Sunday, September 27, 2009

Day 5 Prince Albert to Sakrivierpoort


Day 5 Prince Albert to Sakrivierpoort 090927 Sunday 301 km 7hrs

The Sak river starts in the Karoo National Park in the Nuweveldberge behind Beaufort West. I had my laptop with me and set a route taking me between the N1 and the N12 (Beaufort West to Oudtshoorn road).

It is a flat plain; here I went right on the road less travelled.

A bit later I missed my turning. I did not have my earphones in. My Zumo was set to \Navigation\Recalculation Mode\Off but the software has a bug and it does recalculate the route when you miss a turn. Next time you check it shows you the purple track making you think you are still on course. I was led to the damned N1 – exactly where I did not want to be. Come on Garmin we are really getting unhappy with your products. I want that map to show me my planned route no matter where I go when I have Recalculation set to off. The roads I had chosen were shown on Tracks4Africa – but once you are in the Great Karoo T4A is worthless as it shows absolutely nothing that is not on the ordinary Streetmaps – well certainly in all the bits i went through.

On the way to Leeu-Gamka. This flat plain was a San stronghold; known as the Koup then (still is on the 1:250 000 maps). The mountains of the Escarpment to the Great Karoo are the Nuweveldberge and those too were a San stronghold.

I wrote a summary of the book The Forgotten Frontier but it ran to 8 pages in Word which would make a very dry posting here so I will just put in bits from it here and there. The trekboere were required by the VOC (Dutch East India Company) to provide the meat needed by the ships calling at the Cape for food. I wondered how the sheep and cattle were got from the frontier to the Cape – obviously they were driven but how did it work? In the book there is a brief account of what happened to one of the drive parties right here at Leeu-Gamka.

I need to set the storey in context so here follows a very brief history. I am not going to discuss the reason for the San raids on the trekboere in this – there are two sides to the storey but that is not what I want to do here now.

This is a map I marked up for the aborted history post. I have left it oversize so you can read the labels put on (they should have been bigger).

1739 commando

The conflict between the KhoiSan (a compound work that covers both the Khoikhoi (Hottentots) and the San (Bushmen)) and the trekboere started with the settlement of the Tulbagh valley in 1700. The commando system was established to deal with the Khoisan. In 1739 a large commando was raised which shattered the Khoisan resistance from the coast of the Sandveld right through to the Koue & Warm Bokkeveld. After that the trekboere could safely expand into the Hantam and Roggeveld but the San in the Nuweveld and Koup were too numerous and offered such great resistance to incursions by the trekboere that these areas were left largely unexploited. The Laingsburg area is known as the Moordenaars Karoo from those times.

1774 General Commando

The San resistance resumed and became so serious and widespread (right along the length of the border from the Hantam to the Sneeuberg ) that the General Commando was raised in 1774. Over 500 San were killed and about 250 women and children were captured (no men); one commando member was killed. The trekboere had the advantage of guns and horses and the San were operating in their traditional small family groups of between 6 and 30 with the average being 13 whereas the commando groups (there were three) were 60 or more strong. The San were quelled following this but it was only temporary and soon their resistance resumed.

There was a bad drought in 1786 and that combined with the increasing San attacks led to the Nieuweveld (old spelling) and Koup being abandoned by the trekboere. After 10 years of commando activity the frontier was in retreat in most places. There was still no decisive victory for the authorities (does this remind you of Afghanistan both for the Russians & the Americans?).

Here is the storey I have been leading to. The authorities needed the trekboere as they depended on their meat supplies. In June 1792 at Leeu Gamka two butchers in the employ of van Reenen (who had the contract to supply meat to the VOC) were driving 12 000 sheep and 368 cattle towards Cape Town. (Interesting that no mention is made of the slaves and Khoikhoi in this party.) They were attacked by 300 San with many muskets who took 6 000 sheep and 253 cattle. A commando was raised which tracked the stolen cattle and killed 300 and captured 15 San and recaptured 860 sheep and 30 cattle. They then found the other part of the San party and killed 231, recovering 325 sheep and 15 cows. The San had realised that they were vulnerable when in their traditional small parties so here they had formed a large group of 300. They had also started using guns. But note that the commando made no attempt to capture the males. They were seen as ‘vermin’ and killed as such. They could not be made to work so they were of no use. These were genocidal atrocities but, if the opposition is viewed as vermin, it was not seen as such.

