Tag Archives: Harrismith

Please Release Me Let Me Go!

July 1970. The All Blacks were on tour. We had seen them playing in Bethlehem where Bryan Williams, the first Maori allowed to play in South Africa (inconveniently fast, handsome and popular) scored a try in his first game in an All Blacks jersey. I think our Dawie Fourie played against them. Check the Bethlehem news “en daar was rugby ook”: We got klapped 43-9, so the rugby was just an afterthought!

Now they were playing Free State (or Vrystaat) in Bloem and Jean le Roux and I decided we needed to go and see the game. We hitch-hiked, arrived in time and watched the game. Let’s conveniently forget the score. You know how those All Blacks are.

After the game we realised it was getting dark and cold. We had made zero plans or arrangements, so we made our way to the police station, told our tale of need and were met with excited enthusiasm and hospitality. NOT. We were actually met with indifference and ignored. Eventually one konstabel saw us and asked, “Wat maak julle hier?” and we told our tale again. He said nothing but fetched some keys and beckoned us to follow him. “There’s a ladies cell vacant”, he muttered, letting us in and locking the door behind us.

Toilet in the corner with no cistern, no seat and a piece of wire protruding through a hole in the wall: the chain. Four mattresses with dirty grey blankets. Lots of graffitti, mostly scratched into the plaster. Yirr, some vieslike words! We slept and woke early, eager to hit the road back to Harrismith. After waiting a while we started peering out of the little hole in the door, hoping someone would walk past. Then we called politely with our lips at the hole. Eventually we started shouting – to no avail. After what seemed like ages someone came to the door. Thank goodness!

“Please open up and let us out, we have to hitch-hike back to Harrismith”, we said, eagerly. “Dink jy ek is vokken mal?” * came the voice and he walked off. We realised it was probably a new shift and no-one knew about our innocence!

We had to bellow and yell and perform before we eventually could get someone to believe us and let us out.

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* Do you think I’m crazy?

The Blands in Africa (one branch . . )

On 2017/03/16, Sheila wrote:

Hi Everyone

Our distant cousin Hugh Bland has been doing some wonderful work sniffing out the Bland family history.

Today he found the grave of Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland – he was born 1799 in the UK and arrived at the Cape in 1825. He settled in Mossel Bay, where he became mayor and the main street is still called Bland Street. He died in 1861. The grave is on a farm, in very thick bush, in the Wydersrivier district near Riversdal.  The farmer very kindly took Hugh to the gravesite.

Hugh says you can read the inscription on the grave stone – it’s indistinct, but there’s no doubt that it’s JBA’s grave. He says it was “quite a moment” for him – JBA was buried there 156 yrs ago and Hugh wondered when a Bland last stood at that grave.

Hugh put two proteas on the grave and then laid his shadow next to his (and our) great great great grandfather:

JBA Bland's grave

After Josiah Benjamin Adam Bland came John Francis Adam Bland (born 1836) who trekked inland to Harrismith in the Orange River Colony with a small baby – John Francis Adam the second. This started “our branch” of the Blands. JFA II later married Mary Caskie (who became the beloved Granny Bland of Harrismith). They had five sons of whom our grandfather Frank (JFA III) and Bunty were the oldest.

Hugh found out that JFA the first died on 10 September 1891 aged 55, and is buried in Senekal.

JFA II and Granny Bland and all five of their sons are buried in the same grave in Harrismith. Granny Bland buried her husband and four of her five boys – what a tragic life, but she did live long enough to know us, her great grandkids. The one son who outlived her, Bunty, died in 1974.

JFA III’s wife Annie Bland (nee Bain) – our granny Annie – died aged 90 ca 1981. Her daughter Pat (Cowie), our mother Mary’s sister died in 1974. Mom Mary is still alive and turned 88 in 2016.

I’m hoping sister Sheila will fact-check me here!

 

Long Lost Letter

Donald Coleman was my good mate and older side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash (alone in the car) around 1975 (I have no detail of what exactly happened).

