The State of the Fresh Fruit market in South Africa

While browsing at my local Supermarket some time back, I had a sudden urge to quaff a long draft of delicious, fresh orange juice. I immediately set off in search of a pocket of the best of what South Africa could boast of, in the way of enticing fresh fruit that would burst forth with the taste of orchard fresh nectar !

I used to be a Citrus farmer, and there was nothing nicer than to select, and eat a freshly reaped ripe, juicy orange out of the fruit trailer, just before it was transported to the pack house where it was transformed into an enticing, alluring, shining, carefully waxed, and wrapped example of fruity goodness. As one bit into a segment, the abundant cascade of pure heaven used to fill our mouths with unadulterated tangy thirst-quenching pleasure. I suppose this image has stayed with me, and I thought that I could perhaps get close to repeating the dream.

I noticed pockets of “oranges” lying on a pallet. They contained fruit that had a dull orange color. On closer investigation I noticed that there was a typical metallic sheen to the fruit. The pockets were labeled as having come from Zebedelia Estate in Limpopo Province. The fruit was not fit for pig food. Then I remembered how the Citrus Industry in the Lowveld, with specific reference to oranges, was dealt a death-blow, especially to groves in the higher lying areas, by a disastrous disease named “greening”, which renders oranges unfit for any consumption whatsoever. I also remembered the sad demise of Zebedelia Estate.

Greening is caused by what is termed a Cytoplasm, (see wikipedia) which renders the fruit useless. This is because the one side of the fruit never develops further than a certain stage, which leaves that one side “green”. A casual look at some fruit will in fact not immediately identify the greening. A sure give away is to squeeze suspect fruit gently; which will produce a typical metallic sheen. If tasted, the fruit is bland, and almost juiceless. Labourers reaping citrus are instructed to drop greened fruit to the ground, where it eventually rots.

Greening disease is a secondary infection that invades the citrus groves through a vector by the name of Citricilla, which is a nymph type of creature that innocently imbeds itself into citrus leaves, in shady spots near to windbreaks. Until recently growers never realized what sort of death-knell was being rung through this vector in their industry. The only way to prevent the Citricilla spreading too rapidly, is to not plant citrus in high-lying cool areas, but only in areas with a hot sultry climate where Citricilla does not easily thrive. It is however wise to practice pest control against Citricilla in any event in the warmer areas, to prevent the possible threat of greening in those areas as well.

Once the greening phenomenon presents itself, there is virtually no hope for the trees bearing greened fruit. There were efforts to inject infected trees with anti-biotics at one stage; this was not a solution.

Zebedelia Estates was a magnificent show-piece of a citrus estate. It belonged to the Schlesinger Group in previous years. From the air it could be seen to stretch for kilometers displaying the neatly trimmed orchard lines of a well planned, organised, and adequately managed enterprise. It was reputed to be the largest private citrus estate in the world at one stage.

It used to be called “the diamond of agricultural projects,” and in 1978 the Readers’ Digest, in its Illustrated Guide to Southern Africa, wrote: “Nearly 400 million oranges are harvested each year… At the height of the season, about 15000 cases of oranges leave Zebediela every day. The fruit comes from more than 565000 trees irrigated by enough water to supply a city…” (p. 122) The harvest was worth R30 million a year. But after its hand-over to the Agricultural and Rural Development Corporation of the ruling ANC Government the estate suffered a loss of R30 million in 2000 and of R35 million in 2001. The press reported that it was “beyond recovery.” A lemon yield worth R8 million was left to rot because there was no money to pay staff. In March 2001 ABSA Bank stopped all credit and bounced a pension cheque for R56 million. The seller had been only too ready to help the new owners, but their assistance was rejected.

And so this marvellous icon, cash cow, source of foreign exchange, basic food producer, and a showcase of proficient and successful agricultural management, was systematically neglected and then allowed to disintegrate into total and absolute ruin.

Some enterprising hawkers now reap whatever fruits that have had the misfortune to hang on neglected trees, still not cut down for firewood, badly infected with diseases like greening, stuff them into orange pockets, and then sell them cheaply to some greedy entrepreneur who is trying to make a quick “buck” out of any unsuspecting ignorant shopper, who can’t see the difference between poor and healthy fruit. Unfortunately in this instance, the Law says, “buyer beware”. The irony of the whole affair is that the product brazenly displays a Zebedelia label, showing the origin of this abortion !

Then a supermarket franchisee proudly displays this tragedy on his “fresh fruit” pallet as an example of his choice of a quality high standard delicious product.

I tried to find out what the current policy was as far as the quality of local fruit was concerned; in earlier years it was illegal for anyone to sell fruit locally of any kind that did not conform to export internal quality standards. I was referred from pillar to post between officials from various bodies, private and otherwise, involved with guidelines for the quality and sale of fruit. I was eventually told that only export fruit with required standards was controlled, and that the bodies involved with the regulation of local fruit quality in the old days no longer existed, and that local fruit was no longer controlled for quality, and that it was impossible to monitor the myriads of people selling fruit anyhow. In other words, one is virtually at the mercy of unscrupulous operators who certainly don’t care a hoot about the sale of quality healthy fruit. What about those shoppers who are not in any position to make trips to other places, where they may have a choice of purchase? I suppose that one could surmise that if one doesn’t really want to deliver this kind of service – well, so what anyhow.

