In 1996 the Watermeid made the headlines in the mainstream media.
It all began with the terrible flood in the Oudshoorn District at the end of 1996. I remember it well because I got married (in George) on the day the rain started. The resulting flood washed ostriches, crocodiles, cattle, farm equipment, trees and sections of tar road through Meiringspoort and Oudtshoorn all the way to the sea. Numerous houses in Oudtshoorn were flooded knee deep by the Olifants river and the damage was such that Oudtshoorn was declared a disaster area. The Meiringspoort road was all but destroyed and some of the guests at our wedding had to take long detours to get back home.
While reporting during the flood someone on the radio joked that the Watermeid must have been washed all the way to the sea. Shortly after a regional radio station (Suid Kaap Sterio) reported that the Watermeid washed up on the beach and was taken to the CP Nel Museum in Oudtshoorn where it was kept in a glass tank. A national radio station (RSG) heard about it and repeated the story. Then all hell broke loose...
The museum was inundated with calls. They wanted to know where the Watermeid was and whether they could see her? People came from near and far, from Pretoria, Cape Town, PE and numerous other places. Some journeyed through the night to see the phenomenon. Then people became angry and riotous because there was nothing to see at the museum. They claimed the museum was only showing the Watermeid to the Whites. Even the police arrived to keep the crowds under control.
The curator announced that the museum's tower will be filled with water for the Watermeid to live in. In the meantime the museum personnel quickly converted a mannequin into a mermaid and hung it in the tower so that people who came from far had something to see. When the people got the impression that it was a money making scam the curator suspended the entrance fee for that week. Finally the people saw her and realizing that it was only a dummy got even more annoyed. There had to be a real Watermeid. It was on the radio!
(Photo from this website.)
Finally the curator told the people that the Watermeid had been returned to the river. Soon after a "seer" in the community claimed to have talked to the Watermeid at Rooiwalle. Another also claimed to have spoken to the Watermeid and apparently the Watermeid told her that her name was EPORIA. Things then finally calmed down.
But it did not end there. Stories of the Watermeid and other mermaids continued to appear in magazines and newspapers during that year. In Van Rhynsdorp a Watermeid caused a youngster to drown. In the Eastern Cape a Watermeid caused such a fuss that the matter ended up in court. In the Moddergat river at Macassar, near Somerset West, one kept a group of youths in a panic for a week. And in Europe the famous bronze statue of a mermaid in Copenhagen was decapitated for the second time since it's erection in 1913.
(Photo from this website.)
Since 1996 the Watermeid appeared in several paintings and shows at the KKNK and the well known Antoinette Pienaar performed a cabaret called "Eporia". In nearby Calitzdorp a special Mermaid Port was bottled and television even screened programs about the Watermeid or Karoo Mermaid.
Asterix and I went to the CP Nel Museum to see the Watermeid that caused all the fuss. We were disappointed to find that the Watermeid had been taken out of the tower since, but the museum personnel was kind enough to get her out of storage so that we could see her. And here she is:
So, our trip had not even started and already we've seen the Karoo Mermaid. A positive start to our trip! Hopefully during our trip we'll see the real thing.
Source: CP Nel Museum