In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.

It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page (probably page 2 of a 2-page letter) and a scrap of envelope addressed to:
poel
rrismith
e Free State

A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope (but the date part of the franking was/is missing).

I suspect it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.

The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said:

This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412.

              Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year.

              It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you.

                        From your mate
                             Donald

Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny one changing your to you).

So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!

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I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Was it a Harrismith find? From when?
That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. Suspicion: Did my folks open it and not pass it on!!?

I searched the desk again and found the rest of the envelope: It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School.

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Mary Bland farm

This was taken on my grandparents’ Frank and Annie Bland’s farm, Nuwejaarsvlei in the Harrismith district. The farm is now under Sterkfontein Dam. Here’s older sis Pat pushiing Mother Mary in the pram in the farmyard.

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The Nuwejaarspruit runs from there down to the Wilge river and then on to the Vaal river. Sterkfontein dam was built on the spruit and drowned the farm under Tugela river water. You would now have to scuba dive to see the farmhouse.

sterkfontein-dam

Then they moved into town – Harrismith

The Watersmeet Hawkins’

Sheila wrote:

Mrs Hawkins circa 1944 with her horse Pie. Mrs Hawkins was the mother of the five spinster Hawkins sisters who lived at Watersmeet at the bottom end of Harrismith. There were also 2 brothers. Only really old Harrismith people will remember this wonderful family. Blanche wrote the “History of Harrismith”. The other sisters had names like Mab, Mary (known as Bloody Bill who nursed “up north” in the Second World War) Vi and Flo. What wonderful names!

 

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Willow tree in picture, Platberg in the background

 Barbara  wrote:
I always thought there were 6 sisters that spoilt you and I rotten at “Watersmeet”. Those were really the good ‘ol days. I loved aunty Vi and was rather scared of some of them, but they were all fantastic ladies. The horse’s name was Robin Pie and the old lady was Mrs. Eliza Hawkins.
Jill Taylor (grand-daughter of Eliza?) wrote:
Just the 5 aunts – how does Sheila know so much about them?! Flo, Blanche, Mary (Bill), Mab and Vi in age order and then Frank and Len were the two brothers. They were all characters!

Harrismith Zoo

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THE MAN
On 1st June 1955 Mr CJ (Bossie) Boshoff was appointed as “parkkurator” of the now well-established President Brand Park by the Harrismith Municipality. It seems to have been a happy choice, as his entertaining letter about the history of the zoo (written in November 2005) attests.
He moved to Harrismith to take up the post, which included accommodation in the form of the house in the park, but the house was in a state due to the previous tenant living in it with “etlike groot honde1, so the house needed major cleaning and opknap1. So much so that Bossie had to stay in the Royal Hotel for a while till the house was livable.

1. a few big dogs – & renovate

THE THOUGHT
According to Bossie there was a runaway fire on Municipal property in 1958, and after the municipality had been paid insurance money for the damage, Bossie laid his eyes on a pile of fire-damaged treated fence posts, now written off, and he thought: “As ek van hierdie pale in in die hande kon kry dan kan ek n kampie in die park aanle waarin n paar wildsbokkies kon loop wat ‘n aantrekking vir die publiek sou wees”2.

Once he was given the nod by the town council, he chose an area about one hectare in size just above the Victoria lake, and put a road round it so people could see the game from their cars.

2. If I can get my hands on those I could make a fenced paddock and keep a few antelope to attract the (paying) public!

THE ANIMALS
According to Bossie, his first inmate was a mak ribbok ooi – a tame mountain reedbuck ewe (‘rooiribbok’) donated by councillor Mike van Deventer. However, according to The Harrismith Chronicle of January 1956 the first inmate was a blesbok ram donated by Hendricus Truter of ‘Sandhurst’. So it seems Bossie’s zoo had an earlier start then he remembers! Such are memories!
More animals were offered ‘if they could be caught’ like two fallow deer by Lieb Swiegers. ‘Mes‘ Snyman would be asked to do the catching. After that the park was given a tame “aap mannetjie” – a male monkey, likely a vervet.
Then the floodgates opened and all sorts of pets were donated to ‘hierdie toevlugsoord‘!3. The first of these was a female baboon named Annemarie, so now Bossie needed better cages. Luckily, he says, the town councillor in charge of the park, Mr Pye von During, owned a “grofsmit” (an engineering works?) behind the Kerkenberg kerk, and willingly welded iron cages for Bossie.

