Road Trip to Bloemfontein

I love going on a road trip. We live in Limpopo, the most Northern province of South Africa and my husband's family all live near the coast in the Western and Eastern Cape, the most Southern provinces. We try to visit them every three years and this means travelling about 4,000 kilometres by car over a period of three or four weeks.

On these trips, we are never in a hurry and we stop regularly to fill up with petrol, have meals, freshen up or sleep over if it is near nightfall. We travel on the N1 highway all the way from home into Cape Town, 1,700 kilometres away. This is the major, very busy, road to Africa. It runs all the way from Cape Town to the Zimbabwean border where it changes names and continues up into Africa.

Dotted all along the N1 are large, modern petrol stations where you can stop to refuel, have a meal in one of the restaurants and freshen up in clean and comfortable restrooms. Another option is to turn off the highway into one of the many towns and villages if you want to experience the unique hospitality of rural South Africa. Some of the best meals I have ever had were in these villages, feasting on the matchless lamb chops of the Karoo.

When I was a child, road trips were never this comfortable, but they were equally exciting. The longest road trip we ever quite regularly undertook was to visit my grandparents in Bloemfontein, about 200 kilometres away in the Free State. There were two routes to Bloemfontein, one via Petrusburg, a gravel road in those days but now the beautiful new main road, and the tar road through Boshof and Dealesville, the road we travelled. Before my father bought the Humber Hawk, his new car, he drove an old Nash. In those days, driving an old car meant regular stops on your way to anywhere further than 50 kilometres away. Pit stops to check the oil, check the petrol, check the water, check the tyre pressure, etcetera, etcectera. Thinking back, I sometimes get the impression that these old cars used more oil and water than petrol.

(Dutch Reformed Church and Anglo-Boer War memorial in Boshof)

Our first stop on the way to Bloemfontein would be at Boshof, 52 kilometres out of Kimberley. Boshof was a tiny, farming village that consisted mostly of traditional "nagmaal" houses, where farmers from the outlying farms would come to spend a week or weekend every three months when the Dutch Reformed congregation gathered for Holy Communion

There was one filling station (garage as it is known in South Africa); a general dealer, selling everything from groceries to car parts and animal feed; a hotel with the inevitable "lounge" (for the ladies) and bar (for the men) attached. The cafe where you could buy cold-drinks, ice cream and sweets for the children was part of the garage. The black population lived on the edge of town in a "location" but I have no idea what it was like in there as it was unthinkable for a white person to go into a location in those days. This was, and in many cases still is, a typical rural village in South Africa.

(A group doing Volkspele at the Voortrekker Monument)

Boshof might be small, but it has a number of historical and interesting chapters in its history. This is the birthplace of Volkspele, the traditional dance of the Afrikaner nation. Afrikaans people did not have a traditional dance, probably because of their difficult history and serious, religious lifestyle, but in 1912, Samuel Henri Pellisier, who was a teacher in Boshof (at the Rooidak school for those who know the town), visited Sweden and attended an evening of folk dancing with friends. He was very impressed with the dances and when he returned home, he adapted four of the Swedish dances and taught them to his pupils. The four dances were first performed on 28 February 1914 at a picnic on the farm Vuisfontein, 3 km outside Boshof and today this spot is graced with a monument marking the spot where Volkspele originated.

In the Boshof cemetery the graves of several well-known figures can be found. Charles Marais, brother to the famous author Eugene N. Marais, and Speaker of Parliament was buried here as well as a number of British soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer War. One of them, Sergeant Patrick Campbell, was the estranged husband of the actress Beatrice Stella Tanner (stage name Mrs Patrick Campbell) who was the mistress of George Bernard Shaw at the time.

(Depiction of the Battle of Boshof on the statue to De villebois-Mareuil in France)

The original grave of Colonel Georges Henri Anne Marie Victor, comte de Villebois-Mareuil is also here and although the original gravestone, paid for by Lord Methuen, is still here, his body was reinterred at the Burgher Monument at Magersfontein in 1971. In 1895, De Villebois-Mareuil resigned his post as Colonel in the First Foreign Legion of the French Army and joined the Boer forces as General of International Forces to the Free State forces. He led a party of about 75 foreign volunteers (French, German, Dutch and American) and 11 Boers, to blow up a bridge on the Modder River, South of Boshof. On 5 April 1900, they encountered a British force of 750 men and 4 field guns under leadership of Lord Methuen. In this battle, to become known as the Battle of Boshof, De Villebois-Mareuil was killed by a bombshell. The Comté Pierre de Bréda and the Russian Prince Bagratian of Tiflis was killed in the same battle. A monument was later erected on the Farm Middelkuil, 10 kilometres East of Boshof, where the battle took place, to commemorate this battle.

(Bronze statue of Sol Plaatjes in the Sol Plaatjes Museum in Kimberley)

Boshof is also the birthplace of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, one of the most gifted and versatile black South Africans of his generation. He was in the forefront of the public affairs of the African people for the greater part of his adult life as politician, writer and journalist. He was born on the farm Doornfontein on 9 October 1876. Plaatje belonged to a small group of mission-educated African intelligentsia that in 1912 founded the South African Native National Congress, the organisation renamed in 1926 as the African National Congress and he served as Secretary General to the ANC. He is buried in the West End Cemetery in Kimberley. The Sol Plaatje Municipality, in which Kimberley is situated, was named in his honour.

(An example of the San Rock Art found in the Free State)

My spinster aunt nursed an old gentleman, Gerrie Wessels, on the farm Merriesfontein for a period and once, on our way to Bloemfontein, we stopped off here to visit with her. The younger Gerrie Wessels, son of my aunt's patient, took us children to look at the San rockpaintings on the farm. This was my very first experience of this indigenous group of people that lived in my country long before my ancestors arrived on its shores.

From Boshof the road turns South East to Dealesville, our second stop. However, Dealesville will have to wait for another day. As they say in the classics: To be continued....

PS: Thank you to all the unknown photographers who supplied the photos.


Jo said...

Thank you for the wonderful tour! It is the closest I will ever come to visiting South Africa. My mother loved that country so much! Mom was born in the Orange Free State in a town called Senekal.

Those rock paintings are absolutely exquisite. Do you have any idea how old they are?

Oh, please ... more tours of South Africa. Thank you!

A human kind of human said...

Thank you for the visit Jo. I was beginning to feel very dejected because I was not getting any comments on my posts and now you have turned it all around. I will be doing more posts about South Africa as it seems that people do enjoy them.

A human kind of human said...

Dear Anonymous, I am not sure I understand what you mean with your comment. Maybe you think I am in need of some education, or maybe you are a salesman... I just do not know what to think. Maybe you should try again as I am honestly interested to hear what you have to say.

Anonymous said...

I have been living in the karoo for six years and am always interested in finding out about the area I live in your article was great thank you