Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) was favoured for making sturdy fence-posts and even railway sleepers in the Eastern Cape from very early on as this hardwood is well known for its durability. Below is an example of a fence no longer in use, yet the sneezewood fence-post continues to carry out its duty.
There are many such abandoned fences in this part of the world. The following photograph shows a suburban fence made up of a collection of sneezewood fence-posts.
While they might look old and bent at different angles, these posts did their job very well and are still as strong as they were when they were first erected during the 1800s. The holes in them have not been bored by insects, but show where the fencing wires were threaded through them. In sharp contrast is a section of a modern fence, common in these parts where a number of game farms or private game reserves have sprung up.
These tall, multi-stranded fences are high enough to keep most wild animals from roaming – yet a kudu can sail over them with ease should it wish to!
Farming is an obvious way for early inhabitants moving into an area to make a living off the ‘untamed’ land and it was no different in this country. Different people choose their own ways to utilise the land: some we could call free roaming pastoralists, who move their animals according to where the grazing and water is best, whilst laying claim to a property and fencing it in is best for others. This reminds me of the westerns I read while growing up in which there always seemed to be a conflict between the cowboys and the increasing number of sheep farmers – the latter were always associated with fences. This pattern of settlement has probably played itself out in many countries. Our visit to the Ciskei area reveals relics of similar conflicting ideas of landuse.
Early farmers in the Eastern Cape would use Sneezewood (Ptaeroxylon obliquum) to make their fencing posts to demarcate their farms and protect their stock. Ptaeroxylon comes from a Greek word meaning sneeze and wood; obliquum refers to the oblique leaflets of the tree. I have written about these fences before as I am in awe of the fact that so many of these Sneezewood fence posts still remain well after more than a century. These bear testimony to the hardness and durability of the wood, which is also termite-resistant.
When the Ciskei was declared a ‘homeland’ in 1972, private farms were turned into communal grazing areas. Many of the existing fences were removed and the wood used for other purposes. The photograph above shows the relic of one such fence. Near it is another relic of farming that is no longer used in this area: a cattle grid.
As you can see, there are cattle grazing in the open – the low fencing you see in the background is that of the public road – with no restrictions. There is no longer either a fence or a farm gate to keep the cattle within the confines of a designated grazing area. A young tree is pushing its way through the heavy metal grid and the earth on one side has worn away over the past thirty odd years. There may even come a time when people might wonder what this strange contraption is. I wonder what will happen to the tree.