3. this shelter or refuge

His next tenant was a blesbok ram who he thought was behaving a bit oddly (‘nie lekker op sy pote nie‘). On enquiry he discovered it was “onder sterk brandewyn kalmering4. Then he got a ‘tipiese raasbek boerbok‘ (a noisy ‘loudmouth’ goat!).

4. Not steady on its feet – it had been given a strong brandy tranquiliser!

Next he was offered a lioness from one of the Retiefs from Bergville (hy dink dit was Thys). The asking price was fifteen pounds Sterling, and as with all finances, he would need council’s permission and a formal decision to be taken. He went instead to Soekie Helman, as he knew Soekie’s “voice was loud in the council at that time”. Soekie’s decision: “Buy the thing and we’ll argue later”. They did. Bossie soon noticed this 5-month old pet was gentle for a while and then would “suddenly get serious”, so he realised a strong cage was needed fast. Two brick walls were built at right angles and a semicircular iron bar front was installed from the end of one wall to the other with a sliding door. Inside, a brick shelter in the back corner.
At this stage Bossie asks impishly: “Sien u nou in watter rigting die onskuldige wildskampie besig is om te beweeg?5

5. can you spot where this ‘innocent little animal enclosure’ idea is going?

Now there was a lion cage, and next thing Henrie Retief (Thys se broer) phoned from Bloemfontein to say he had bought a male lion which he was donating to what was now undeniably a zoo (not just a ‘wildskampie’) on condition that if “something happened to the animal one day” he would get the pelt! The lion-lioness introduction was – according to Bossie – “Love at first sight”!

A lady ‘anderkant Warden’ gave them three small jackals which Bossie fetched and built an enclosure for. The increased enclosures within the overall 1ha camp now necessitated footpaths winding about between them, as most visitors were now on foot, no longer just driving around the perimeter.

Tannie Marie Rodgers donated a spoilt ‘hans’ (hand-reared) duiker ram which head-butted visitors, his sharp horns sometimes hurting folks. Bossie solved this by putting .303 shell casings on his horns to blunt them!

The male lion grew up and his roars could be hear all over town (‘to the top of 42nd Hill’ says Bossie, and certainly at 95 Stuart Street where we lived). The lioness fell pregnant but died in childbirth. The male watched them closely as they removed her body. She was soon replaced by another from Bloem, who was placed in a separate cage for two months so they could grow accustomed to one another, but – alas! says Bossie – when they introduced them the male killed her with one bite! Later they got new lions: A male and two females (Bossie said they had to “wegmaak” the original male – kill? sell? Did ou Henrie get his pelt? Wait – The Chronicle of December 1959 says there was talk that ‘a local farmer’ would take the lion in exchange for two blesboks which would be swopped for three lions from Bloem!).

How common must lions have been? The three new lions cost them two blesbok ewes in an exchange! These were donated by Kerneels Retief who hand-caught them himself on his farm Nagwag from his moving bakkie at 45mph to Bossie’s amazement. (So, Kerneels probably took the lion, then?). Also on pricing game: The zoo later got two wild dogs and a warthog from South West Africa in 1959 (swopped for two mahems! crested cranes). In 1965 the Natal Parks Board donated six impala and two warthogs. I wonder which of the warthogs became’Justin’ the one the Methodist minister Justin Mitchell would feed and talk to on Sundays after his sermon?

