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Ixopo is a small town in the interior of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
The area was surveyed in 1878 and was initially named Stuartstown. The local Zulus however called it eXobo, capturing the sound of cattle squelching through the mud – the 'x' is pronounced as a click – and this proved the more enduring name. The muddiness it evokes is appropriate – the town lies high up in the mountains, almost 2,000m above sea level, and the area is often shrouded in mist.
The Umzinto–Donnybrook narrow gauge railway was built in 1908. It ran for 93 miles, from Kelso to Donnybrook, passing through Umzinto, Highflats and Ixopo. The line was constructed using second-hand rails, salvaged from track upgrades on Cape gauge railways. Various sections of the railway closed between 1985 and 1987. The Ixopo to Umzinkulu branch was rebuilt in 2000 by the Paton’s Country Narrow Gauge Railway as a tourist attraction.
Places of interest near Ixopo include the Mariathal Mission and the Buddhist Retreat Centre. The Retreat Centre has been awarded National Heritage status for its efforts to establish indigenous vegetation and provide a natural habitat for the endangered Blue Swallow.
The Carisbrooke Valley lies about 10 kilometres outside Ixopo, in the shade of Mount Nyeza. The settlement of Ndotsheni in the novel is based on nearby Nokweja. The dominant agricultural activities in the region are sugar cane cultivation and forestry, beef and dairy farming, and small scale subsistence farming.
In 1897 Herman Tobiansky bought a 237-acre area of farmland, 6km to the west of Johannesburg, for development as a residential area. He named it Sophia, after his wife. He began selling the plots in 1904, on a freehold basis, targeting the aspirant working classes. However the new suburb was right next to the sewerage works. White buyers, who could choose to live in more fragrant areas, stayed away. Johannesburg’s black, coloured and Indian residents, who were very restricted in terms of where they were allowed to purchase property, quickly snapped up the freehold plots. Sophiatown thus became a mainly ‘black’ suburb, to the disquiet of the country’s white rulers.
In 1913 the government passed the Natives Land Act, which prevented black people buying property anywhere except in designated Native Homelands. These ‘homelands' together accounted for just 7% of the country’s land (grudgingly increased to 13% in 1936). Black people who had purchased freehold property prior to the passing of the Act were initially exempted, leaving Sophiatown as one of the only places outside the rural homelands where black people could legally own land.
By the 1940s Sophiatown had a population of nearly 54,000 Black Africans, and just over 5,000 Coloureds, Indians and Chinese. The majority were tenants and sub-tenants. Several families might share a single room, and backyards were filled with shacks built of cardboard and tin. Despite the poverty, Sophiatown was an epicentre of politics and creativity, with a vibrant cultural life and many shebeens selling home-brewed beer.
By this time Johannesburg was sprawling in multiple directions. Sophiatown was no longer on the edge of town – it had been surrounded by white residential areas. By 1944 the authorities had decided that the black population would have to move. The community put up fierce resistance, and plans stalled for a while. But with the election of the National Party in 1948, the doctrine of racial segregation became official government policy. In February 1955, 2,000 armed policemen descended on the suburb and began the process of forced removals.
Between 1955 and 1968, 65,000 people were removed. Different race groups were relocated to new, racially-segregated suburbs on the edges of Johannesburg. Sophiatown was demolished, house by house. The only buildings left standing were a church, a children’s home, and two residential homes, one of which had belonged to ANC leader Dr A.B Xuma. The area was re-zoned for whites only and renamed 'Triomf’ (Triumph).
The Anglican Church of Christ the King, built in 1933, survived the destruction. Under Rector Trevor Huddleston, an outspoken opponent of the government’s race policy, it had formed a centre of resistance to the forced removals. Huddleston's active opposition to Apartheid saw him recalled to England in 1955. The church was deconsecrated in 1964 and sold. It changed hands several times in the following decades, but was re-purchased by the Anglicans in 1997 and restored to its former state.
In 2005, the name of Sophiatown was restored.
The Umzimkulu is the second largest river in KwaZulu Natal. It rises in the Drakensberg and flows southeast, entering the Indian Ocean at Port Shepstone.
