CHEVAL-DE-FRISE

Who would have thought that events from the 1600s would give rise to a name still used today as part of a defence mechanism?

A cheval-de-frise was originally a movable obstacle covered with spikes attached to a wooden frame that was used to obstruct cavalry. Such objects were apparently first used in the Siege of Groningen that took place in 1672 during the Franco-Dutch war, when that city was besieged by the troops of the Bishop of Münster, Bernhard von Galen, who wished to push deeper into the Netherlands. The Frisians lacked cavalry and so the name is a French reference to these ‘Friesland horses’. The victory is still celebrated as a local holiday in the city of Groningen on 28th August each year.

These days the term cheval-de-frise can also refer to a row of nails, spikes, barbed wire, or broken glass set on top of a wall or fence to deter intruders. This is a typical modern version:

While this version would not fit into the above description, it is also a form of deterrent for ‘intruders’, only in this case these electrified strands have been employed around certain waterholes in the Addo Elephant National Park to prevent the domination of the water by elephants so that other animals can get a fair chance to drink too.

This alpaca, whose job it is to protect sheep, is safely behind another kind of razor wire:

Sometimes spiked railings such as these are used as a deterrent:

These spikes appear to be more decorative than useful:

Here is a serious obstacle to deter intruders!

Sadly, this type of cheval-de-fries is becoming all too common around both businesses and homes:

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LYCH GATE

Apart from the vehicle entrance, the pedestrian entry to the campus of the school I used to teach at was a small lych gate. Lych gates are more commonly seen as entrances to a churchyard or consecrated ground.

This is a church school and the gate is really only a stone’s throw from the school chapel, so the choice may be forgiven – I believe it was erected as a memorial to someone, although there is no sign of that on the gate. When I was there, very few of the girls attending the school knew what a lych gate represents. To them it was simply the name of a place: “meet me at the Lych Gate” was no different from “meet me at the drinking fountain”. The school, well over a century old, is peppered with names commemorating people or events from the past that have simply become names in the present – the historical significance gradually disappearing over time. The amusing aspect of this particular lych gate though is that a long-serving member of the administrative staff would regularly refer to it as the LYNCH gate! This might have been related to the spellcheck in MSWord – which duly underlined every ‘lych’ in this paragraph and suggested it be replaced with ‘lynch’. It was an interesting slip though for the word ‘lych’ comes from the Old English līc, meaning corpse.

In practical terms, a lych gate is a covered gate that was traditionally where the corpse bearers would wait for the priest to receive the corpse for burial. The one I mentioned earlier has low wooden gates, but this modern one at the entrance to the New Cemetery in Grahamstown, is a drive-through one.

Following tradition it has a pitched roof, this one covered with clay tiles. It also has small bench seats on either side, which would originally have been a resting place for the shroud-wrapped body or coffin. In these days of hearses, the best these narrow benches could offer perhaps is some shelter for a few people from the rain.

CHURCHES THAT REMAIN

The Eastern Cape is not only home to numerous forts, battle sites, graves and monuments that attest to its turbulent past, but there are a number of churches dotted about the countryside – many no longer in use but which remain as a testament to spiritual succour as well as on occasion providing shelter in times of need.

One of the two focused on here is a stone church at Burns Hill, a site where, in 1846, the Xhosas attacked a British wagon train, capturing and destroying half of the 120 wagons and carrying off the wine and regimental plate of the Seventh Dragoon Guards. The whereabouts of the latter remain a mystery.

The corrugated iron roof is rusted, the windows are broken, sections of the guttering have disappeared and the down-pipes have fallen off. A tall tree shades one side, otherwise its surroundings are bare except for some cactus that has taken root in recent years.

Another church that probably dates from sometime after 1856 is St. Mungo Church, situated in the Beanfield Location outside Alice. The rear of the church provides evidence of the ravages of time: a hole in the wall, sun-baked bricks exposed where the plaster has fallen off, a large crack in the wall, and evidence of broken guttering.

These images reflect the state of this church building.

The pile of bricks in the corner suggest a desire to repair some of the damage to the church.