Someone I know whom has recently relocated to Qatar in the Persian Gulf says that excellent quality fruit from the different countries in the world is abundantly available, with fruit from South Africa of better quality than she ever saw even in the supermarkets in the Cape where she was before. I wonder what we South Africans did wrong to have to be saddled with our poor quality, or should I ask why vendors that have a duty to showcase the best that we have, with pride, and commitment to service, and the protection of their and our good name, cannot (or refuse to), rise to the occasion. I feel positively ashamed to refer precious overseas tourists to our local supermarket.

I do still wish I could make my dream come true.

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A Short Biography of General Sir Redvers Buller, Victor of the Battle of Long Tom Pass

General Sir Redvers Buller

Redvers Henry Buller was to become a controversial figure but in 1895 he was at the height of his career as Adjutant General of the British Army. He had had a distinguished career, serving in most of the hot spots of the British Empire, and had earned the Victoria Cross at the Battle of Hlobane, in the Zulu War.

The Victoria Cross

He was regarded as a fighting soldier and an Africa specialist. He was also regarded as a good leader, although in fact he had never held an independent command.

When things started to get difficult in South Africa in 1899, he was summoned to the War Office and offered the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Forces in South Africa, in the case of war breaking out. He declined the post, pointing out that he would rather go as Second-in-Command. Nevertheless, when the Anglo-Boer War did break out, he was appointed as Commander-in-Chief, with immediate effect.

Buller leaving Britain for the Cape

His request for an additional 50 000 troops for his campaign was slashed to 10 000 and his departure for South Africa was delayed for a fortnight by red tape.

When he finally arrived in Cape Town he decided that as the Commander he should operate against the Boers in Natal. He had specifically ordered the local commander, General Penn-Symons, not to cross the Tugela River to meet the Boer advance. This order had been ignored; Penn-Symons was killed at Talana and his successor, General White, was bottled up under siege in Ladysmith.

Gen. Penn-Symons

Other British forces were besieged at Mafeking and Kimberley, but Buller saw relieving Ladysmith as his first priority. He promptly moved on up to Durban, gathered together a force of 30 000 men and advanced up the rail line to Frere, where he established his headquarters.

His first major task was to get across the Tugela and he decided on a frontal attack at Colenso. The Boers, under General Louis Botha, were waiting for him and the assault ended in an ignominious defeat. Buller suffered heavy losses, amongst whom was Lt Freddie Roberts, the only son of Field Marshall Lord Roberts.

Freddie Roberts

Freddie was killed in a gallant, but vain, attempt to move a number of Buller’s guns which were in danger of being over-run by the Boers.

The defeat of Colenso was followed by the even more disastrous defeat at Spioen Kop. Buller was by now personally thoroughly demoralised and made the career-limiting mistake of telling Whitehall that he intended to tell General White to “fire off all his ammunition and surrender”. This thoroughly alarmed the British politicians and they promptly sent out Lord Roberts as new C-in-C, with Kitchener as his 2IC. Buller was relegated to OC of the Natal area and told to do nothing further and await instructions from Roberts. White ignored Buller’s suggestion that he surrender and Buller continued in his attempts (ultimately successful) to cross the Tugela and relieve Ladysmith.

At this stage, Ray Heron (in his lecture) broke away from Buller’s campaign and instead postulated the theory “what if Buller’s idea of surrendering Ladysmith had been accepted?”

Lord Roberts

If Ladysmith surrendered, the Boers would have been able to call for negotiations, in which they would have held the whip hand, and it is possible the war could have been ended. This didn’t happen and instead the war dragged on, with its attendant concentration camps and guerrilla phase; the construction of about 8 000 block houses across the country and the subsequent desperate fight to the bitter end by the so-called Boer “bittereinders”. The legacy of hate and mistrust by the Afrikaners towards “the English” which arose from this lasted for generations and culminated with the Nationalist Party coming in to power in 1948. Ray then proffered the idea that it is just possible that if White had indeed surrendered much of what subsequently occurred might not have happened and South Africa’s history might have been irrevocably changed.

The Tomb of General Sir Redvers Buller

Returning to Buller, Ray added, during the ensuing question time, that Buller, although sidelined by the War Office, remained a highly respected general, especially by those who served under his command. He is one of the very few soldiers present at the unveiling of his own monument when, in 1905, a statue in his honour was unveiled in his home town of Exeter in Devon.

Memorial Plaque to Gen. Sir Redvers Buller

He died of natural causes in 1908.

Gleaned from a lecture by Raymond Heron, Battlefield Tour Guide, Kwazulu Natal.

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The History of South African Forest Investments

The origin of SA Forest Investments is intimately linked to the fortunes of the gold mining industry in the Sabie and Pilgrims Rest areas. In the late 1800’s the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates operated mines under the control of The Corner House.

Underground mining required timber supports, initially obtained from the indigenous forests, but it was obvious that this source of timber was being exhausted and a start was made with the planting of trees.

In 1910, EB Glaeser heard about a tree-planting scheme planned by TGME at Elandsdrift, near Sabie. After a short interview with the man; he was appointed in the new post.

A prominent wattle grower, McKenzie from Dalton, drew up a report on tree planting for the farms Elandsdrift, Hendriksdal and Klipplaat. He considered the climatic conditions and nature of the soil well suited for growing wattle and eucalypts. He outlined the method by which the ground should be prepared by ploughing to a depth of 10 to 15 cm and harrowing it to a loose tilth.

Seed of black wattle was to be hand sown in rows 1m apart and rows 3,6 m apart. At the age of ten years the tree-would produce marketable tannin bark, and poles suitable for mining purposes. A hectare was expected to yield 8 to 12 tons of tannin bark and 40 tons of wood depending on depth and nature of soil.

