a boat and told that if he returned he would be tarred and feathered.

The diggers then formed their own republic and called it the ‘Klip Drift Republic’ and elected Stafford Parker as president. Parker took his office very seriously and he held court sittings to introduce justice and law into the area. Some of the justice he introduced was rough and he went as far as having troublesome characters run out of town, pegged out in the sun or even dragged across the river on by a rope.

This intriguing experiment in frontier democracy did not last and in December 1870 the British stepped in and the area was awarded to one of the Hottentot tribes know as the Griquas. The diggers’ republic promptly came to an end and Klip Drift was renamed after Sir Henry Barkly and became more law abiding and civil. Today Barkley West is a pleasant and peaceful town and the jail that housed so many celebrated characters during the days of the diamond rush still stands and has been preserved in its original old state. The bridge which was built in 1886, with its toll house, across the Vaal River still carries traffic to Kimberley.

Britstown - Sheep, wool and mutton are the chief products of the Karoo and Britstown is one of the principal centres of these farming industries. It is also a staging post on the Diamond Way the main road between Three Sisters and Johannesburg through Kimberley. The town was named after Hans Brits who was the owner of the farm on which it began in 1777.

Danielskuil - In the dolomite areas of the Ghaap Plateau there are many sinkholes and one of these deep pools was used by the Griquas as a place of trial by ordeal. It was infested with snakes and accused persons who were lowered into it were considered to have proved their innocence if they survived the night (charming). The tradition reminded the early pioneers of Daniel in the lions’ den and they named the village Danielskuil which has grown up to be the centre for the mining of asbestos, diamonds, limestone and marble for the area.

De Aar - After Germiston, De Aar is the second largest railway junction in South Africa. The lines from the Western and Eastern Cape, Gauteng and Namibia meet here and within the layout of the town there are an estimated 110 kilometres of track. Trains pass through De Aar at the rate of more than 100 per day. The 1, 5 kilometer ore trains from the iron and manganese mines of the Northern Cape rumble through the yards drawn by five coupled diesel-electric units. De Aar (‘the vein’) takes its name from an underground watercourse running beneath the area. In the Damfontein district many Bushmen paintings can be seen.

Douglas – Where the Orange River meets the Vaal River the Vaal is broad and beautiful, irrigating many farms producing lucerne, potatoes and vegetable seeds. The town of Douglas grew up at a place next to the Vaal River in 1775 which was the scene of a bloody battle between the Korana and the Bushmen at a place named Go-Koo-Lume (‘where no mercy was shown’). Douglas is a pleasant little town with fine gardens and good boating, fishing and swimming in the river.

Fraserburg – This is an isolated little town but a principal sheep farming centre surrounded by vast sheep runs in the area. It is bitterly cold in winter and there are sometimes snowfalls in the town. The famous six-sided ‘Pepperbox’ which was built in the centre of the town has been used as offices for the municipality, magistrate and church. Built in 1861 it was originally the office of the market master. The powder magazine above the town was an ammunition depot for British forces during the Anglo-Boer War.

Hanover - In 1854 Gert Gous agreed to establish a township on his farm provided that it was named Hanover after the birthplace of his German ancestors. Adequate water was available and the town steadily expanded to becoming the centre of a world famous merino sheep farming area.

The centre of the town was the Dutch Reformed Church and Hanover’s first magistrate was C. R. Beere laid out the streets and planted of peppercorn trees along side them. His work for the township is commemorated by a stone pyramid on the summit of the Trappieskoppie (‘hillock of little steps’) just outside the town.

Hondeklip Bay - In former years Hondeklip Bay was used for the shipment of copper ore and today it is a fishing centre with a factory for processing the catches which include large numbers of rock lobster. A rock shaped like a dog gives Hondeklip (‘dog stone’) its name.

Hotazel - This little place is a centre for iron mining and its odd name is said to have been given by a group of surveyors who staged a wild party there while locating a route for a railway line to the north. The party went on all night and the surveyors coined the name Hotazel as a joke but it has remained on the map up until today.

Kakamas - The Hottentot Chie Klaas Lucas started life as a river pirate and then became devoutly religious and in 1870 he asked for a missionary to be sent to his people. The missionary who answered the call of Klaas Lucas was Christiaan Schroder and he established a mission in an area known to the Hottentots as Kakamas, meaning ‘a place of poor pasture’. This mission was abandoned when war was declared against the river pirates but Schroder never forgot his venture to the Orange River and in 1895 he recommended that a settlement of poor people should be made at Kakamas. So in 1898 Schroder and the Dutch Reformed Church welcomed the new settlers who arrived at Kakamas. Farms were laid out and the town of Kakamas was established as the centre for what has become a highly successful community, producing fruit, sultanas, cotton and lucerne.

The water brought down by the Orange River ensures the fertility of an area where the rainfall is scanty and erratic and with irrigation the crops flourish in the warmth. Dates grow excellently and yellow peaches grow wild. In 1933 on the banks of the river near Kakamas an agricultural teacher by the name of A. D. Collins found a remarkable peach. This peach, known as the Kakamas or Collins peach, was large and of a beautiful golden colour with firm flesh and a delicious flavour. It was ideal for canning and within five years of its discovery in Kakamas the South African canned fruit industry was transformed increasing the total volume of canning by over double.

