Newsletter #70


New Year’s resolutions: 2015 and all its challenges have arrived! We hope that all our members and readers have had some time to rest and are ready to tackle the New Year and all its many challenges. Most people’s resolutions and wishes will probably focus on weight loss, good health, more money, less corruption, etc., all ‘human’ resolutions. Let us make a new year’s wish for conservation!

Welcome: We would like to welcome new Conservancy members, Heinz & Cecile Hächler and Werner Fiel & Ester Müller. May their stay in our beautiful valley bring them much happiness and fulfilment.

Tale of a horse

In the early hours, one day in November, we were woken by an emergency radio call. A horse belonging to two of our members, Werner Fiel and Esther Müller, had somehow landed in their swimming pool!

A horse in the pool!

The gate in the fence around the swimming pool had been left open, and the horse presumably got a fright and landed in the pool. One of our other members who is also a horse owner, Pete Laatz, offered to help and went there immediately. He suggested that the pool should be emptied – a process that took quite a while. As the pool had no steps, they planned to stagger bales of hay like steps, so that the horse could get out, as its hoofs were very soft because of having been in the pool for so long. However, the horse wanted to know nothing about this, and plan B had to be implemented.

A truck load of sand was ordered to fill up the pool. Easier said than done, as the truck got stuck in the mud and had to be pulled out with a neighbour’s big tractor. Plan C would have been to sedate the horse and lift it out of the pool with a back acter, but fortunately the horse used the sand to get out. The story has a happy ending – the horse is fine, and Werner and Esther are going to get a brand new swimming pool. And among ourselves we have decided that the Afrikaans expression “die kalf is in die put” (when immediate action is needed) is no longer applicable. From now on, it will be “die perd is in die swembad!” (photo provided by Pete Laatz).



Our feathered friends

jill-woodland-kingfisherOne of our readers (Jill Brunner of Seekoehoek) and one of our members (Charmaine Leygonie) sent us beautiful photos of our feathered friends.

On 28 November 2014, Jill wrote via email: “We had the misfortune/fortune to meet this little guy (Woodlands Kingfisher) this morning after he flew into our lounge window. After a bit of cuddle, some TLC and a few drops of rescue, he was off again. We have two pairs that frequent our garden and give us a great acrobatic show every morning”.

Many thanks to Charmaine who sent us a photo of their swallows.

Swallows with chicks

History of our environment: The Ras canons

In 1851, two of Hermanus Nikolas Ras’s sons, Hermanus Nikolas and Willem Adriaan, arrived at Bokfontein, near Wolhuterskop, on the northern side of the Magaliesberg. They started building thatch-roofed pioneer houses with walls made of clay. This signalled the wish (of probably the women!) to start living a more established life and to stop roaming around. They recognised the agricultural potential of this water-rich area with fertile soil and favourable climate immediately. The oldest son, also called “Kanonmaker Ras”, planted large fruit orchards and brought citrus to the attention of the mountain farmers. All the excess fruit that could not be marketed, was used to distil brandy on a large scale.
The First Boer War broke out in 1881. “Kanonmaker Ras” offered to make a large canon, after General Piet Cronjé had given permission for this. Wagon wheels were purchased, and blacksmith’s fires were stoked. After two weeks the first canon was ready. It was 1,5m in length with a barrel of 89mm, made from four welded wagon wheel hoops in the centre and strengthened with a number of heated wagon wheel hoops forged around it. Cmdt. Sarel Eloff fetched this canon, afterwards named “Martienie”, and started firing at the English in the fort, from a distance of 2 000m. The distance was, however, too great, and the canon was brought closer to a distance of 600m. The shots were not sufficient to make the English surrender, and the canon became hot after a few shots – then it had to cool down before it could fire again. The Ras brothers then decided to build an even bigger and better canon, later named “Ras”. This canon was a real master piece: 2m in length with oblong shaped bullets, 50mm in diameter and 100mm in length. However, the canon was only completed after the battle of Amajuba and was therefore never used during the war. After the war, the Ras brothers received £100 in compensation, with which, after having deducted their costs, they could buy themselves each a pair of velvet trousers!
A small replica of the first canon was erected on the farm as a monument. There are also remainders of the old buildings, among others, part of the forge furnace and the distillery. Both canons have been preserved. “Martienie’s” resting places is at Denel in Erasmuskloof, and “Ras” is on exhibition at Fort Klapperkop, Pretoria.