After the directors decided to proceed with the project, Glaeser was instructed to start afforestation on Elandsdrift farm, 800 ha in extent. His headquarters was at the company’s gold mine, where he was initiated into a society of men whose language and manners ill befitted the life he had lived. They were not interested in the forestry project.

His work progressed satisfactorily. He had enough labour and implements, and duly completed planting 200 ha by the end of the first year. In 1916, the trees had reached the stage of yielding a return in tannin, bark and mining poles. He was instructed to visit leading wattle growers in Natal to acquire up-to-date knowledge of plant and machinery for processing the bark. Orders were placed with AF Poole for machinery and Merryweathers for specially built wagons for transport.

The bark had a high tannin content and found a ready sale to tanning factories in Port Elizabeth, Salt River, Silverton, and on the export market in Durban. Almost all the mining timber was railed to the company’s group of mines on the Rand.

Following the wattle-growing programme, a large commercial timber scheme was launched in 1919 with the planting of pines. The first profits appeared in the balance sheet in 1919, and by 1927 the entire capital cost had been recovered. As the plantations grew it became obvious that the general manager at Pilgrim’s Rest, whose preoccupation was mining, no longer controled the plantation activities. Nils Eckbo was offered the position of consultant and he proceeded to put the tree-planting programme on a scientific basis. The modest annual profits grew and by 1945 the plantations were earning over £60,000 a year.

A sawmill and a box factory was established on the farm Hendriksdal and in 1939 an arrangement was made with the Acme Box Company of Durban to manage the sawmill. Moshal Gevisser Holdings and Hillman Brothers owned the shares in Acme.

The success of the TGME forestry venture did not go unnoticed to the outside world to the extent that, shortly after World War II, a daring attempt was made to acquire control of these assets.

Robert Stephens was a pre-war Rhodes scholar forestry graduate from Oxford University. His account was that, while he was serving in the SA Engineering Corps in North Africa, he obtained a copy of a TGME annual report that detailed the financial success of their forestry activities. This so impressed him that, after the war, he became involved in mounting a take over.

Corner House became aware of this threat, and the chairman of TGME, Gordon Richdale, set about securing supporting votes from shareholders. The “Stephens syndicate” bought shares at 16s a share and sold them six months later at 35s after being defeated by a few votes at the annual general meeting in 1946. During the scramble for shares the price actually reached about 57s.

This incident had beneficial consequences in that a decision was made that TGME forestry assets were to be divorced from the mining holdings and a separate company, SA Forests Investments Ltd. was formed in 1948.

A professional management team was employed under Deon Hofmeyer who became the first general manager with offices in Sabie. Extensive changes in the management of these holdings were introduced similar in style to those in the Department of Forestry from which most of the forestry trained staff had been recruited. It was at this time that the Acme Box Companies sawmills at Hendriksdal and Driekop were incorporated into SAFI.

The shareholders in SAFI were Moshal Gevisser Holdings, Hillman Brothers, The Central Mining and Investment Corporation, Rand Mines and the Transvaal Gold Mining Estates. It had a capital of £125,000 in £1 shares.

In 1942 John Loseby took up the position of Estate Manager at Maggsleigh, the forestry undertaking of Charles Maggs Investments.

Some 800 ha of wattles had to be converted to pines and all open grazing land had to be planted. A small sawmill was developed and the ready demand for lumber made it profitable to convert a sizeable area of unsuitable softwoods to P. patula. There were also large compartments n young cypress trees for which a good market was found for the manufacture of army tent poles.

Due to the heavy programme of plantation operations a relatively large black workforce was maintained. Many of the men were married and their wives played a useful role in planting operations. The going rate for black labour was 1s 8d per day plus housing and rations. Meat. cost 9d per kg and mealie meal 8s 6d per bag.

In 1950, O’Connell Maggs broached the subject of his family’s intent to sell Maggsleigh. Their object in converting the estate to a potentially profitable pine-growing proposition had largely been fulfilled. Loseby was abashed at the figure he mentioned as a possibly acceptable selling price and told Maggs to go for double.

SAFI showed an interest and Maggs arranged that Loseby have discussions with WE Watt who was their consultant. They spent many hours together and in correspondence, but the gap between their respective thoughts narrowed only marginally. The delay in reaching any sort of agreement gave time for other developments to take place,and, in the end, the original figure was met in a deal concluded in 1952. Charles Engelhard was the purchaser and he turned the property over to SAFI in return for shares. He thus gained a foothold in SAFI.

The next major corporate change that took place was around 1956 when Gordon Richdale, who had left Corner House to join Engelhard Industries in America, returned to South Africa with Charles Engelhard and obtained control of SAFI.

This change brought about farther developments in both forests and sawmills. The Acme sawmilling structure was reviewed under the guidance of David Gevisser and John Loseby and a decision was taken to close down the Hendriksdal mill and con-centrate activities at a new mill in Sabie, retain Driekop and build a satellite mill at Doornlaagte, near Bushbuckridge. David Gevisser was subsequently appointed as head of SAFI. Ronnie Simmonds succeeded Hofmeyer as general manager in 1961.

The Engelhard era came to an end on his untimely death in 1971. His widow, Jane, disposed of the SAFI interests to the Anglo American Corporation in 1972. This change in corporate control had far reaching ramifications, resulting in the ultimate fragmentation of SAFI/Acme.

After David Gevisser resigned from Anglo American, Chris Griffiths restructured the forests and sawmills by consolidating SAFI, Acme and Peak Timbers Swaziland; he appointing Duncan Turner to head up the new organisation in 1978. Dave Lundie succeeded Turner when he retired.