The Umzimkulu valley, through which the river runs, remains predominantly rural (until it reaches the coast). Parts of the valley look little different now than they did in the 1940s, when the novel was set.
The Griqua people have their origins in the 17th and 18th centuries. Early Dutch settlers in the Cape formed relationships with the local Khoi people. Their mixed race children grew up speaking Dutch, but did not have the same social or legal status as their white fathers. The colonial authorities formed them into mounted armed commandos, responsible for protecting the new colony’s frontiers against the local Khoi and San populations.
Frustrated by the limitations imposed by the colonial authorities on their rights and freedoms, groups of Griqua migrated from the Cape into the interior. Some moved as far north and west as modern day Namibia.
These groups established four short-lived Griqua states. Griqualand East was one of these. It was founded in the early 1860s by Adam Kok III, and was located between the Umzimkulu and Kinira Rivers. The community was centred on the town of Kokstad, named in honour of its leader.
The territory was taken over by the British Empire in 1874. It was administered by the British as a separate colony for several years, but was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1879. Under apartheid, the area was incorporated into the Xhosa ‘homeland’ of the Transkei.
The town of Springs was originally a farm of the same name, so called because of the number of fountains on the land. It lies about 50km south east of Johannesburg.
The area first came to prominence in 1888 when coal was discovered there. In 1890, the first railway in the Transvaal, the ‘Rand Tram,’ was built to carry coal from the East Rand coal mines to Johannesburg. The terminus was on the Springs farm, and six collieries started operations in the area. The town that grew around the terminus was populated mainly by Welsh coal miners.
Coal mining in the area was gradually abandoned, to be replaced by gold mining and industry.
A village was laid out in 1904. By the late 1930s there were eight gold mines near Springs, making it the largest single gold-producing area in the world.
The town is now predominantly industrial, despite its rather pretty name.
Northern KwaZulu-Natal saw a great many bloody conflicts during the 1800s. Today, the ‘battlefields region’ tourism route attracts those with an interest in military history.
The area around Escourt was the scene of several major battles in the 1838 conflict between the Voortrekkers and the Zulus, culminating in the Battle of Blood River on 16 December 1838.
At Isandlwana, a British force was defeated by 24,000 Zulus in January 1879.
At Rorke’s Drift, a day later, about 100 British soldiers defended themselves for 12 hours against an attack by 4,000 Zulu warriors.
The Newcastle and Glencoe areas were the scenes of several fierce battles between the Boers and the British during the Transvaal war of independence, 1880-1881. Famous sites include Lang’s Nek, Fort Mistake, and Majuba.
Dundee, Glencoe, Ladysmith and Colenso saw a number of battles in the South African war of 1899-1902, which resulted in Britain establishing itself as the colonial power over what would become the Union of South Africa.
The discovery of gold on the Witwatersrand in 1886 quickly turned Johannesburg into a boom town. Today, mine dumps comprised of crushed rock are scattered across the city. There are about 200 dumps in and around Johannesburg, some up to 50 metres tall and containing about 438 million tons of mine dump soil.
Early gold extraction processes were not very sophisticated, so there are still traces of gold in the dumps. In some cases, these are now being extracted using modern techniques. A dump is considered viable when 0.4 grams of gold can be obtained from every ton.
To minimise the dust blowing off the sand dumps, grass and shrubs have been planted on the surfaces. The dumps are, however, a major source of air pollution on windy days.
South Africa’s earliest Sotho-Tswana speakers were concentrated in the north of the country. They are believed to have migrated from the area that is now Tanzania. By 1500 they had spread across South Africa and separated into three distinct regional clusters.
The Sotho nation was established in the 1820s under Moshoeshoe, who used a combination of force and diplomacy to gather together disparate clans of Sotho-Tswana speakers from across the country. A combination of decisive military victories over rival tribes, alliances with neighbouring chiefs, and the inclusion of refugee communities willing to pledge allegiance to him, saw Moshoeshoe establish himself as the undisputed ruler over a large area (modern day Lesotho).
