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The Karoo's Hofmeyer

By J.F. Kloppers

In South Africa, the folks living in small country towns often have to be innovative in order to persuade the traveller to spend some time exploring their town and area, rather than just continuing down the highway.

In South Africa's Karoo area, located half-way between Steynsburg and Cradock, a town called Hofmeyr is on such a major route, but even so, some advertising always helps to sell a place.

The ragdolls, probably stuffed with mielie cobs, sitting colourfully on an old wagon, certainly caught my eye. As did the sign inviting travellers to try out the coffee, pancakes and tarts. Never one to turn down a tasty treat, I instantly stopped to indulge at the Karoobos Lodge Farm Stall. Its coffee shop is also home to a tiny museum, so while waiting for their order, travellers can learn more.

The town of Hofmeyer's pink Dutch Reformed Church is, of course, another eye-catcher. (Wink... wink)

The town has a population of around 4 000 people, but in former times it lay at the centre of a flourishing sheep-farming district.

Founded in 1873, the town was initially named Maraisburg. As there was already another town in the Transvaal with the same name, it was decided to rename it Hofmeyr in 1911, in honour of Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr – an ardent campaigner for the equal treatment of Afrikaans and English, and a prominent figure in the Eerste Taalbeweging.

Affectionately known as Onze Jan (Our Jan), Hofmeyr who was born in Cape Town, became involved in politics at an early age. A skilled journalist, he was editor of de Zuid-Afrikaan.

When he entered the Cape Parliament in 1879, as member for Stellenbosch, he soon became the real leader of the Dutch party, despite the fact that he held his seat in Parliament for six months.

A powerful figure within the Afrikaner Bond he was able to make or break ministers at his will. Some called him the Cabinet-maker of South Africa.

Working behind the scenes earned him another nickname. John X Merriman (the last prime minister of the Cape Colony before the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910) described him as “The Mole”… “An industrious little animal… You never see him at work, but every now and then a little mound of earth, thrown up here or there, will testify to his activities.”

The Hofmeyr Skull, a 36 000-year-old hominid, was also found in 1952 in the Vlekpoort River nearby.

Molteno was our next destination and we chose to take the scenic dirt track through the mountains, rather than the tar road. We highly recommend it – it captures the essence of the Karoo.

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