The Eastern Cape, a journey into my 333 year family history in South Africa.
Last month we took a family holiday to the Eastern Cape. We had planned it at the beginning of last year, and wanted it to include some time relaxing at the beach and some time exploring the Karoo heartland. It unexpectedly became a journey into family history for me.
During apartheid, an area of the Eastern Cape, called the Transkei, was created. Without going into the long, disgraceful and complicated history of apartheid, the Transkei was created as a “homeland” for black Xhosa-speaking South Africans. The Transkei was also where my mother and her 6 siblings (2 died at birth) were born and grew up. My mother was born in a tiny village almost nobody has heard of, called Cala. My grandfather recruited labour for the mines and my grandmother was a librarian.
My grandmother comes from a very old Afrikaans family. We can trace our lineage back to Jean le Roux who sailed from France with his brother in 1688. My grandmother decided to do the unthinkable and marry a Scottish man, John Pringle. Today this doesn’t sound like a big deal, but to her Afrikaans family for whom the Anglo Boer war was within living memory, it was a disaster. John was also Catholic while my grandmother’s family came from a long line of austere protestants. I can just imagine the scandal this created in 1944. My mother was less controversial but also married a “foreigner”, my father being a British born Zimbabwean. Without intending to, I continued this pattern and married a Frenchman bringing our maternal lineage back to those intrepid French Huguenots! I remember my grandmother being proud to tell my husband about our family origins in France, although we have been South African for over 300 years.
The Karoo is considered South Africa’s heartland. Its vast semi desert plains and mountains give it an outstanding natural beauty, but its warm and friendly people should be its true source of pride. On this holiday we stayed at Die Tuishuise in Cradock, and the staff here epitomise the remarkable hospitality of the region. I visited the Mountain Zebra National Park for the first time and we had some incredible sightings of birds and mammals in this small park. Mountain Zebra is only 15 minutes from Cradock and so it is wonderfully convenient to use Die Tuishuise as a base. We also did a tour to the graves of the Cradock Four, guided by the exceptional Amos from Die Tuishuis, pictured below.
Another highlight of the trip was the Valley of Desolation in Graaf Reinet. It’s sheer cliffs and dolerite columns are truly breathtaking, especially at sunset. The view is pictured above and below.
Lastly, the Owl House in the remote town of Nieu-bethesda is a strange and interesting place to visit. The roads are not tarred and we visited on a dry and windy day. The dust blowing through the quiet streets was eerie. We felt like we had been transported back in time to the start of the 20th century. My daughter was captivated by the fantastic Owl House sculptures that were created by Helen Martins and her assistants.
Recently, I have seen some small positive signs of people wanting to travel here again and nothing makes me happier!
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