Thursday, 5 April 2018

English Literature in South Africa

This segment is attributed in part to Professor A C Partridge, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg (Circa 1960)

Late Eighteenth Century
English literature in South Africa commenced with the first occupation of the Cape by the British in 1795, when Andrew Barnard, Secretary to the Governor, Lord Macartney, brought with him his gifted wife, Lady Anne Barnard (née Lindsay; 12 December 1750 – 6 May 1825).  She was a charming hostess, and endeavoured to be friendly to all sections of the people.  Her Letters and Journal are a lively account of the social life of a gracious colonial period.  She had a warmth of natural sympathy unusual in the more austere colonists who made up the band of 1820 settlers.  Lady Anne  was a Scottish travel writer, artist and socialite, and the author of the ballad Auld Robin Gray. Her five-year residence in Cape Town, South Africa, although brief, had a significant impact on the cultural and social life of the time.


With Lady Anne, came another Scot, Thomas Pringle, best described as a Christian Socialist.  Pringle made his mark as a poet, educator and polemist, an advocate for the emancipation of slaves and the freedom of the press.  His poems, such as Evening Rambles and Afar in the Desert, are better known than his Narrative of a Resident in South Africa.  Both poetry and prose are dated in style and of uneven literary merit; abounding in moral sentiments and 18th century pictorial felicities of phrase.  More important than anything else, Pringle was known as the father of South African poetry.  He was the first successful English language poet and author to describe South Africa's scenery, native peoples, and living conditions.


The Nineteenth Century
The pioneer period of the 19th century terminated with the work of a woman of genius.  Olive Schreiner had the advantage of being a child of the soil and of intelligent, if unfortunate, parents.  The Story of an African Farm (free e-book) grew out of her lonely self-discovery on a Karroo farm where she was employed as a govenress at the age of 18.  Olive Schreiner's greatest book is said to be Thoughts on South Africa (free e-book).  It is a socio-historical work of immense insight, racial understanding and prophetic fulfilment.  [Full disclosure - I personally never enjoyed Schreiner's work which I found to be self-indulgent in the extreme.]

Olive Schreiner
The Twentieth Century
The 20th century saw a new phase in South African English literature, in which imagination began to replace observation.  Considerable impetus was given to creative activity by the importance to the nation of Union in 1910.  South African literary associations arose; but the optimism of this solidarity was rudely broken by political divisions, out of which, however, Afrikaans literature was formed.  The first decades produced two books of pioneering altruism in Sir Percy Fitzpatrick's Jock of the Bushveld. The story is a beloved South African classic to this day.
Jock of the Bushveld
The other book is Kingsley Fairbridge's Story of Himself, books with the merits of simplicity, sincerity and manliness, typical of a nation still in adolescence.

In the years after the conclusion of World War II, South Africa produced in English a more vital and distinctive literature.  Fiction became largely preoccupied with the racial question - Alan Paton with its deep tragedy, Peter Abrahams and Dan Jacobson with its inhumanity and injustice.  Cry the Beloved Country (free e-book) must be classed with The Story of an African Farm as the most powerful works of fiction to have come from Southern Africa until the middle of the 20th century.

Alan Paton

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Diamond Industry in Southern Africa

Diamonds are always a fascinating subject.  They have been catalysts to the rise and fall of myriad fortune seekers.  The South African story is no different.

The diamond industry in South Africa was established in 1868.  It retains its important place in the economy of South Africa and has been the foundation of its modern industrialisation. South Africa’s chief diamond pipes are relatively wide-spread across South Africa.  The producing areas are - Kimberley in the Cape Province; Transvaal (now called Gauteng); the Orange Free State (now called Free State); and the North West Cape.  Diamond digging operations at the famous Big Hole in Kimberley ceased in 1914. 

The Biggest Diamond in the World 
Premier Mine, where the world’s largest diamond, the 3,025-carat Cullinan Diamond, was discovered in 1905, is one of South Africa’s largest diamond mines.  The Cullinan Diamond is the largest uncut diamond ever discovered. However, when it comes to polished diamonds, the Great Star of Africa (530.4 carats) lost its title as the biggest polished diamond to the Golden Jubilee Diamond (545.67 carats) in 1985.

