IT HAS RAINED

Yesterday and today have been by far the coldest of the winter so far – uncomfortably cold. The best part about this icy weather is that it has been accompanied by some very light rain: 4mm one evening, 4mm the next, and today we measured a ‘whopping’ 12mm! The garden is rejoicing. Look at this flower on the ginger bush:

Even the dry grass in the background has greened up over the past two damp days! It is wonderful to see damp soil in the patch of garden around the bird feeders instead of dust.

This is not a quality picture at all, but the very sharp-eyed among you might just recognise the shape of a Knysna Turaco in the leafless tree. I counted five of them in the garden yesterday! The strong Berg Wind that brought the cold front in its wake shook the trees and sent leaves cascading all over the garden. Instead of the usual crunch underfoot, I could delight in seeing wet leaves on the path.

Already Cape White-eyes and other birds having been making use of the pools of water that have collected in the aloe leaves.

These are snaps taken with my cell phone – not brilliant, but enough to share with you the joy of hearing the soft pattering of raindrops during the night; of breathing in the delicously damp aromas of wet soil, wet dry grass, and the unparalleled freshness of rain-washed air. They are good enough to convey the feeling that there is hope and that – despite the cold – even that little rain has revived me just as it has perked up the flowers in my tiny patch of garden and brought a new ‘growth-energy’ to the almost dead lemon tree in the back garden.

In the words of Langston Hughes:

Let the rain kiss you
Let the rain beat upon your head with silver liquid drops
Let the rain sing you a lullaby

IT WAS VERY COLD

We usually camp when visiting the Mountain Zebra National Park: the camping area is lovely and provides magnificent opportunities for photographing birds. How glad I am that circumstances dictated that we opt for a chalet during this visit for the prevailing temperature was icy cold!

It was so cold that every morning the windscreens of our respective vehicles bore visual signs of why we felt so icy.

This is an unusual experience for us, so I appreciated the pretty patterns seen from within the warmth of the vehicle.

Even in the mid-morning sunshine, there was evidence of the cold in the stalagmite that formed under a dripping tap during the night.

Here is a section of ice retrieved from one of the swings next to the swimming pool.

The air was crisp and the views stretched out to forever.

We will return once the weather has warmed up a little!

TRAFFIC JAM ON A COUNTRY ROAD

We have been held up by an errant herd or two of cattle before; we have slowed down to allow cyclists to pass; hugged the bushy verge in the face of the odd oncoming vehicle (because this country road does not carry much traffic at any particular time); braked cautiously in the face of a kudu about to jump over a fence; stopped to watch warthogs, black-backed jackals or even baboons cross the road. There is nothing unusual about this on the country roads.

Wind turbines were erected along the ridge of Waainek some years ago and we have got used to seeing them on the skyline. Their heads sometimes disappear in the morning mist; they might loom unexpectedly large from behind a grove of trees; at first one might be taken aback by their whooshing sound as the blades turn in the wind; we acknowledge that there is a certain elegance about them.

The width of the road that turns off the narrow dirt country road towards the wind-farm is an indication of the gargantuan size of the vehicles that have brought them to this point in sections. These are not vehicles to be trifled with – as we were reminded today.

We set off for a pleasant drive late this afternoon in the hope of enjoying the views (altered by a combination of smoke and dust – which is not surprising as a fierce Berg Wind has been blowing all day) and perhaps seeing some wildlife along the way. Our timing has to be spot on in relation to the setting of the sun in order to avoid kudu on our way home. A general rule is to get back onto the tarred road well before dark.

Two graceful waterbuck and a family of five warthogs made the trip worthwhile – as well as a herd of pretty Nguni cattle and a large Bonsmara bull. I was admiring Fork-tailed Drongos catching insects in the last of the light, looked at the silhouette of a raptor soaring high above a hill, and was already wondering if the power would have come on (it was off for six hours today – cables snapped in the wind) by the time we got home when we had to break sharply to avoid hitting a vehicle that slewed across the road ahead of us and came to a halt at an angle. I am sure the driver – Tattoo Man – didn’t even notice us as he got out and walked towards the drivers of two enormous vehicles cosying up to each other on the turnoff to the wind-farm.

We waited. The darkness crept closer. We waited. Tattoo man deigned to indicate that we were not to budge. We waited … and waited. It seemed an age before a third leviathan bearing a bright red crane came rumbling towards us. These vehicles are all so broad that there is no way another vehicle would be able to pass them on such a narrow road. We waited.

