What do you do when you need rope, or require a long stock whip and you live hundreds of miles from the nearest town – or there is no town, as was the case for the early settlers in this country. The answer is that you make your own. Pliable strips of rawhide, or thongs, are known as riems in this country. There is even a settlement in the Northern Cape, just north of the Augrabies Falls, known as Riemvasmaak.

It is this relic constructed of old sneeze-wood poles outside the Daggaboer Padstal near Cradock that set me thinking about how farmers managed in the past:

To get back to these riems or thongs: making them requires a long process involving cutting the rawhide into strips, removing the hair and any remaining tissue and fat. The hide then has to be treated to preserve it before it can be made into leather. It has to soak for at least a week – this depends on the weather – and stirred daily until the hair is ready to come off. The hide shrinks up to about a third of its length while it dries; the strips having been cut while it is still damp. The strips (riems) are then placed over a pole or a strong branch of a tree and are attached to a heavy stone – some of which had a hole made in the centre for this purpose – and wound around this until the full length of the riem has been used up. The weight of the stone will stretch the riem so that it dries straight. Sometimes the stone would also be spun around to assist in creating elasticity in the riem.


A typical morning at a local business where farmers and others can buy a variety of items relating to agriculture and the feeding of animals.

Note the dusty vehicle from driving on dirt roads, the goat on the back, and the casual way in which the bakkie is parked exactly where the sign on the left exhorts customers not to! It was a quiet morning and I imagine the farmer might be one of this group solving the world’s problems a little way off:

Even though it is winter, Eastern Cape farmers typically wear shorts and caps – the only nod to the weather being their jackets and hands-in-pockets. Everyone wears masks these days. The numerous water tanks seen in the background have become items of necessity as the drought continues. Not only farmers purchase them anymore – many suburbanites now have them in their gardens to catch and store any rain than happens to fall.