At the beginning of 2001 a US investment company Global Environment Fund and Mondi (part of a Mondi-Anglo-American merger) formed a jointly owned forest products company called Global Forest Products.

Mondi’s assets of 60,000ha of pine sawlog plantations in the Mpumalanga province as well as Mondi’s sawmills at Sabie, Driekop and Jessievale were part of the deal. In 2006 the Peak Timbers Estate with two sawmills and 19,000ha of plantations were sold to Global Environmental Fund. Global Forest Products was sold to a Yorkcor consortium in 2007 and a new listed forestry company, York, consisting of the combined assets of Global Forest Products and Yorkcor was formed.

Gleaned from “There is Honey in the Forest” by Willem Olivier and other sources.

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A Short Biography of Hans Merensky, Renowned Prospector, Successful Farmer and Philathropist

Dr. Hans Merensky

Hans Merensky was born 1n 1871 at his father (Alexander Merensky’s) mission station at Botshabello north of Middelburg.

Rev.Alexander Merensky

His father’s wide and varied interests and sense of adventure were not the only influences on Merensky’s life. He was also widely influenced by Karl Mauch the pioneer prospector and geologist.

With this kind of background and love of the great outdoors, he decided to study geology in Germany. However before he was allowed to study he had to undergo military training in the German army, an experience that had major unfortunate and nasty repercussions for him in later years.

Prussian Army Training

Once he had received his degree he was active in various different German institutions where he received specialized training. About nine years after he had begun his studies and had written and completed his last examination, he accepted a post in the Prussian Civil Service’s Department of Mineral Affairs. However he soon became bored with the work routine and took a year’s study leave in South Africa. It was twenty years before he saw Germany again.

In Johannesburg he was reputed to be an able gentleman of integrity in his dealings and associations with mining magnates and powerful financiers with whom he interacted on a daily basis. Through his knowledge and awareness of day to day business affairs he made a small fortune for himself on the stock-market.

At the pinnacle of his success during 1914 however, fate dealt him a disastrous hand. He failed to read the prevailing business climate correctly at the time and as a result lost heavily on a falling stock-market.

German Troups World War

Furthermore he lost his family’s farms in the Ermelo district, and having received military training in the Prussian Army was interned as an enemy combatant for the rest of the 1st World War. In 1919 he was eventually released in Pietermaritzburg – a sick, broken and depressed man. At 52 years of age he felt a total failure in his own eyes.

Merensky Prospecting for Platinum

However in 1920 within a year of his release his fortunes turned for the better after he discovered the first enormous platinum deposits in the Lydenburg district. He suddenly became a celebrity, while making another fortune.

Hans Merensky made many massively important discoveries of mineral deposits during his lifetime. In an obscure corner of Namaqualand he found the fabulously rich oyster trench diamond hoard near Alexander Bay. He then discovered more enormous platinum reefs in the Lydenburg, Potgietersrus and Rustenburg regions, which are some of the largest reserves on the face of the earth. Furthermore he also discovered vermiculite, phosphates and copper in the Phalaborwa district. He went on to find rich gold fields in the Freestate. To crown it all – he discovered the world’s largest deposits of chrome in the Jagtlust region south of Polokwane.

Diamondiferous Gravel

The discovery of vast mineral resources, especially the diamonds on the West Coast and the creation of a showpiece estate at Westfalia, were Hans Merensky’s most important achievements. However he possibly got the most joy from the results of his work on the estate.

He bought the run-down and neglected Westfalia farms near Tzaneen from Sir Lionel Phillips in 1929. With common sense and a scientific approach he improved the water flow, soil and land with advanced soil conservation methods. The water sponge areas and rivers were rehabilitated by removing the alien plants. Eucalypt trees were planted and citrus and avocado orchards were established. He especially experimented with avocados. Within ten years he had created a prize forestry and agricultural estate.

Saw Logs

Merensky loved trees. After purchasing Westfalia he started experimenting and did pioneering work with the production of eucalypt sawlogs. Eventually his company became the leader in this area.

Merensky formed a trust in 1949 that included all his assets plus Westfalia and the Northern Timbers Sawmill at Politsi. This formed the cornerstone of further growth of the Hans Merensky Trust and was the forerunner of Hans Merensky Holdings.

Hans Merensky Timber has for several decades been a timber processing company owning several sawmills in four different parts of country and growing eucalypts for sawlogs, poles and mining timber on plantations near Tzaneen.

Sawmilling opportunities for Merensky Timber emerged during the 1960’s. Merensky’s timber business was up to that stage focused on the growing and processing eucalypt sawlogs. The initial steps to expand into pine growing and milling was taken by Jan Roets. This initiative started in the Natal Midlands when a joint venture between Merensky, Sanlam and the McKenzie family was formed to acquire Clan Syndicate. Clan grew into a fully integrated sawlog plantation, with a sawmill and lamination plant.


Apart from the eucalypt sawmill, Northern Timbers at Tzaneen, which sources its logs from own plantations in the area, Merensky Holdings acquired and built two additional eucalypt sawmills; one in Sabie and one in Port Dunford. In conjunction with these two sawmills, he convinced the Department of Forestry to develop eucalypt sawlog rotation plantations with appropriate silvicultural treatments, which enhanced log quality and volume yield.

In 1973, Merensky Holdings were invited by theTranskei Development Corporation to establish a sawmill in the Transkei. Singisi Sawmill was built in the Umzimkulu region. This was followed three years later by the takeover of small mills and the building of the Langeni Sawmill near Mthatha. It has specialised equipment to process the large volumes of relatively small sizes forthcoming from the surrounding Matiwane plantations.