Kamieskroon - A huge complex of granite mountains known to the Nama Hottentots as the Thamies, meaning ‘a jumble’, surrounds the little village of Kamieskroon. It is overlooked by a peak with a cleft in its summit known as the ‘crown’ of the Thamies Mountains and hence the name of the town, Kamieskroon.

Kenhardt - This solitary little town on the Hartebees River started as a rustlers hideout in the early days and in 1868 a party of 50 policemen were sent to capture the rustlers and occupy their lair but the police only found only a few ramshackle hovels around a waterhole and for some unknown reason the rustlers called the place Kenhardt. Today Kenhardt is a centre for karakul sheep and mutton production and is a very solid town with a happy atmosphere reminiscent of its wilder past. The salt pan areas around Kenhardt are known for their extreme weather conditions.

Kimberley - This city that grew up around a great big hole in the ground which grew and grew until it was deep enough to accommodate more than two buildings each the height of Johannesburg’s Hillbrow Tower, just under 800 meters deep. That is a really Big Hole.

The first rush into the Kimberley area was in 1869 when diamonds were found in the walls of the farmhouse on Bultfontein. Enthusiastic diggers eventually pulled the house down and marked out the area of the homestead. Some 22 months after the Bultfontein finds, diamonds were discovered on a nearby hillock subsequently named Colesberg Koppie, there was a frantic rush and soon the entire hillock had vanished to be replaced by The Big Hole. Around the verges of this vast hole people started building and the mushrooming town of Kimberly started and was named after the Earl of Kimberley who was the secretary of state for colonies. A twin town named Beaconsfield grew up as the centre for the Bultfontein diggings and later merged with Kimberley and in 1913 and became the city of Kimberley.

Cecil Rhodes was the son of an English country parson and in his youth he was seriously ill with tuberculosis and to recuperate he journeyed to South Africa to join his brother Herbert, who ran a farm in Natal. The two young men rushed to Kimberley on hearing of the diamond discoveries. Rhodes started his fortune by going into business with C. D. Rudd, making ice. Rhodes ended up running Kimberley with his company called De Beers Consolidated Mines Ltd. and eventually monopolized the diamond market all over the world. At this stage Rhodes was then only 35 years of age.

In its heyday Kimberley was a very bright place where lotteries, pubs, dance halls, boxing booths and ballrooms all flourished. It was the first city in Africa to have its streets illuminated by electric light and five after that in 1887 South Africa’s first tramway company started operating.

Rhodes died in Cape Town on 26 March 1902 and his body was conveyed through Kimberley to Rhodesia for burial. Original buildings of Rhodes’s time still line the streets around the Big Hole and a fascinating museum preserves such buildings as Barney Barnato’s Boxing Academy and the tobacconist shop where Perilly produced his famous hand-made cigarettes and many more. Kimberly is steeped in history along with comes some amazing stories. It is a beautiful and bustling city today.

Kuruman - One of the natural wonders of South Africa is the ‘eye’, or source, of the Kuruman River. A spring of crystal clear water gushes out from the dolomite at a rate of 20 million liters each day. The presence of such dependable a supply of water in an otherwise arid area made human settlement inevitable. In 1801 a missionary by the name of Johan Kok established a mission there but after eight years was murdered. Then in 1824 Robert Moffat from the London Missionary Society arrived and established another mission which became one of the most famous mission stations in Africa. The source of the Kuruman River was often described as the fountain of Christianity in Africa.

The original mission buildings still stand and are surrounded by irrigated fields which are shaded by magnificent trees. The trunk of the almond tree under which David Livingstone proposed to Mary Moffat still stands in an overgrown garden. It is a quiet and gentle place and is full of peaceful memories. The mission church is still in use and the scene of many gatherings and services. The modern town of Kuruman is a neat little place and is the centre for a cattle and dairy farming area. The town draws drinking water from the source of the Kuruman River, and the surroundings of the ‘eye’ have been developed as a park.

Okiep - The spring known to the Nama people as U-gieb or ‘the great brackish fountain’, is now the site of one of the largest copper mines in Namaqualand. Europeans have changed the original name to Okiep and there are several relics of early Cornish style buildings in the bustling town.

Pofadder - Klaas Pofadder was a cattle rustler whose headquarters were at a lonely, inaccessible little spring of fresh water behind a small hill and in 1875 he and his band of fellow thieves were chased into their hideaway and killed in a gun fight, hence the name Pofadder. A mission station was then established at the spring and the present town has developed as a centre for karakul and woolly sheep. A cheerful little town and its name does attract many curious visitors.