In 1868, after losing some of his territory to the Boers during the Free State–Sotho war, Moshoeshoe successfully appealed to Queen Victoria to proclaim his territory, then known as Basotuland, a protectorate of Britain. Local chieftains retained power over internal affairs while Britain was responsible for foreign affairs and the defence of the protectorate.
In 1966, Basutoland became the independent Kingdom of Lesotho. Today, Lesotho remains an independent mountain kingdom, completely surrounded by South Africa.
Since the late 1800s, many Sotho have travelled to cities such as Johannesburg to work as migrant labourers in the mines. Today, about 4 million people in South Africa speak Sotho as a first language; Sotho is one of South Africa’s 11 official languages.
By the early 1900s, Fietas, an area just west of central Johannesburg, had become home to many of the city’s working class coloured, Indian, black and Chinese inhabitants. The Johannesburg municipality decided that Fietas was too culturally mixed, and should be exclusively for Indians. In 1937, coloured residents were removed to the new locations of Coronationville and Albertville. Over time, surrounding suburbs such as Newclare, Bosmont and Claremont developed, with predominantly coloured populations.
The elite suburb of Parktown was established in 1893, on a ridge overlooking the burgeoning city of Johannesburg. Streets were laid out along the natural contours of the ridge, to retain the ‘country feel.’ The suburb was administered as a private, company-owned estate, outside the city limits, until 1904.
Lionel Phillips was the owner of Parktown’s first residence – a 40 room mansion called Hohenheim, on a 20 acre site, which became the venue for some of Johannesburg finest social gatherings. The building was demolished in the 1970s.
Other notable Parktown mansions, which have survived the century largely intact, include:
The View, built in 1896 for Thomas Major Cullinan, of Cullinan Diamond fame,
Emoyeni, built in 1905 for The Honourable Henry Hull, in a style inspired by Sir Christopher Wren,
Hazeldene Hall, completed for coal magnate Charles Jerome in 1907, and
Northwards, built by Sir Herbert Baker for mining magnate John Dale Lace. Zebras were stabled on the property, to pull Mrs Dale Lace’s coach.
The mining camp that subsequently became Johannesburg was proclaimed in September 1886. The need for basic health facilities was quickly apparent. The government donated an area of land immediately to the north of the mining camp, on what subsequently became known as Hospital Hill. The foundation stone for the Johannesburg General Hospital was laid on 29 March 1889, and the first permanent hospital buildings were opened a year later.
The facility started out with 130 beds. Several new wings were added over the next few decades, including staff quarters, operating theatres, an outpatients building and a dispensary block. In 1939, a large central structure, the Ronald Mackenzie Block, was erected, bringing the total beds in the complex to 1,666. At the time, the hospital was unmatched in the region for its luxury accommodation and medical expertise.
In 1983, a new Johannesburg General Hospital was erected on Parktown Ridge. The original hospital, by then known as Hillbrow hospital, went into decline. Hillbrow Hospital is currently being extensively renovated and restored, as part of a new Hillbrow Health Precinct development.
British Bechuanaland was incorporated into the Cape Colony in 1895 and now forms part of South Africa's North West province.
Bechuanaland Protectorate became the Republic of Botswana in September 1966.
Today, Alex is home to as many as 400 000 people. Brick houses and tarred streets along the East bank contrast with the shacks, dirt roads and dire poverty of the West Bank.
Upmarket Sandton, South Africa's financial centre, is just 4kms away.
The suburb of Doornfontein was established in the 1890s, as a country retreat where Johannesburg’s wealthy Randlords built their offices and homes. However, within 10 years, Parktown was emerging as a more desirable suburb, and Doornfontein’s wealthier residents began to leave.
By the 1920s, Doornfontein had become a place of slum yards and factory compounds, with workers housed on site. Over-crowding was rife, exacerbated by sub-letting. By the 1930s, 143 of the 271 properties in the area were identified as slums that required demolition. Property owners, facing severe financial loss, agreed with the Johannesburg Council to convert their properties to commercial and industrial usage.
By the mid-1940s, the waiting list for houses in Orlando numbered 16 000 people. New arrivals to the city lived as sub-tenants in houses and backyard shacks.