The dusty and torn Xhosa Bible and collection plate hints at a congregation still using this place of worship, if not regularly then at least now and then.

Outside the church is a simple monument erected by Toc H which reads IN MEMORY OF THOSE WHO FELL IN THIS VALLEY ON CHRISTMAS DAY 1850. This being the Tyumie Valley, where the Gaikas under Chief Sandile attacked military settlers.

You can read a reference to this in http://www.historicalpapers.wits.ac.za/?inventory/U/collections&c=A182/R/6046

THE UNIVERSITY OF FORT HARE

I really did not have an idea of what to expect when we entered the Alice campus of the University of Fort Hare, founded in 1916 on the site of what had been a British stronghold in the previous century. Signs of the latter can still be seen on the campus in the form of both a cemetery and a replica of Fort Hare.

Julius Malema had obviously addressed the student body on the 16th June this year – a public holiday known as Youth Day (which commemorates a wave of protests commonly known as the Soweto uprising of 1976). I imagine the sports complex was chosen as a venue in order to accommodate a large number of students. The scratch marks across his face pose an interesting question: if you don’t like him, why not remove the poster – after all, it is nearly two months old!

While the campus was looking reasonably well kept, given that it is winter and we are still experiencing a drought – there are still numerous signs of student unrest that led to the burning of buildings in the not too distant past.

A military cemetery/garden of remembrance on the campus is the final resting place for British and colonial soldiers who died during the 8th Frontier War, fought in 1850.

The names of those interred there have been inscribed on a monument erected by the South African War Graves Board in 1973.

There are nonetheless a number of graves of soldiers marked ‘unknown’.

Among the few elaborate graves is this one:

There is a brightly painted indication of where to find the Department of Fine Arts:

A replica of the original Fort Hare is also on the campus.

The Eastern Cape is criss-crossed with graves, remnants of forts, sites of ambushes and battles. Each provides an insight to the past that has forged the people who inhabit the area today. There is something very sobering about each site, particularly those out in what we call the ‘bundu’ where one is compelled to contemplate such events while surrounded by thorn trees, boulders, the wind, and bird song – signs that nature continues despite the human turmoil of the past.

WAR MEMORIAL: FORT BEAUFORT

The town of Fort Beaufort, in the Eastern Cape, was established as a military post by Lt Col H.M Scott of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1822. It was named in honour of the 5th Duke of Beaufort, father of Lord Charles Somerset, then Governor of the Cape, and is situated at the confluence of the Kat and Brak Rivers. The War Memorial there takes the form of the Cross of Sacrifice, a simple yet effective memorial to those from the area who died during the First and Second World Wars.

Surprisingly, the bronze plaques and cross on this memorial are still in place – so many memorials and graves all over the country have been plundered by unscrupulous scrap metal thieves!

The Cross of Sacrifice was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the then Imperial War Graves Commission. It is mounted on octagonal base and takes the form of an elongated Latin cross on which a stylized bronze long-sword, point down, is fastened to the front. This form of memorial has been used in Commonwealth war cemeteries all over the world.

The surrounding area is fenced and, despite the drought, is reasonably well-kept. There is an unlocked entrance gate.

This has an interesting detail in the top corners, showing the ravages of time and benign neglect.

A TYPICAL RURAL SHOP

Once thriving towns all over rural South Africa are falling into decay. As franchise shops leave and buildings become vacant, other entrepreneurs move in: residents still need certain goods, there is still a certain amount of money with which to purchase what is required – not a lot and so overheads must be kept low, which means the bells and whistles must be dispensed with. The new shops tend to be in rundown buildings, often with little light; they are not necessarily large or attractive – yet attract customers they must if a living is to be made. The solution: place a range of goods on the narrow pavements so that passersby will see them, even if it means having to walk around them.

Among the items on display outside this tiny one-roomed shop in Fort Beaufort are cast iron cooking pots – South African readers familiar with these will be interested to note the sale price for these is R650. Cheek-by-jowl with these are aluminum cooking pots, sets of dustpans and brushes, soccer balls, an electric bar heater, cloth shopping bags featuring the Eiffel Tower, as well as full aprons. Of course there is air time to be purchased too: truly something for everyone.