In 1981, Merensky Holdings entered into a joint venture with the State.The Tweefontein Company was formed which contained the Sabie and Weza sawmilling assets of Merensky and the State. The joint venture was ended in 1993, after which Merensky retained the Sabie sawmill and the State retained Weza sawmill through SAFCOL. The Sabie sawmill, known as Tweefontein, was over the years incrementally improved to its current status as first in class for SA sawmills boasting amongst others, innovations such as commercial scale wet off saw, kiln drying of eucalypt timber since 1985 and sawing both pine and eucalypt logs in the same wet mill since 1990.

Merensky Forests

In 2001, a significant pine plantation area comprising of 58,000 ha in Southern Natal and in the old Transkei area, was acquired on a long-term lease from the RSA Government via the privatisation of the State forests. This step secured the raw material supplies of Langeni and Singisi sawmills. As part of the assets, the Weza sawmill was sold and once again ended up with Merensky. The combined company known as Singisi Forest Products was the first in the industry to achieve the status of a level three black empowerment contributor.

Two years later, eucalypt plantations near Graskop, purchased from Mondi Forests, were added. This was followed in 2006 with the purchase of pine plantations near Sabie, from 5 British owners. Merensky’s total owned and managed plantations increased to 59 400 ha pine and 15 300ha of eucalypt plantations.

Chromium Broken Crystal

Through all these years the Merensky focus was to improve efficiencies and yields of its sawmills. The company continued to invest in and update the sawmill equipment and these investments kept the company at the forefront of technology. Over many years this vision inspired many people to stay the course. The temptation to give up was there, especially during the 1990 to 2000 era when pulp and paper company returns outnumbered sawmilling by a factor.

Merensky has a proud history of development, sustainable management, and the efficient processing of high quality saw logs and sawn products. Today, it is still a large and successful forestry and agriculture company – all thanks to Dr Hans Merensky having bought a run down piece of land in 1929.

Much of the wealth that he generated from the abundant treasures out of the ground he gave back to South Africa, in the form of generous donations to universities, and the establishment of trusts and bursaries for under privileged students.

Merensky Library Pretoria

In spite of the fact that he was an exceptionally wealthy man, he lived a simple undemanding life in his house at Westphalia, and never let his associations with all sorts of important people amongst whom he mixed, and whom he always received with charming aplomb, affect him in his dealings with ordinary people.

Gleaned from “There is Honey in the Forest” by Willem Olivier.

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A Short Biography of Tom McLachlan, Prospector

Karl Mauch

Karl Mauch’s prophecies about the presence of Gold through the Escarpment below the Drakensberg Range of the old Transvaal were taken seriously by a number of eager prospectors. Some of them were Button, Sutherland, McLachlan and Parsons.

Button journeyed up to the Lydenburg area with two companions. They were George Parsons who had led the abortive Natal South Coast gold rush, and James Sutherland, a man of twenty years experience in the Californian and Australian rushes.

The trio was joined by Tom McLachlan, the son in law of Maria Shires, and one of the greatest of all South African prospectors; and they searched throughout the Eastern Transvaal areas which Mauch had indicated as being potentially rich in Gold. Although they found traces they were not very successful. The search went on especially in the Lydenburg district where the area was combed diligently. Richard Thomas and James and Tom Mc Lachlan were extremely active; both made permanent homes in the little town.

An old Australian digger named Lilley had also arrived, and local residents subscribed forty pounds Sterling to finance his search.

Tom MacLachlan


Lilley explored painstakingly, and when the resources of his backers dried up, Mc Lachlan and James supported him from their own means. Lilley found a single solitary speck of Gold; and this was unfortunately lost in the wind while exhibiting it to a bevy of old ladies. Then Lilley struck it rich at the Pilgrim’s Rest diggings by discovering the Lilley nugget that weighed 119ozs 200dwt.

George Lilley

This was enough to start McLachlan off again on a personal search. With George Parsons and Sydney Valentine he resumed the laborious activity of prospecting in the Drakensberg, and kept Lydenberg on tenterhooks with constant rumours of a rich find. He was further spurred on with his associates by the Republic’s offer of a five hundred pound Sterling reward for the discoverer of payable Gold. They concentrated their search in the area which Karl Mauch had described so enthusiastically when he had viewed it from the summit of the Mauchsberg.

Macmac Falls

McLachlan bought a portion of the farm Geelhoutboom and built a small stone house to give him and his partners a base from where they could operate while prospecting in the neighbourhood. The three men worked long and hard. Eventually their luck changed. In a creek on the farm Hendriksdal, on the 6th February 1873, the partners found their first Gold.

They worked on feverishly. Eventually they found what they considered to be a payable deposit of Gold, on the north side of Spitskop in a little creek which they named McLachlan’s Gully. This gully lay in what is now known as Leader Hill, just below the disused railway line in the Malieveld region.

Gold Nuggets

They put a claim in for the reward after producing a 2.5 oz. nugget, claiming that they’d found payable Gold. The reward was never paid. The area around Spitskop was however proclaimed a public digging, resulting in a wild rush to that area as soon as the news spread.

In 1874 Tom McLachlan made the first reports of Gold in the Kaap valley, where Barberton was later destined to grow. However the only payable deposit he found remained his discovery up on the heights of Spitskop.

It was only a matter of time before the next strike was made, as prospectors were busy all over the countryside. Just north of Spitskop on the farm Geelhoutboom, Johannes Muller and his son Dietricht had become infected with Gold Fever. Tom McLachlan taught them how to prospect, and with beginners’ luck they stumbled across a fine discovery. It was along the banks of the rivulet that ran through the farm, and consisted of a deposit of alluvial Gold all along the bed of the stream, just before it tumbles down nearly 90 meters through the cool beauty of the Macmac Falls.