From an article in Kormorant, 6-13 November 2014


Annie Erickson’s letter

In a letter written to Maroela Media, Annie Erickson, an American lady who has been living in South Africa for the past seven years, explains how Afrikaans speaking people have influenced her thoughts on the situation in South Africa during this time. Her letter was published in English, so that the essence of her message could be communicated the way she intended to. Currently, Annie is learning to speak Afrikaans, and she informed the editor of Maroela Media that she was learning the words of one Afrikaans Christmas hymn every day during December, so that she would be able to sing along in Afrikaans on Christmas day. She is currently doing research on Afrikaner history. Her study field and field of interest focus on marginalised ways of mourning and spiritual accompaniment, specialising in creating an environment for people to mourn their losses in societies that don’t see any point in doing this.
An English speaking friend forwarded Annie’s letter to us. Although Annie specifically writes about the influence Afrikaners have had on her life, she does not exclude other language groups in our country. In fact, she speaks to the whole South African population. Her words touched our hearts, and we would like to share it with all our members and readers. Annie’s letter follows – Ed.


Environmental snippets

Elephants suffer from stress: Recent research by Prof. Rob Slotow, of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s school for life sciences on how elephants handle stress has shown that it sometimes takes decades for elephants to process stressful incidents. According to Prof. Slotow, who is also the director of the Amarula Elephant Research Programme (AERP), stress scares elephants and often causes loneliness as they then hold to themselves. Elephants have highly complicated and refined social structures, and stress results in the disintegration of these structures. Elephant populations are often disrupted by poaching and culling incidents and the fragmentation of their habitat. Tourists also cause stressful situations for elephants. With the increasing pressure on the natural environment and climate change, stress in elephants will also increase in future.

Rapport Nuus, 30 November 2014

Dogs are sometimes to blame: We have published newsletter articles on stray dogs in our area before, requesting land owners to inform us if ever they come across such dogs, so as to prevent them from causing damage to sheep, cattle, horses or other farm animals. On a number of occasions, we were notified of stray dogs, and by means of our SMS system, we could locate most of these dogs’ owners. “Remember, however, that neglected dogs and/or dogs that are allowed to leave the property, even the most faithful and innocent farm dogs, can sometimes turn into efficient hunters if mixing with the wrong ‘friends.’”

Dr Gerhard Verdoorn, Agrieco, Western Cape, November 2014

Grass seeds in the soil aids sustainable grazing land production: Research has shown that the longevity of especially climax grasses (e.g. red grass, or Themeda triandra) decreases alarmingly after three years of seed removal as all the seeds have then disappeared from the seed banks. If climax grasses are unable to produce seeds in the dry grass veld biomes, there is a linear decline in the seed bank’s potential, until it is completely exhausted after three years. Climax grasses prefer a stabile habitat for optimal germination and survival. Landowners should therefore attempt not to over utilise grazing land by over grazing, over stocking or incorrect management. If the grazing ecosystem is to be utilised sustainably, there should be sufficient resting periods for seed.

Prof Hennie Snyman, Departement Vee-, Wild- en Weidingskunde, University of the Free State: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Did you know?