Still the Biggest Known Rough Diamond in the World
The Transvaal government bought the rough diamond from the mine for 150,000 pounds. Transvaal Prime Minister Louis Botha's proposal to give the Cullinan to King Edward VII was approved by the Transvaal Parliament and the rough diamond was accepted by the King in a 66th birthday presentation on 9th November 1907.

Cullinan diamond
Frederick Wells with The Cullinan Diamond
South Africa at the time was a British Colony and the find occurred very shortly after the Boer War which had led to much bitterness between the Boers and the British. It was thought that this gesture might help reconcile the two sides to a certain extent.

Outwitting Thieves
Transporting the diamond from South Africa to England caused much anxiety to the authorities. In a novel plan, detectives from London were placed on a steamboat that was rumoured to carry the stone. The stone on that ship was actually a fake, meant to attract those who would be interested in stealing it. The actual diamond was sent to England in a plain box via parcel post, albeit registered!
The Nine Main Cullinan Diamond Cuts
The Nine Main Cullinan Diamond Cuts

Mining and Recovery Methods
Most South Africans are aware of our diamond legacy and are proud of it.  In a world-wide recognition of the diamond industry in South Africa,  the dark grey or black volcanic rock is known as kimberlite.  The name 'kimberlite' is derived from Kimberley, a town in South Africa, named after Lord Kimberley who was, at the time, the British Colonial Secretary.  Rough, natural diamonds are often recovered from 'kimberlite', which is also known as ‘blue ground’ (a layer of non-oxidized kimberlite). The rock is located in an unlimited depth and forms crater pipes through a gaseous explosions

Kimberlites are a class of igneous rocks commonly associated with diamond mining. Before the advent of modern geophysical probes, the ideal way to find a kimberlite pipe was to search for "yellow ground", a layer of oxidized kimberlite which is a deep tawny yellow. "Blue ground" was regarded with scorn during the South African diamond rushes
Formation of Kimberlites
Formation of Kimberlites
Formation of Kimberlites
Barney Barnato
One of the central characters in the initial diamond rush, and a South African legend, Barney Barnato, who made his fortune by purchasing digs in which the "blue ground" was all that remained.

Barney Barnato
Barney Barnato (link to additional information)
Barrnato who was born Barnett Isaacs (1851-97) started his working life at 14 in his father's shop in Petticoat Lane. London. Barnato was a stage name. He was intelligent but ill-educated; he was adventurous and possessed physical courage. He followed his older brother, Harry, to Africa to seek his fortune on the diamond fields. He had a meteoric rise from itinerant trader and small diamond merchant to being the owner of claims and then learning that the essence of capitalism lay in company formation, access to finance and share dealing. Barnato moved from taking small risks to making calculated investment decisions with long term consequences. His success depended on both luck and astute judgement. Barnato was the first to understand the diamond finding prospects of the blue ground.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Cape Town

Cape Town has a rich history and is the oldest city in South Africa.  It was here that the first recorded history of Europeans setting foot on African soil began.  It is the legislative capital of the Cape Province and South Africa and is the second largest city in the South Africa.  For many years, Cape Town was known as De Kaapsche Vlek (the Cape Hamlet).  By the end of the 17th Century, however, it was referred to as Kaapstad (the Dutch word for Cape Town) or, in French, La Ville du Cap.  In 1803, the Dutchman, Abraham de Mist unsuccessfully attempted to rename the city Van Riebeeck Stad, in honour, by that time, of its accepted founder, Jan Van Riebeeck. 
Jan Van Riebeeck - Founder of Cape Town 6th April 1652
The Dutch Settlement
In 1651, Jan Van Riebeeck volunteered to undertake the command of the initial Dutch settlement in the future South Africa for The Dutch East India Company. 
Dutch East India Company
Van Riebeeck landed three ships (Dromedaris; Reijger and Goede Hoop) at the future Cape Town on 6th April 1652 and fortified the site as a way station as well as a settlement on the shores of Table Bay at the foot of Table Mountain for the Dutch East India Company (VOC) trade route between the Netherlands and the East Indies. 
Dutch East India Company
Dutch East India Company

The Huguenots and the British Settlement
The first non-Dutch immigrants to the Cape, the Huguenots, arrived 37 years later in 1688. The Huguenots had fled from anti-Protestant persecution in Catholic France to the Netherlands.  The VOC offered them free passage to the Cape as well as farmland. 