President Burgers

President Burgers when on a visit to the Gold field broadly known as New Caledonia Gold Field noticed the number of diggers’ names beginning with Mac’s and Mc’s. He named the diggings Macmac. The diggers loved the name, which has stuck right up to the present day.

Having built a stone house at Macmac which was on the farm Geelhoutboom, McLachlan was the best- known inhabitant. He worked the area with some small success for a while, and then in 1878 sold out his interest to a Kimberley syndicate. The syndicate sent up Bob Jameson, brother of Dr. Leander Star Jameson to manage operations. Jameson occupied McLachlan’s stone house and during his tenancy it became a noted gambling center, with Dr. Hans Sauer, Dr. Oscar Somershields and J.B. Taylor making up a famous poker school. They were joined at times by Ikey Sonnenberg, doyen of gamblers.

Burgers Cross

Some of the women busied themselves in trying to improve the lot of the diggers. Tom McLachlan’s wife and his ward (a Miss Espag) did so much good work for the sick at Macmac that in August 1874 President Burgers awarded them each his Burgers Cross in recognition of their labours.

At the end of September 1882 McLachlan paid his last visit to the Kaap area, and this was the occasion for an event which became renowned in digger circles. McLachlan found the diggers were prepared to do anything for information on someone else’s discovery. They plied him with liquor, and questions. About his own activities he refused to say a word, but he told them that he knew where French Bob and his party were finding their Gold. They eagerly plied him with more liquor and when supposedly mellowed by their hospitality he agreed to show them the way as soon as he had finished his local business.

French Bob

200 of the diggers, together with Ziervogel packed their chattels and prepared for the new rush. McLachlan finished his business sooner than expected and left a note telling the mob to meet him at a certain rendezvous on the 2nd of October. When they reached that spot there was a note instructing them to proceed to another spot. When the eager 200 reached that rendezvous they found another note with further directions.

So it went on for days, with McLachlan leading the weary 200 through most inaccessible country. Over the next few weeks, stragglers from the party gradually returned to the Duiwel’s Kantoor in various stages of exhaustion, all breathing dire awful threats against McLachlan, who despised rabble who only wanted to rush other mens’ claims.

Duiwel's Kantoor

After the ascendency of Mbandeni as the King of Swaziland in 1876, Tom McLachlan having left his home at Macmac, led a group of 14 prospectors into the mountains of north-western Swaziland. They prospected and explored through the most beautiful of wilds, but found no Gold, discovering instead all the other wealth that Mother Nature had bestowed on this remote corner of Africa. McLachlan and two partners decided to settle in a beautiful part with breathtaking views. He built a shack near the trail leading from Lourenco Marques to the Kaap valley.


As King of Swaziland, Mbandeni lavishly sold concessions for every service, commodity, facility, goods, licences or whatever to adventurers.

Swaziland Mountains

One individual even had a concession giving him the sole right to act as a broker for concessions. Some big deals were put through.

McLachlan sold his so-called Kobolondlo Concession in 1887 to a French company.

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Gleaned from “Lost Trails of the Transvaal” by T.V.Bulpin and other sources.

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The History of the Sabie Gorge and Malieveld Hydro-electric Powerstations

From 1881 established companies, the most notable being Transvaal Gold Mining Estates, Ltd. (TGME) and Messrs. Glynn’s Lydenburg Ltd. took over the mines and converted from alluvial mining to reef mining. Small operators also continued mining and even after the First World War (1914-1918) a number of small mines were still operating in the district.

Sabie River Gorge Power Station

Shortage of electrical power in the dry season at Sabie seriously restricted normal mining operations, since the mines could not be pumped dry. Any further development was also hampered by the absence of an adequate and reliable power supply. One of the large mining companies owned a small hydro-electric station at the foot of the Sabie Falls, which supplied power to its own mines and others according to a priority allocation laid down by the Department of Mines and Industries. However, the total power available was inadequate to meet the requirements of all the mines and the smaller properties could not afford to provide their own power. Furthermore, power production had to be concentrated to be produced economically.

Sabie River Gorge Power Station Layout Plan

The establishment of a power station at Sabie was one of the first projects undertaken by the Commission. Survey work to establish a hydro-electric power station in the Sabie Valley, at a place known as “the inaccessible gorge”, was started shortly afterwards.

Transport of Siemens Transformer

Because the mining industry could not give a guarantee of a possible future load, and their needs being less than they anticipated, the Commission had to abandon the larger scheme in favor of a smaller operation. A site closer to Sabie had to be found in order to cheapen the cost of transmission. Survey work started in June 1924 on the farm Bergvliet 692, 14 km down stream from Sabie on the Sabie River. Early in 1925, tenders were invited for the supply and construction of the plant. On 5 June 1925 a permit was obtained from the Electricity Control Board for the establishment of a hydro-electric undertaking in the Sabie District and an application was made to the Water Court for the necessary water rights on the Sabie River.

Malieveld Power Station Building

While the Sabie River scheme was being revised, it was found to be necessary to install a small hydro-electric plant on the Malieveld Spruit to prevent flooding of the mines during the winter. This power plant was erected in collaboration with Glynn’s Lydenburg Ltd. and started production on 1 December 1925. When the Sabie River Gorge scheme was completed in 1927, the Malieveld Spruit plant was closed. Initially it was considered to use the plant as a stand-by, but it was dismantled after the closure.