A tall story: Assuming that Father Christmas would not deliver gifts to some religious groupings, and assuming that there were 3.5 children in every household (i.e. at least one good child in every household!), he would have to visit 91,8 million dwellings. If he flew from east to west, he would have about 31 hours to his disposal (not only 24) to deliver his gifts because of the earth’s rotation. And his deer would have to know their story. The sleigh would have to travel at 1 050km per second – 3 000 times the speed of sound or 0,35% of the speed of light (Sources: Daily Mail/ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The digital footprint we are creating for our children can influence their admission to university or even their career opportunities. Our children are much more documented than in previous generations, and we still have to learn a lot about this (Natheer Brown, Director of ISC Africa’s Internet security campaign, in Beeld Sakenuus, 15 December 2014).

What are the world’s most pressing environmental issues? How are we going to manage the conflict between the human footprint and nature? How are we going to utilise science to give direction to policy? And how are we going to manage, improve and make ecological infrastructure relevant for economic development? (Fundisile Mketeni, new official executive director of SANParks, in conversation with Herman Jansen, Rapport Weekliks, 30 November 2014).

A quick tongue makes for a quick brain: People who can speak more than one language process information quicker and easier than those who can only speak one language. Moreover, according to Dr Ruan van der Walt, a neuropsychologist from Centurion, it seems that bilingual or multi-lingual speakers use the various sections of the brain better, as it forces them to focus more when speaking (Rapport Nuus, 30 November 2014).

The scientific study of sound is known as acoustics. Sound is generated by vibrations that form sound waves. The waves travel via water or air before reaching the ear. Sound travels four times faster via water than air. Animals hear at higher sound frequencies than people and use sound to become aware of danger before it hits them. The speed of sound is about 1 230km per hour (WesBeeld, 28 November 2014).

The capital cost of diesel generators amounts to about one tenth of that of solar power for the same power generation capacity, but the operational cost is much higher, because sunshine is for free, and diesel costs about R12 per litre (Francois Williams, Sake-Rapport, 30 November 2014).

Amazing, huh?

“I listen. I love. And I live. Your body knows what to do. Your mind gets in the way” (Phyllis Sues, 91-year old dancer, writer, singer,musician, and trapeze artist).
“I quit drinking at 90 but I have a couple of shots of whiskey twice a week for medicinal purposes” (Jack Weol, 107 years old and the oldest CEO in America).
“It’s better than sitting around. I meet lovely people” (Dolly Saville, 100, the world’s oldest barmaid).
“I’ve reached the age where I’m seriously thinking about what I’ll be when I come back” (Lynn Ruth Miller, 80-year old comedian).

Food for thought

Some anonymous words of wisdom:
“Don’t you miss the days when everything worked with just an “ON” and “OFF” switch?
“Chivalry: to always say the girl is right and you’re wrong”.
“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been , yet the youngest you will ever be. So, enjoy the day while it lasts”.
“My determination to succeed, outweighs any excuse to fail. Nothing will stand in my way, not even me”.


“They kill good trees to put out bad newspapers” (James G. Watt)
A person’s succes can be judged by the number of enemies he’s made” (Ian Player).
“Words are, in my not-so-humble opinion, our most inexhaustible source of magic. Capable of both inflicting injury and remedying it” (J.K. Rowling).

“Afrikaners, I see you and I value you”