By 1795 the Netherlands was invaded by France and the VOC was in complete financial ruin. The Prince of Orange fled to England for protection, which allowed for the establishment of the Dutch Batavian Republic. Due to the long time it took to send and receive news from Europe, the Cape Commissioner of the time knew only that the French had been taking territory in the Netherlands and that the Dutch could change sides in the war at any moment. British forces arrived at the Cape bearing a letter from the Prince of Orange asking the Commissioner to allow the British troops to protect the Cape from France until the war. The British informed the Commissioner that the Prince had fled to England. The reaction in the Cape Council was mixed, and eventually the British successfully invaded the Cape in the Battle of Muizenberg. The British immediately announced the beginning of free trade.

Under the terms of a peace agreement between England and France, the Cape was returned to the Dutch in 1802. Three years later, however, the war resumed and the British returned their garrison to the Cape. This period saw major developments for the city, and can be said to be the start of Cape Town as a city in its own right. (

Wine of the Cape

A discussion about Cape Town would not be complete without some history on winemaking and the Cape vineyards.  The Huguenots brought with them to the Cape, their important experience in wine production which greatly bolstered the industry, and provided the wine industry with strong cultural roots. Cape Town wines are still some of the most sought-after wines in the world. On the southern slopes of the Table Mountain range and its world-renowned floral kingdom lies the historic Constantia valley, the cradle of winemaking in the Cape. The valley, which falls within the Cape Peninsula district, was the site of Simon van der Stel's 17th-century wine farm and the origin of the Constantia dessert wines which became famous throughout Europe during the 18th century. Rooted in ancient soils, the vineyards climb up the east-facing slopes of the Constantiaberg, where the vines benefit from the cool sea breezes blowing in from False Bay. The ward receives about 1 000mm of rain annually, making irrigation unnecessary, and has a mean February temperature of 20.6°C. There are only a handful of cellars in this premier ward, where the cool climate favours the production of white wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc, and where the tradition of producing remarkable wines since 1685 continues. 
The acclaimed Cape Point vineyards, some of them a mere 1.2km from the sea, are situated on the western edges of the Cape Peninsula. This cool-climate maritime pocket in the district of Cape Town is recognised mainly for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon. 

Castle of Good Hope

The Castle
A Cape Town landmark, the Castle of Good Hope, is a prime example of a “star fort”. It was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company and is the oldest existing colonial building in South Africa. Its position marks the original shoreline before years of land reclamation changed the Table Bay coastline. The Castle was planned from a central point with five bastions, named after the main titles of Willem, the Prince of Orange. The Western bastion was named Leerdam, followed in clockwise order by Buuren, Catzenellenbogen, Nassau and Oranje.

Earlier History
The official founding of Cape Town was preceded almost two centuries earlier, when in  
(1)    1460, Portuguese navigators, representing the interests of the Portuguese Royal House and merchants eager to find a sea-route to India around the south coast of Africa, reached the coast of Guinea, West Africa; and
(2)    1488, Bartholomeu Dias succeeded in circumnavigating the Cape, naming it "Cape of Storms" - it was later renamed "Cabo de Boa Esperança" or the Cape of Good Hope to stimulate optimism about creating a sea route to India and the East via the Cape;
(3)    1497, Vasco da Gama was mandated by King Manuel I and the Royal House of Portugal to expand on Dias' discoveries. Da Gama departed Targus on 8th July 1497, heading an expedition consisting of two ships, São Rafael and São Gabriel. They sailed along the southern African coast on the way to India. They put foot on South African soil for the first time on 8th November 1497 at present-day St. Helena Bay on the west coast of Southern Africa. It was here that they first encountered the Khoi-Khoi/San people (also known later as Bushmen). Da Gama’s description of the Khoi-Khoi/San in his diary reads as follows: 'The inhabitants of this country are tawny-coloured. Their food is confined to the flesh of seals, whales and gazelles, and the roots of herbs. They are dressed in skins, and wear sheaths over their virile (now that’s an expression I’ve never heard before...) members. They are armed with poles of olive wood to which a horn, browned in the fire, is attached...'