Transformers Sabie Gorge Power Station

The Sabie River Gorge station was the first station to be designed by Escom engineers. The Sabie undertaking was the first project where Escom generated its own electricity after its establishment and it was, until the Hendrik Verwoerd Power Station began to generate power in 1971, the only hydro-electric power station erected by Eskom.

Francis Type Turbine

The scheme started up provisionally for testing in March 1927 and commercial operation started on 1 April 1928. The licensed supply/delivery area was within a 14 km radius from the Sabie Railway Station. This excluded the areas under jurisdiction of the municipality, unless the Commission obtained permission from the local authorities for the supply of electricity.

According to the Annual Report of 1930, the Sabie Undertaking was designed for an output of approximately 5,5 million units per year. Up to 1930 the electricity demand was far less than the maximum output. A yearly increase of +/- 40 % can however be noted from 1928 onwards, and in 1931 the output was exceeded and 6,585 553 million units were sold.

Setting Basin at Intake Works Sabie Gorge Power Station

As the units sold increased, the average price per unit decreased and the consumers had to pay only 66% of the estimated price. The reason for this is because production costs of hydro-electric schemes are affected only to a limited extent by the output. Any increase in consumer demand has very little impact on the operating expenditure and results in a substantial reduction in the average cost per unit.

Pipeline at Sabie Gorge Power Station

The output peaked in 1947 when 7,604 777 units were produced. After 1947 a steady decline in output can be observed, with the exception of 1963 and 1964. The reason for this can be attributed to the fact that the town of Graskop was connected to the Sabie River Gorge scheme.

After the closure of the plant on 5 November 1964 a sharp drop in output occurred. By 1967, only 17 000 units were produced. The 1968 Annual Report only mentions that the power station was used as a standby for emergencies. After 1971, with the completion of the Hendrik Verwoerd power station, the Sabie scheme was no longer noted in the Annual Report and also excluded on the map of the Eastern Transvaal Undertaking.

Gleaned from Eskom Archives.

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Impressions Gained from the Diary of Florence Brooke Shires Diarist of Brooklands

Barberton Valley

Florence eventually married Joseph Brooke Shires, who seems to have been a country boy himself, from a more or less similar background. He must have been a man of means being able to buy the farm “Onverwacht” which he named “Brooklands”, where he planted the first Eucalypt and Wattle trees in the Sabie area in 1876. He also farmed with maize, cattle, horses and vegetables.

Brooke Theatre Production

Their grandson Brian Brooke ( who was celebrated for his theater productions in Johannesburg)  comments in his book “My own personal Star” 1978, that “Joseph Brooke Shires, my grandfather, was to me the perfect pioneer… He had a passion for trees…Legend is that, in his early thirties, he inherited a cotton mill in Lancashire…He was a fearless and unruffled young man with the mind of a visionary. Maria Shires Waterfall, near Graskop is named in honour of Maria Shires, née Taylor (1814–1875).

Maria was the mother of Joseph Brooke Shires, and of Ann Maria McLachlan. Her son-in-law, Tom McLachlan first discovered gold in a gully on the slopes of Spitskop near Hendriksdal in February 1873, in the Kaap Valley in January 1874, as well as alluvial gold at Jamestown in the Barberton area in 1881.

Eucalyptus Saligna

Florence was from all accounts educated and quite well read being impressed with the writings of Mary Kingsley who was a British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and campaigned for Britain to support traders and merchants in Africa rather than settlers and missionaries.

Old Fashioned Plowing

H.L.Hall & Sons Mataffin

Author Rider Haggard

Glynn Family Sabie

Florence seemed rather bored with the monotony of country living generally, and was not very energetic, but she was specifically frustrated, worried and depressed through the uncertainty of not knowing what had become of her loved ones once the War got under way, as well as not being able to socialize as she would have liked. She mingled with various different local people, while having good friends amongst both the English and Afrikaans sections of the community round her. However – she graciously, faithfully and very bravely kept the home fires burning while’st battling unreliable labour, enemy hostilities, treachery, thieving vagrants, and unfavourable elements after her husband was taken away.

Maria Shires Waterfall

Although Joseph seems to have been part of the British garrison at Lydenburg where he grew vegetables for the regiment, as well as partaking in the odd foray against the enemy with the British troops, he lived happily. Strangely enough from all accounts, Florence never saw him again.

Gleaned from “The Diary of Florence Shires” compiled by Dr. Winkler.

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Swann’s Race

Spitskop sticking out behind young Pine Trees

One of the Spitzkop diggers was particularly famous. He was an individual named John Swann. He had made a rich strike somewhere near Spitzkop, but always kept it a close secret. Working on his own at night, he contrived to recover enough gold to finance his own activities, although he had to take his ore some miles to water.

Gold Nugget

Abandoned Typical Water Wheel & Stamp Battery Used

Then, like a bolt from the blue, the French company Messrs Guilband & Co obtained their concession over Spitzkop. Swann’s race, by then, after four years’ work, was about two-thirds finished and about sixteen miles long. He had hoped to complete it by 1886. Now all his hopes collapsed. The company offered him some compensation and a twenty percent interest if he would show them his strike. He refused. Like most of his fellows, he felt that he had been cheated out of a fortune by the monopolists and concessionaires.

Barberton Mountains

In bitterness of soul, he packed his belongings and abandoned his treasured strike and his water race, the most famous ever made by any digger. He removed to the Kaap Valley and prospected with James Simpson. All he found, unhappily, was death. Fever caught him. When he lay dying, Simpson begged him for the secret of his strike. John Swann just gritted his teeth and turned his face to the wall.