In January 1964 three lion cubs were born. One was killed the same night, the others were removed and raised by Mrs JH Olivier. In 1966 the Chronicle told of two 5mth-old cubs for sale. These cubs had “been involved in a hectic incident” a while before when two African attendants were tasked to remove them from their mother and she attacked them! Workman’s Compensation, anyone?

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Two porcupines “arrived” at the zoo, and soon made a nuisance of themselves, chewing the fence posts. One night Bossie’s assistant Machiel Eksteen saw one in the road outside the zoo, caught it with a hessian sack and put it in the dark enclosure. Only to find three porcupines there in the morning!

Mrs Lindstrom (‘Redge se vrou‘) promised Bossie a python from Pongola and duly delivered it in a hessian sack, saying it was 3m long. Bossie put it in the storeroom on top of the ‘mieliedrom‘. The next morning Tobie (‘the feeder’) said the sack was empty! Of course Tobie was told he was talking nonsense, but he wasn’t. A big search was instigated, the Voortrekkers were even called in but the snake is “missing to this day”. Bossie says “Just as well, as I don’t think he’d have adapted to Harrismith’s cold”!! Another escapee was a civet cat (one of a pair from Ladysmith) but it was found.

Then came their ‘biggest challenge’: A lady phoned. She was oom Kaalkop vd Merwe’s skoondogter (daughter-in-law). Kaalkop was the MP for Heilbron. Did Bossie want two Russian brown bears? They were her children’s pets but had grown too big and they were going for thirty pounds Sterling the pair. The ever-resourceful Bossie got to work: He went to business owners in town and said “You owe me one pound”. Bossie says he badgered ‘Jan van Sandwyk of Harrismith Motors, Rheine Lawrence of the chemist, Redge Lindstrom of the tyres, Jannie du Plessis of the tractors, etc etc’! and by that same afternoon he had his 30 pounds and bought the bears, which, he says, made Bloemfontein zoo, “yellow with jealousy”! Here, he says was a postage stamp-sized zoo in a small dorp that was now known nationwide! He and Pye made the cage of iron, with a concrete waterhole and some tree stumps, just what zoos of the time thought bears needed.

In 1963 a concerned resident wrote to the Chronicle about the poor condition of some of the animals. Mayor Boet Human and councillor Pye von During were interviewed and basically said “all is well”.

BIRDS
A large aviary was built. People donated peacocks, guineafowl, fantail pigeons, a tame crow, crowned cranes (mahems) and an ostrich. And tortoises. It became “a certain status” to donate an animal to the zoo, says Bossie – and he “appreciated that enormously”.

FOOD
Suddenly food was an issue! How to feed the growing menagerie? They started charging adults a six penny entrance fee (kids free accompanied by an adult), but the meat for the lions was mainly supplied by generous farmers. He mentions oom Frikkie (Varkie?) Badenhorst whose dairy had no use for bull calves and donated these. Mostly it was on a ‘yours if you fetch it’ basis, so Bossie would have to travel all over to keep his lions in meat. Farmers would donate their horses once they got too old to ride. The fact that many of these had names, and that they were still “on the hoof” when Bossie arrived probably didn’t make matters any easier for him. One such was Ou Klinker, a Clydesdale used in the town’s forestry department. Piet Rodgers, the forester, told Bossie he could fetch Ou Klinker – but only when Piet wasn’t there!
Bossie says usually when the shot was fired the horses legs would just fold and they would drop on the spot, but not old Klinker! When the shot went off he rose “like a loaf of bread” and fell as stiff as a pole, says Bossie. And then he says “dit was baie vleis!6

6. that was a lot of meat (the Clydesdale!)

The local police also phoned whenever they came across road kill, and the health inspector Fritz Doman would tell him whenever he condemned a pig with measles at the abbatoir. One guy even offered a dog on a chain. The lions “het nie baie van die vleis gehou nie7 says Bossie (meaning he did feed the dog to them!). They did like the pork, however.