Monday, 2 April 2018

Bushmen (or) San People

Bushmen or San People
Continuing my exploration into historical stories about people, places, animals of Southern Africa.  My research for each letter begins in the recorded works of Eric Rosenthal in his Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa, published by Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd in London in 1964.  From there other sources are included as and when relevant.
By putting paint to rock, San would be able to open portals to the spirit world
The most interesting aspect for me when researching the Bushmen or San people is their Social and Cultural life.  It is a governing system which modern society would do well to emulate.  The culture was and still is considered primitive and the people are still subjected to harassment and persecution because they do not fit into what is considered ‘modern’ society.
I could not write anything more succinctly than the article which appears on the Krugerpark website so I’ve included portions of that article without edit. 
Click on the link to view the full article ( -
“Due to absorption but mostly extinction, the San may soon cease to exist as a separate people. Unfortunately, they may soon only be viewed in national museums. Their traditions, beliefs and culture may soon only be found in historical journals.
San live in small units up to 25 people
The San are the oldest inhabitants of Southern Africa, where they have lived for at least 20 000 years. The term San is commonly used to refer to a diverse group of hunter-gatherers living in Southern Africa who share historical and linguistic connections.  The San were also referred to as Bushmen, but this term has since been abandoned as it is considered derogatory.  There are many different San groups - they have no collective name for themselves, and the terms 'Bushman', 'San', 'Basarwa' (in Botswana) are used.  The term, 'bushman', came from the Dutch term, 'bossiesman', which meant 'bandit' or 'outlaw'.
The passing down of traditions
The San have no formal authority figure or chief, but govern themselves by group consensus. Disputes are resolved through lengthy discussions where all involved have a chance to make their thoughts heard until some agreement is reached. Certain individuals may assume leadership in specific spheres in which they excel, such as hunting or healing rituals, but they cannot achieve positions of general influence or power. White colonists found this very confusing when they tried to establish treaties with the San.
Leadership among the San is kept for those who have lived within that group for a long time, who have achieved a respectable age, and good character. San are largely egalitarian, sharing such things as meat and tobacco. Land is usually owned by a group, and rights to land are usually inherited bilaterally.
Kinship bonds provide the basic framework for political models. Membership in a group is determined by residency. As long as a person lives on the land of his group he maintains his membership. It is possible to hunt on land not owned by the group, but permission must be obtained from the owners.”
San Family in the Kalahari Desert
The perception of the Bushmen/San in 1964 was, markedly and understandably different from the modern understanding.  
“Primitive race regarded as the aboriginal inhabitants of most of Southern Africa.  Of very small stature, rarely over 5 feet, they possess a number of physical characteristics peculiar to themselves, notably their wrinkled appearance, extraordinarily keen eyesight, skill as trackers, sense of music and art, and tendency to accumulate vast masses of fat in their buttocks.  
San Family
They show considerable links with the pygmies of Central Africa and are believed to have emigrated from those parts.  Their language abounds in clicks and has only been studied with the greatest difficulty owing to the inability of scholars to make friends with them in the earlier days.  They are divided into a number of different groups, notably the Masarwa, who live in the Kalahari.  In earlier times, there were two types, those who dwelt on hills and those who preferred to live in caves.  None of them possessed the ability to build houses or huts, their accommodation being the most primitive shelters made of branches.  Nor did they have tribal organization in any accepted sense of the word. 
Upon the advent of the European, they were unwilling to make friends with the result that they were hunted down and almost exterminated.  The survivors mostly retired to inaccessible parts and today the few that are still to be found live in the Kalahari and other barren areas. 
Despite their primitiveness, the Bushmen are exceptionally good painters, their drawings being admired by experts of most countries.  Besides painting on the sides of cliffs and in caves, they decorated ostrich eggs with scenes of their own life, animals and the like. 
Only in recent times has it become possible to publish a comprehensive dictionary of the Bushman language, mainly as the result of efforts going back to the 1850s on the part of the late Dr W H I Bleek (q.v.) who continued the efforts of an early missionary, the Rev. Kroenlein, to write down a small vocabulary.  Dr Bleek’s work was supplemented by that of Miss L Lloyd and of his daughter, Miss Dorothea Bleek.  To this day the Bushmen are unique in having virtually no missionaries working among them. The country inhabited by them included not only most of the Cape but also large parts of Basutoland, the Drakensberg and the Transvaal.”