Gold Specks in a Pan

Gold Panning Advert

‘ It’s good,’ he muttered,’ It’s rich, but it’s deep, They’ll never get it.’

That was the end. His strike was never found. The race still remains, a seemingly endless trench meandering around the hills, and reaching a disconsolate end within a stone’s throw of the modern road down Ross Hill to the town of Sabie.

A Snippet from “Lost Trails of the Transvaal”, by T.V. Bulpin

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The Battle of The Long Tom Pass

Long Tom Pass

The Pass was named after the final conventional Anglo Boer War battle that took place on the slopes of Mauchsberg between Lydenburg and Sabie, reaching a peak summit of almost 2000 meters. A replica of the Long Tom cannon stands at the Devil’s Knuckles in the pass as a reminder to tourists as to why the the pass is named Long Tom.

Today, visitors of the spectacular Long Tom Pass between Lydenburg and Sabie can negotiate the meandering 55.6km pass in relative comfort. The road passes below the summit of Mauchsberg at its highest point at an altitude of 2150m above sea level.

The road sweeps smoothly through tight corners, sharp climbs and breathless descents. It is perhaps difficult to appreciate that this mountain pass was once an extremely fearsome natural obstacle for soldiers in the running battle that took place there in September 1900 in which acts of bravery were recorded bordering on the insane.

Long Tom Pass Canon

The Long Tom on Wheels

The Boer forces had been repulsed at the battle of Bergendal after which General Botha retreated to Lydenburg. After delaying the British south of Lydenburg, he moved east up the almost non negotiable slopes of Mauchsberg with two Long Toms in the direction of what is now known as the Long Tom Pass.

General Sir Redvers Buller, wanted to block the road from Pilgrim’s Rest to Nelspruit, so it was imperative to follow Botha. Buller’s cannons which were ineffective against the 9km. reach of the Long Toms were on 2 wheels making them difficult to manoever compared to the 4 wheel mounted Long Toms and had a barrel diameter of 12.5cm.

They were effectually kept at bay by the Long Toms as the Boers were trying to escape over the mountain. As the British infantry climbed the steep slopes, carefully finding their way up the mountain in a peasoup mist, the Long Toms were inspanned and moved on, while the Boers took every opportunity to check the British advance at the same time, and then slipping away into the mist.

The Boer forces eventually reached Devil’s Knuckles, a razor backed ridge along which the track passed. It was extremely difficult, slow and dangerous to negotiate. In the meantime the British advance guard pushed on and nearly captured one of the cannons.

Mist on the Mauch'sberg and Long Tom Pass

Boer reports mention several acts of bravery as the Long Toms fought to cover the withdrawal of Botha’s men. When Sergeant Major Cox needed certain ammunition for his gun, two Irish soldiers with the Boers galloped to Lieutenant du Toit’s gun some dis­tance away. One man collected a shell, and the other a cartridge, which under fire, they delivered to Cox’s gun. This one round caused havoc in the British ranks, and in the confusion, the Long Toms were able to withdraw. This was the last position of the canon in action and is indicated by a signpost today.

General Louis Botha Long Tom Pass

It is said that General Botha himself, when it seemed certain that there was no chance of saving one of the guns, said: “Why do you struggle with the old gun? Let it roll over the cliff!” Not recognising him, a field cornet said: “Grab the rope and pull.” He did and the gun was saved.

The Times History says: “The valour and skill of the Boer rearguard enabled the main army to retire without serious loss to itself.” On September 11, Botha successfully negotiated the pass with his force, in­cluding the Long Toms. The battle was over.

As the war moved into its guerilla phase, the need for the Long Toms was reduced. One by one they were de­stroyed to prevent capture by the British.

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Knotty Nook Gallery of Fine Art and The Loft Coffee Shoppe

Knotty Nook Gallery

Welcome to the Knotty Nook Gallery of Fine Art in Sabie.

We are able to introduce you through our extensive art network to celebrated local, national and international artists and sculptors, or dealers, for paintings, hand knotted carpets and tapestries, and other fine pieces of art. The majority of our art falls into the affordable price range, with a few selected pieces for collectors. The Knotty Nook can also buy your art in for cash. At present we have one of the best exhibitions of Art on display in its class in the RSA.

We display a great variety of subjects – such as landscapes, still life, wildlife, figures studies, and within these choices there is also a sensible balance of different styles in a variety of different mediums.

The Loft Coffee Shop and Knotty Nook Art Gallery

There are oils, pencil and charcoal sketches, acrylics, watercolours, etchings, collages and montages to enjoy and to acquire at affordable prices.

We pride ourselves in opening the first real dedicated Fine Art Gallery in Sabie and are looking forward to the day that Sabie will be known for its collection of fine art works.

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The Knotty Nook Gallery and the Loft Coffee Shoppe share the same space under roof. Art decorates the Coffee Shoppe walls and helps to create a pleasant ambience for the Coffee Shoppe patrons as they comfortably while their time away before embarking on the next leg of their journey.

The Loft Logo

Platter in the Loft

Cakes to Order

Be seduced by the suggestion of lovingly and carefully crafted home bakes, platters, or special treats from our own kitchen, and round off your meal with a rich creamy brew of locally grown Arabica coffee from off our own cool mountainsides. We also sell packets of this Africa Coffee off our table consisting of Espresso, Dark Roast, Medium Blend or Bushveld Blend. All are suitable for either the French Press, for Filter Coffee, or in a Coffee machine.

As groups on tour try our lunch concept with a difference. We can host you to a boma braai lunch, or a regular braai and spit braai with all the trimmings out at Macmac Pools or at Lone Creek Falls. A cash bar is available.

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