7. didn’t much like the dog meat

STORAGE
To keep surplus meat cool, Bossie built an old-time ‘evaporation fridge’ of bricks and clinker in chicken mesh, kept wet so the evaporation cooled the interior. “It worked uitstekend” (beautifully).

THE WHEELS OF CHANGE
Bossie took a job in East London, a new town clerk DelaRey decided Harrismith was too small to afford a zoo and according to Bossie the animals were “sold to circuses, given away and Harrismith is the poorer for it”.


Most of this source material comes from Harrismith historian Biebie de Vos.

MORE RESEARCH NEEDED:
But here we need to find out what really happened with the sale? Can Mariette Mandy help? Did the Chronicle report on this?
Where did Patrick Shannon (who ended up with the cheetah) fit into the tale of the Harrismith zoo? I heard he bought it lock, stock n barrel and then sold what he could, kept what he wanted and turned the rest loose! I know that I saw Justin the warthog floating “pote in die lug” all bloated up and stone dead in the Wilge river when I was out canoeing one afternoon (about 1972 if my memory is right, so we can check that timing).

I’d love to get some pics of the zoo from a distance or from outside, plus any of the animals. Who knows the general layout? I can draw a rough plan as I know where warthog corner was, where the lion cage was and where the entrance gate was, plus the aviaries (and am I right there were vultures?). But other than that I’m a bit vague. Someone will know!

zoo-lion-2

I also need to know if Biebie’s pic of a male lion is really one of “ours” – hope so! What a magnificent specimen!

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The Harrismith Park

A decision to make a park on the banks of the Wilge River on the south-west edge of Harrismith town was made by the newly-established town council in 1877 (the council having been established just two years earlier).
Mainly thanks to the efforts of the Landdrost Mr. Warden who came to Harrismith in 1884, and Harrismith’s first Town Clerk Mr. A. Milne, the area was laid out with winding roads, walking paths, a “lovers lane of poplar trees” and a variety of other trees (up to 38 species) in what park enthusiasts described as “a bare, crude piece of ground” but which was probably really open highveld grassland.

The troops stationed in the town around the time of the Anglo-Boer War erected the suspension bridge seen above, near where the Hamilton sandstone and iron bridge is today (named after Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the then Orange River Colony):
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Tree planting commences on that bare piece of ground:

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The river was narrow and shallow at the time and so an attractive little lake with a central island was added and used for boating. Swans were introduced from London ‘for beauty’ (as for trees, all local life was regarded as inferior to things imported from “home”!). The swans did quite well, cygnets being sold for £15 a pair, but they met their end at the hand of “some unidentified vandal with a .22 gun”. As the trees grew, so more and more birds roosted in them, large heronries eventually being established. Predictably people complained and as predictably, the council “did something about it”, shooting the birds and causing a stink when their carcasses dropped into the lake!

In 1887 the lake was named Victoria Lake in honour of the Queen of England’s silver jubilee (along with thousands of other things named “Victoria” that year around the world!). The park itself was called the President Brand Park (when?), similarly to curry favour, no doubt.

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More & more trees would be planted over the years by schoolkids and enthusiasts:
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At “a colourful ceremony with troops on parade and a military band in attendance”, the park was officially opened in 1906 by Sir Hamilton Goold-Adams, Lieutenant-Governor of the Orange River Colony.

In 1907 the river was dammed by a weir just downstream of the park, thus creating a wider and deeper river for the full length of the park, greatly adding to its charm and allowing for swimming, more boating and bigger boats – even the first motorboat in 1918, owned by Mr E.H Friday. Later a boat house and a landing stage were erected by the Boating Syndicate who advertised “Boats for Two and boats for Four and boats for All’ in 1922. The Syndicate graduated to a motor launch capable of taking 14 passengers slowly along the river, including full-moon evenings where people would sing the songs of the day accompanied by “the plaintive sounds of the ukelele”.

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On the edge of the park nearest town sportsfields were laid out, starting with a cricket oval and an athletic track, then rugby, soccer, softball and hockey fields, and jukskei lanes.