Port Nolloth – This port is a centre for the alluvial diamond mining operations along the coast. In 1854 Captain M. S. Nolloth who was a surveyor for the Royal Navy picked this place, which was then known as Robbebaai (‘seal bay’), for development as a port for the Namaqualand copper mines. A harbour for small vessels was built behind the reef and a narrow-gauge railway was built to the mines that lay inland. For 68 years Port Nolloth remained the principal outlet for copper ore in South Africa then in 1942 a road was built from the mines to the main railhead at Bitterfontein. By then Port Nolloth had developed and as well as being part of the diamond industry it is also a major fishing centre.

Postmasburg - The little town of Postmasburg was founded in 1892 as a ranching centre. After 26 years diamonds were found near the town and then in 1922 manganese was discovered and then followed the discovery of iron deposits at Sishen in 1940. These discoveries converted a dull area into a scene of tremendous mining activity. An electrified railway was built in 1930 to convey ore to the main line north of Kimberley and another electrified line was built in 1974 to link the mines directly to Saldanha Bay. Postmasburg is no holiday resort but plays a major part in the economy of South Africa.

Prieska - The first trail across the Karoo reached the Orange River at a place known to the Hottentot tribes as Prieskap (‘the place where the goat was lost’). When the number of travellers to the interior increased a handful of traders and a missionary settled in this place and in 1878 the town of Prieska was born. Prieska is famed for semiprecious stones especially the tiger’s eye and its variants and the stones are exported to jewellers all over the world. The area is also known for sheep farming and produces mutton and wool.

Richmond - The sheep-farming town of Richmond was founded in 1845 and named after the Duke of Richmond by his son-in-law, Sir Peregrine Maitland. This was the birthplace of the South African medical pioneer, Dr. Emil Hoffa, who founded the science of orthopedics. Richmond was also the scene of several battles during the Anglo-Boer War and in former years the area was a popular game hunting ground for the British.

Springbok - Baked by the hot sun and surrounded by granite mountains Springbok is a beautiful and flourishing town. Long before the copper mines were opened up huge herds of springbok used to drink at a fountain there and today Springbok is the commercial and administrative centre for the mining area and is regarded as the capital of Namaqualand.

Outside the town is the Hester Malan Nature Reserve and despite the aridity of the area, many wild flowers grow in the spring, transforming the veld into a blaze of beauty and colour. Governor Simon van der Stel’s original prospecting shaft which was sunk in 1685 still remains and is a true reminder of the good old days.

Sutherland – This is the coldest town in South Africa and at only 1456 meters above sea level it reaches minimum temperatures of -6 degrees. It was founded in 1857 and was named after a prominent minister, Reverend H. Sutherland. Today it is the principal astronomical centre in Africa because of its quiet location and the unpolluted clear skies.

Victoria West - Queen Victoria had many places named in her honour and if she had travelled the Karoo Victoria West might have given her cause for a nod and a smile. This sun-baked little oasis in the Karoo has a meandering street of commercial buildings. Some of them built in the last century when fortune seekers streamed through the village on their way up to the diamond fields.

Victoria West has not changed a lot since its beginning in 1843. When diamonds were discovered in Hopetown in 1886 a highway was made to the north. Hotels and stores and a newspaper were built but unfortunately the railway missed the town by 12 kilometers and Victoria West had to be satisfied with a siding and a bumpy gravel track into the town named Victoria West Road.

Vioolsdrif – The main road reaches the border of Namibia at a spot on the Orange River called Vioolsdrif. A bridge has been built over the river and a line of tall cliffs with brilliantly coloured rock called Vioolsdrif Stone can be seen. The valley is extremely hot but irrigation from the river allows lucerne, citrus, dates and other crops to be cultivated successfully.

Warrenton - In 1880 a syndicate purchased the farm on which Warrenton lies to produce vegetables for the Kimberley diamond diggers. The farm lay on the banks of the Vaal River and was suitable for irrigation. Diamonds were then found in the gravels of the river and in 1888 and there was a rush to the Warrenton farm and mining continues today.

Upington - Sir Thomas Upington, who was the attorney general of the Cape, was the man principally responsible for liquidating the business activities of the Orange River pirates and capturing their leader, Klaas Lucas. When the criminals were finally driven away in 1884 a town was founded in the area on the banks of the Orange River and was named in honour of Sir Thomas Upington. Oom Japie Lutz and the missionary Christiaan Schroder were among the first pioneers in Upington and in 1890, were the first people to dig an irrigation canal and erect a pump on the banks of the Orange River.

Upington is the principal town of the Northern Cape and lies on the north bank of the Orange River. The railway reaches the town by means of a bridge 1067 meters long and is the second longest railway bridge in South Africa. The town is the centre for many industries such as the production of lucerne, sultanas, raisins, dried fruits, cotton, peas, karakul sheep, goats and cattle.

Dates grow well at Upington and the first palms are said to have originated during the Anglo-Boer War when British soldiers received dates as part of their rations. The men are said to have pushed the date stones into the mud on the riverbanks and many thousands of palm trees grew. Upington is a pleasant, modern town, with an international airport. In the local cemetery there is the grave of the famous Scotty Smith a highwayman, horse thief and bank robber, one of the most celebrated of the South African desperadoes.