In March 1944 Community leader James ‘Sofasonke’ Mpanza led a group of squatters who built basic shelters made of bits of scrap metal and canvas, on municipal land in what is now Orlando West. Within a month the settlement had a population of 20 000. The municipality responded by putting up 4 000 breeze-block shelters, communal water taps and pit latrines. Residents dubbed the area Shantytown.
Today, Orlando is a suburb of Soweto.
Sekukuni was King of the baPedi. He came to power in 1861 at the age of 47. His territory stretched between the Vaal and Limpopo rivers, in the eastern Transvaal (today’s Limpopo province) – an area that became known as Sekukuniland.
Sekukuni considered Sekukuniland to be independent and not subject to the Transvaal Republic. He refused to allow miners from the Pilgrims Rest goldfields to prospect on his land. He collected a store of muskets and ammunition over the years, and was well equipped to repel attacks against his territory. He was involved in three major military campaigns – a war against the Boers in 1876, and two campaigns in 1878 and 1879 against the British.
After Sekhukhune's death, the Transvaal government divided Sekhukhuneland into small ‘tribal’ units that owed allegiance not to a King or Chief, but to ‘Native Commissioners’.
In 1904 there was a suspected outbreak of bubonic plague among the residents of Brickfields, a slum area on the edge of Johannesburg. Black inhabitants were evacuated from the area and relocated to Klipspruit farm, nearly 20 kms south-west of Johannesburg.
A portion of the Klipsruit population was housed in emergency shelters left over from the South African war - V-shaped corrugated iron huts that the locals called e-Tenki. Many of these shelters were still in use a generation later.
In 1934 a section of Klipspruit was renamed Pimville, and developed as a ‘middle-class’ black suburb. Today, Pimville is a suburb of Soweto.
Today the park attracts over 20 000 people each weekend, and hosts an annual Jazz on the Lake concert that draws even larger crowds.
US President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on 19 November 1863, during the American Civil War. The speech marked the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Lincoln proclaimed that the sacrifices of the Union troops would achieve for the country "a new birth of freedom" in which "government of the people by the people for the people" would prevail.
Hofmeyr is a town in the Karoo, in the shadow of the Bamboes Mountain Range, about halfway between Bloemfontein and Port Elizabeth.
It takes its name from Jan Hendrik Hofmeyr, who served as a Cabinet Member in the government of Prime Minister Jan Smuts. Hofmeyr stood in as Prime Minister several times during the period of the Second World War, when Smuts was frequently abroad.
Blyvooruitzicht is a gold-mining village about 80km from Johannesburg, near the town of Carletonville.
Welgedacht is situated in Utrecht, near Newcastle in KwaZulu Natal, and is a major coal mining area.
Langlaagte is the farm on which Johannesburg’s major gold reef was discovered. On 20 September 1886, Langlaagte, along with the farms Driefontein, Elandsfontein, Doornfontein, Turffontein, Randjeslaagte, Paardekraal, Vogelstruisfontein and Roodepoort, were proclaimed as a public digging.
Odendaalsrus is a small town in South Africa’s Free State province. Gold was discovered on a local farm, called Geduld, in 1946.
Rhodes University is located Grahamstown, in South Africa’s Eastern Cape province. The university, named after Cecil John Rhodes, was established in 1904 with a grant from the Rhodes Trust. It is one of South Africa’s smaller universities, with around 7000 students.
Stellenbosch University, in the Western Cape, opened as the Stellenbosch Gymnasium in 1866, became the Stellenbosch College in 1881, and Stellenbosch University in 1918. It is one of very few predominantly Afrikaans universities in the country.
Krugersdorp was established during the late 1880s and early 1890s, largely by white, English-speaking ‘pioneer’ miners from various South African mining towns, and from countries such as the UK and Australia. They tended to be itinerant workers, moving between mining centres across the British Empire, Southern Africa and United States. By the late 1890s, growing numbers of middle class people were settling in the town, giving it a more respectable reputation.
The town, originally named for President Paul Kruger, has in recent decades been renamed Mogale City, in recognition of a much older history. Chief Mogale and his tribe, the Po, were traders and miners of gold long before white people settled in the area.