The park was extended across the river and a new suspension bridge about 300 yards downstream replaced the one the military had erected (the thrifty town council using some of the metal from the original in the replacement). In time a caravan park was started, but this was soon moved to the town side of the park.

An impressive entrance gate of wrought iron between sandstone pillars was erected and named the Warden-Milne gate in honour of those who had done so much to get the park established.

img532Warden the Landdrost and Milne the Town Clerk who actually got the park going

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They named the lake

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Thanks to Harrismith Historian Biebie de Vos for most source material, and to SA Watts’ military history article here –  http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol082sw.html


Personal memories of the park were about cars – cars before we were actually allowed to drive! On the town side in Steph de Witt’s black Saab (actually Gerrie Pretorius’ but ours for the night!): We would hurtle around the atletiekbaan at speed , drifting before “drifting” had a name. One night we hugged the final bend coming into the home straight and there was a moerse big bloekom stump in the headlights right in front of us! Someone must have seen our tracks and thought “I’ll put a stop to this!” or “Ek sal hierdie bliksems wys!” How Steph missed that huge log I do not know, but we hosed ourselves and roared off.

On the other side of the river it was in Dick Venning’s light blue Triumph 2000, Tim behind the wheel, laughing his head off as we roared around in a cloud of dust late at night, going sideways most of the time.

We were good kids all in all, though.

Tragic Testicular Descent

I used to sing beautifully. The teacher who trained the boys choir in Harrismith Laerskool said so. Well, she might have. She was Mej Cronje I think, and was half the reason ous would volunteer for the choir. To look at her.
I was a soprano and we looked down on the altos who, though necessary as backup, weren’t in the same league as us squeakers. One directly behind me used to bellow in my ear: “Dek jou hol met bouse off hollie! FaLaLaLa  La LaLaLaLa“.
One day this discerning talent spotter Juffrou Cronje chose me to sing a solo in the next konsert.

Fame loomed.

Then tragedy struck!

My balls dropped. They handled it very diplomatically. By ignoring it and cancelling practice. The konsert didn’t materialise (co-incidence? Surely they didn’t cancel a concert just because one boy suffered testicular descent?) and by the time the next one came around I hadn’t been banished – just consigned to the back and asked to turn it down.

.
* * *
Just in case there are people who think Harrismith se Laerskool se Seunskoor was a Mickey Mouse outfit, lemme tellya:
WE TOURED ZULULAND. The Vienna Boys Sausages were probably nervous.

We got onto the light blue school bus and drove for hours and hours and reached Empangeni where the school hall was stampvol of people who, starved of culture in deepest Zoolooland, listened in raptures as we warbled Whistle While You Work, High on your Heels is a Lonely Goat Turd, PaRumPaPumPum, Edelweiss, and some volksliedjies which always raised a little ripple of applause as the gehoor thought “Dankie tog, we know vis one“.

If memory serves (and it does, it does, seldom am I the villain or scapegoat in my recollections) there was a flood and the road to ReetShits Bye was cut off, sparing them the price of a ticket (though those were probably gratis?).

Can’t remember driving back, but we must have.

Harrismith Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy

Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because its there, see.

I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

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Then some fools decided that wasn’t long enough (apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”!) so they added 3km of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb.

Leaving town
Start of One Man's Pass Mountain Race 9

It gets steeper, then at times its hands and knees

The

Top of One Man’s Pass looking back down on the City of Sin and Laughter

Top of ZigZag Pass

The best part: On top, heading for Zig-Zag pass

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds

Run to A then to B and back (who added 3km of tar road!?)

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

Some history from friend Etienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (More about a wonderful day with Wally here: https://vrystaatconfessions.wordpress.com/2014/04/10/just-call-me-wally/).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare. Afterwards Major Belcher presented a floating trophy as a prize awarded to the first athlete to reach the top of the mountain (the record time today is 22 minutes and 9 seconds).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.