The escarpment at Beaufort West which is part of the Karoo Park. The origin of the Sak River is up there. These are the slopes the San chose to be able to observe the animals below. I went up the Molteno Pass.

At the top I turned onto the road to the Mountain View chalet in the park as that is where the Sak starts.

The gate to the park so I could not find the actual start of the Sak.

But let’s call this the start of the Sak. That is a small watercourse very close to the gate. In Mapsource with the Topo maps at a scale of 700m or less you will see this ‘stream’ marked It is just one of several shown and is no different from the rest.

The map of my track showing the stream I photographed, the edge of the Karoo national park and the Sak river label. The next photo was taken just where the R381 label is (notice the streams running in opposite directions) and the photos after that were taken just above the top of this map.

This is the continental divide. It is just after the side road to the gate and is the highest point on the tar road. Rain falling this side of the skyline runs south into the Indian Ocean. Rain falling on the far side of the skyline runs north to flow into the Gariep (Orange) and westwards into the South Atlantic Ocean.

The first time the road crosses the Sak. Looking south = upstream. The land is very flat here and that is a marshy area behind with water draining from the top of the Nuweveldberge in the background. The Sak runs under the road here but it is just a culvert with large corrugated iron pipes under the road. This is about 3 km from my ‘start of the river picture’

The same first culvert looking downstream. Those are poplar trees. Trees are very scarce in the Karoo & the farmers plant poplars alongside the reliable water as they need the wood for fencing & building and fuel. These are probably White Poplars originating in southern Europe. When we were in Klaarstroom two days previously we saw where ‘Working for Water’ had cut down the communities poplar grove. No consultation had taken place & that was a resource that served the community. Poplars are invasive and need control, but they are also a valuable resource in many instances. To simply remove them without considering the social implications is irresponsible. ‘Working for Water’ are being forced to replace them – but it is going to be with an indigenous tree.

Similarly with the Australian Eucalyptus. It was a tree I had little time for as they capture all the water close to them. Behind my house on the slope of Signal Hill the City Council planted a wide band of Eucalyptus trees 80 years ago to serve as a fire break. Twice the hill has been ablaze in the last 10 years but it stops before the eucalyptus trees because nothing grows close to them (it is another thing once they do catch alight as has been seen in the serious fires in Australia the last few years). In the Karoo it is noticeable how the farmers choose to plant eucalyptus around their farmstead as it is one of the few trees that can grow here and it provides valuable good poles and firewood. I have come to appreciate what a big contribution they have made to this country. They are also very important to the bee industry – later in this trip I saw the bees working excitedly on the eucalyptus trees in flower in Nieuwoudtville. The eucalyptus trees provide food for the bees at times when nothing else is available and the bee industry has become dependent on them. If they are eliminated then the bee industry will be severely affected which will have a drastic repercussion for the fruit industry which relies on bees for pollination.

The same poplars, the culvert is at the curve of the road in the background & that is the top of the escarpment behind Beaufort West in the background – the actual start of the Sak is further to the left though rain falling on those hills will run into the Sak also.

This is just a few hundred meters further on. It shows how much water is standing here and the size of the poplars and the fluitriete.

A little further on showing the poort that has dammed up the Sak.

Here it has escaped the poort and we are in typical Great Karoo scenery. The Sak is to the left.

Same scene zooming in a bit to show the water in the Sak.

And now it has a wide bed but no water. This is about 20km from the start.

The first (low level) bridge on the Sak. This is just to the left on the previous picture.

The rocks at the bridge showing the sedimentary rocks at the front right (Beaufort group) & the igneous capping (Dolerite) above with the dark colour and rounded shape clearly to be seen at the top left. More about geology as a separate post. If you are interested there is a lot about the Dolerite in that post.

The first tributary. The Sak flows in from the left of the picture and out on the right. That is the first real tributary flowing in from the middle of the picture.

The first pan on the Sak, about 25 km from the start. So now it is really starting to lose water to evaporation. Life is hard for a river in a hot flat land.

I had to ride on towards Loxton a bit taking me away from the Sak to get to the farm Sakrivierpoort where I was to spend the night.

Here I am crossing a side stream of the Sak. Notice the rocks. The large thick layer of harder sedimentary rock visible both in the foreground and as a thick band in the background.

The rocks are named from where they are best seen. These are most likely part of the Beaufort Group since they are close to Beaufort West and the Beaufort Group covers most of the Great Karoo. Notice how similar those rivers are to the Sak. The Sak is really the last vestige of those ancient river systems that created the Karoo.


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