I confess that when I first moved to South Africa, I thought Afrikaners were the “bad guys”. Because I was never required to study African history in school, I knew only what the American media had taught me, which was that Afrikaners were responsible for Apartheid and therefore the bad guys. Six months after moving here, I realised how incorrect my initial assumptions were. Everyone in South Africa is both a “bad guy” and a “good guy”, and so it is with the rest of the world (for such is human nature).
The following two years were spent reading every book I could get my hands on regarding South Africa. If one wants to understand a culture, I reasoned, one must study their art, music, literature, cuisine, and history. And so I did just that – not only for the Afrikaans culture, but for other South African cultures as well.
At the end of those two years, I felt a keen remorse for having been so arrogant in the beginning. I now knew enough to understand that I knew very little, if anything. I enrolled in university (again) to study pastoral counselling, with the intent of learning how to listen and ask better questions. After I finished my studies, I enrolled in another three-year programme to study spiritual accompaniment, which teaches one how to journey with people on a spiritual level as they wrestle with issues of faith. I have two years left of this course, which brings me to the present moment.
Having lived in South Africa for seven years now, my desire is to walk humbly and respectfully with the people here, to forever be a student of the land, languages and cultures, and to serve where I can to help build this nation. This nation, however, will never reach its potential so long as any one people group is being marginalised or oppressed. The point of this letter is to share with you what I have observed among the Afrikaners, as well as my hopes and dreams for them.
I see a people group who are being slowly squeezed out. I see a people group with no political representation. I see a people group whose younger generations are forced to carry the weight of the mistakes of their forefathers (which begs the question: how long does one punish a people group for the sins of the past?), whose older generations are frustrated, disillusioned and often angry with current situations, and whose middle generations struggle to find work and bridge the gap between the old and new South Africa, though they are desperately trying. I see a people group who are surviving at best, barely coping at worst, yet rarely thriving as they should be. I see a people group emigrating in large numbers. In short, I see a cultural crisis among the Afrikaners, as well as a great struggle to belong and be accepted in their own country. And this grieves me.
In the seven years I have had the privilege to live in South Africa, I have come to love the Afrikaners. I love all of the cultures here – truly I do – but there is a soft spot in my heart for the Afrikaners. Not because I am also white, certainly not because I am racist, but because I see the strengths of their culture, and I believe those strengths should be celebrated. Afrikaners have an amazing ability to persevere despite the odds. Afrikaners have a strong work ethic. They also have a unique ability to improvise, make do, and find a way around their obstacles (‘n Boer maak ‘n plan!).
I have learned much from the Afrikaans culture. One thing that especially touches me is the way Afrikaners pray. In the seven years that I have been here, nearly every prayer I have heard begins with “Dankie, Here”. To begin a prayer with heartfelt thanks despite present challenges is something that moves me deeply. In my own culture people nearly always being prayers with, “Dear God, would You please do such and such…?” I no longer pray that way, and I have the Afrikaners to thank for that.
Another thing that I admire is the concept of a “lekker kuier”. It is more than a visit, more than a quick cup of tea, and can often interrupt schedules or to-do lists. In a kuier I am welcomed, heard, given priority over time’s looming deadlines, and valued. It doesn’t matter if my house is messy, my hair is not perfect, or what my plan for the day was. I thought I knew what hospitality was before I moved to South Africa, but I was wrong. I learned about hospitality from many a kuier, and I have the Afrikaners to thank for that.
One of my favourite things about Afrikaners is the Afrikaans language itself. I studied German and American Sign Language in school, but I confess that learning another language as a middle-aged woman was a bit daunting. Even so, as an immigrant I believe it is respectful to learn the language of one’s host country. I chose Afrikaans to begin with because my children have to learn it in school, and I wanted to be able to help them with their homework. And what a delightfully descriptive language! With words like “spookasem”, “stofsuier” and “trapsuutjies”, how can one not love Afrikaans? It is a young language, it does not have a large vocabulary, but it is marvellously expressive and inventive. I came to appreciate the Bible all over again after I began to read it in Afrikaans, and I have the Afrikaners to thank for that.
I long for the day when Afrikaners can hold their heads high and be proud of their culture and their heritage. I long for future generations to be in awe of their ancestors who fought bravely in the Anglo-Boer war or contributed toward the many inventions that are uniquely South African. I long for the Afrikaans language to persevere and continue to be relevant. And yes, while I long for Afrikaners to learn from the mistakes of their fathers and grandfathers (as I must learn from the mistakes of mine), I also long for the day when they no longer have to apologise for being Afrikaans but can celebrate their contribution to this great nation. No one should have to be ashamed of their culture or ethnicity, no matter what happened in the past.
I would like to end this letter by saying the following to the Afrikaans people: I see you. I value you. And I would like to respectfully journey with you in helping this nation to reach its great potential.