landscape speaks to all of us in a language we are familiar with. and this is a changing thing.
my parents wandered around in these mountains. looking for bushman paintings. with ginger johnson, percy seef and heim rabinowitz.
they travelled in a mini. this took quite a bit longer than today.
one story that stayed with me is about their arrival on the farm traveller’s rest. “come inside, kom binne”, was how oom strauss welcomed them. after hearing about their planned walkabout, he said in his thick boer accent, “why do you want to go there? only the moon goes there.”
a good few years later I find myself staying at cobussegat, on the farm elandsvlei with a friend’s dog. the dog’s name was jakkals, cobussegat is a type of cave dwelling, and elandsvlei is bewitching.
next day we’re exploring by bike. an old donkey path forms the way; proper stonework separates it from the floodplain below us. i get interested and find the remains of a pass in the direction of syfer se rug. it’s a substantial engineering endeavour. it represents an organised undertaking involving labour on the scale of a small village. as i ride up and over this escarpment i see more and more stone-packed sheep kraals and abandoned subsistence farms. i start wondering: who built this? and why?
that is how i became interested in the cederberg.
recently i undertook a river trip on the doring. it’s a section that only works for perhaps three weeks in the year. when it works it’s a thing.
from de mond to the big dam just above elandsvlei. there are still caves with undisturbed bushman stuff. “first peoples”. i like it. after this we drive the track through to the cederberg proper. i explain this story to my friend piers relly. he thinks it’s a classic scenario of a jared diamond “collapse” theory. a story of resource depletion. a story of our time.
the ceder tree, cederbergensis widdringtonia, was such a resource. european settlers started farming sheep in the area in the 18th century. in 1876 a forester was appointed to oversee the public land. this was potentially the first known conservation effort in the cederberg. from 1903 to 1973 there was no stopping the resource stripping. primarily of cedar wood and bugu. farmers used the mountain slopes for pasture. approximately 7 200 cedar trees were used for telephone poles while constructing the ceres to calvinia line. veld fires contributed to the degradation. in fact, the book “berge van die boland”, published in 1948, issues the plea to farmers to stop purposely starting fires.
in 1967 the removal of dead ceder trees was stopped. other methods of over-exploitation were stopped in 1973 with the proclamation of the cederberg wilderness area. today initiatives like cultivating ceder saplings in their natural habitat contribute towards an awareness of conservation.
the neat stone-packed kraals and walls are testament to a viable subsistence-farming set-up. but this also exacted its toll. the land lost its carrying capacity. fewer people could make a living there. there were fewer people and fewer dances and eventually the roof trusses collapsed.
with every fire and flood the trace of this small human enterprise reduces.
this is one aspect.
one of many other aspects is that it is a joy for nature lovers to visit this area. and there is a lot to see.
more joy is to be had in the rock pools in this area. some are known, many not. this mountain holds water and gives water.
where is my favourite place? impossible to say. a herders ruin overlooking the tankwa karoo. a ribbok gazes at me through the gathering night. and then it’s gone.
i’m lying on a stretcher at camp site 24 at algeria. it’s afternoon. we’ve completed a trip. kids are playing in the pool below. above a buzzard circles against the cliffs.
get a map and start your own adventure. these paths lead to beauty and discovery.
another book that depicts the more recent people of this area is tom burgers’ “cedar people”.
it’s a photo book with text. a picture speaks a thousand words.
i am bound by what martin versveld wrote in the book “berge van die boland”, in the chapter about the cederberg. “one afternoon as i was alone in the mountain i boiled water for a cup of tea. here you meet all your friends, regardless if in person or in memory.”
Images courtesy of: Stan Engelbrecht and Paul Lipschitz