Tattoo Man got into his vehicle, reversed and straightened it. We thought we’d take the gap but he held his hand up in an authoritative manner. We had to wait. All signs of the setting sun had vanished. At last Tattoo Man appeared at our window. “When the next truck arrives, take the gap and drive like hell because we are waiting for four more to come.”

We waited. At last we could see the headlights bouncing along the road ahead and the flashing orange lights that crowned each of the trucks. It stopped short of its target. Tattoo Man and another approached it in the near dark. We could see the driver’s door open. Men walked back and forth. We were poised ready to move. The truck crept forward painfully slowly until the gap finally appeared … we were off like a shot – not that one can drive at speed along a narrow dirt road in the countryside at night – and were relieved to have got out of the unexpected traffic jam at last.

ANGLO-BOER WAR CONCENTRATION CAMP IN PORT ELIZABETH

Concentration camps were first implemented in South Africa by the British during the Anglo Boer War (1899-1902). The first to be established was in Port Elizabeth, which was functional between December 1900 and November 1902. Its existence came about shortly after the British invasion of the Free State, which is why most of the internees, Boer women and children, came from the Jagersfontein and Fauresmith districts. They had been removed as there was concern that they might ‘aid the enemy’. Although originally sited on the racecourse, by March 1901 the concentration camp had been moved to Lennox Road in Glendinningvale, close to the Kemsley Park Police Sports Ground and Old Grey Sports Club.

The memorial is surrounded by a symbolic barbed wire fence.

The camp housed about 200 children and 86 women in zinc and iron huts surrounded by a 1.5-m high fence, with approximately 32 men accommodated in a separate camp nearby. Among the notable internees were the mother, wife, three sisters-in-law, and children of General J. B. M. Hertzog, who was later to become the Prime Minister of South Africa. Fourteen people died at the concentration camp between November 1900 and April 1902. Seven-year-old Charles Neethling Hertzog died of measles shortly after his arrival in the camp.

Few families could afford a gravestone such as the one above and so the rest of the dead were buried in paupers’ graves in the North End Cemetery, where this memorial has been erected in their memory.

The names, ages, and date of death of those who died have been engraved on a marble memorial with the words Ons vir jou Suid Afrika (from the national anthem) inscribed above them.

The incarceration of women and children garnered adverse publicity in England, leading to Emily Hobhouse visiting the Port Elizabeth concentration camp first on her arrival in this country. Unlike the conditions she was to encounter in other concentration camps, she reported that these families had been made as comfortable as possible.

Despite early opposition to the establishment of a memorial on the site of this concentration camp, the Summerstrand branch of Dames Aktueel, supported by the Rapportryers, oversaw the erection of the monument which was unveiled on 29th October 1983.

MILNER DAM

Many regular readers have been flummoxed by my reports of the long-lasting drought in this area; of our taps occasionally running dry; the water supply being switched off at night; and now the town’s water supply frequently being switched off every second day. If you live in an area where it rains often – some of you have even complained about getting too much rain – and where you do not think twice about watering your garden; taking a shower – or even washing your car – simply because the water is always there, then our situation must seem very strange.

Grahamstown has always suffered from a shortage of water and, over the years, various plans have been put into place to bring more water to the town. The original town nestles in a valley but with time the suburbs have crept up the hills on the west and east – and the population has increased several fold. In pre-Covid times we also have a huge influx of university students and scholars who fill the boarding houses of a number of schools.

I have mentioned that we now depend on water from the Orange River that reaches us via the Fish River. Of course it is a lot more complicated than that. Here is an explanatory excerpt from an article that appeared in our local newspaper:

[The] Eastern supply system draws water from the Orange-Fish River Inter Basin Transfer Scheme. This water has a long journey, starting at the Katse Dam in the highland mountains of Lesotho, then down the Orange River which flows into the Gariep Dam in the Free State, from there water is diverted through a long tunnel into the Fish River which is diverted to a weir and another tunnel to the Glen Melville Dam north-east of Grahamstown.

The western supply system relies exclusively on rain falling into catchments above four local dams. Jamieson and Milner Dams, two very small dams (about 12% of the total western supply) at the top of the New Year’s River catchment, are unreliable during drought and can contribute about 1ML/day.

I drive past the Jamieson and Milner dams almost every week. Both dams, next to each other, are situated on the upper reaches of the New Year’s River and would normally have a combined capacity of 830 000m³. When we arrived here thirty three years ago, both dams were filled to the brim and supplied our town with additional water. You wouldn’t recognise Jamieson as a dam in a photograph as you are more likely to mistake it as a hollow between hills. Look at the photograph of Milner Dam below and know that you are looking at the face of a drought and an aspect of a town with a water crisis: