Friday 5 February 2016
Based in London; Formerly of New York, Buenos Aires, Fife, and the Western Cape. Saoránach d'Éirinn.

South Africa

A writer, blogger, and historian, born in New York, educated in Argentina, Scotland, and South Africa, now based in London. read more
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Open-minded Stellenbosch

Paul Moorcraft is a Cardiff-born journalist and academic who spent many years in southern Africa, lecturing, researching, and working. I stumbled across this passage about Stellenbosch from his 2011 book Inside the Danger Zones: Travels to Arresting Places and found it interesting (though not surprising):

I found many of my all-white students at the University of Cape Town tediously dogmatic in their supposed progressiveness. I also lectured at the Afrikaans-language university of ‘Maties’ at Stellenbosch, established in 1918 [sic, f. 1866; accorded university status in 1918] as the Afrikaner Oxbridge, where I found the students much more open-minded. Simon van der Stel, a stiff Dutch bureaucrat, founded a frontier town on the banks of the Eerste River in 1679. Van der Stel loved oaks, and the graceful boulevards he planted still adorned picturesque Stellenbosch. I spent as much time as possible in the area because of the architecture. The Cape Dutch style contains elements from Dutch architecture but is also influenced by colonial Indonesian traditions and the local environment. The most characteristic feature is the graceful gabled section built around the front door, which is flanked by symmetrical wings, thatched and whitewashed, extending on either side.

I was supposed to be using my visiting lectureship to finish my doctoral research, so I became friendly with Retha, a librarian at Maties. She was a fund of knowledge on Afrikaner culture and offered herself as an intellectual guide. My scholarly investigations soon degenerated into a three-month tour of the local wine farms, for which I am eternally grateful. We drove through the old, beautiful vineyards of the valleys around Paarl, Franschoek, and Tulbagh; then returned to eat in splendid eighteenth-century farmhouses converted to hotels.

October 14, 2015 11:03 am | Link | 2 Comments »

Kerkplein, Pretoria

Gauteng, the province which forms the highly urbanised heart of the old Transvaal, is not my area of specialty in South Africa, enamoured as I am of the Western Cape. Johannesburg, for all its financial prowess, is one of those towns that went from a collection of tents to a major city almost overnight with the Witwatersrand gold boom.

Pretoria, on the other hand — Pretoria Philadelphia to give its original name — exudes a more detached respectability perhaps enlivened by the ceremony of its century-long status as the executive capital of a unified South Africa. And sitting at the heart of the city of jacarandas is Kerkplein — Church Square.


January 19, 2015 10:58 pm | Link | 3 Comments »

Shedding light on the Cape Baroque

Nuwe lig op die Kaapse barok deur Dr Hans Fransen

A NEW BOOK BY Dr Hans Fransen, the leading authority on Cape Dutch architecture, intends to shed new light on the Cape Baroque style through an examination of the work of the sculptor Anton Anreith. Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith offers us the hefty subtitle of ‘A stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800’, covering the period of the Dutch East India Company’s rule at the Cape.

The author investigates (says the publisher’s note) whether, and to what extent, the surprisingly rich body of Cape material culture can be seen as part and parcel of the international Baroque: that ebullient style of painting, architecture, and design that swept across Europe and some of its spheres of influence. After a highly interesting account of the origins of the Baroque in Italy and of its development in other parts of the world, the author concludes that ‘Cape Baroque’ does indeed form part of this. But he also points out that it has a very distinctive character of its own.

The book of 180 pages contains over 200 illustrations, mostly from the author himself, whose other works include The Old Towns and Villages of the Cape, The Old Buildings of the Cape, Drie Eeue Kuns in Suid-Afrika, and the introduction to A Cape Camera, the book illustrating the photography of early Cape photographer Arthur Elliott.

The sculptor Anreith, born in Germany at Riegel between the Rhine and the foothills of the Black Forest, was the finest and most florid artist of the Baroque in the Cape of Good Hope. His exceptional work on the pulpit of the Lutheran Church in Cape Town provoked the envy of the more prominent Dutch Reformed congregation, who quickly commissioned Anreith to carve an even more ornate pulpit for the Groote Kerk.

Cape Baroque and the contribution of Anton Anreith: a stylistic survey of architectural decoration and the applied arts at the Cape of Good Hope 1652-1800
by Dr Hans Fransen, 160 pages, R250
Kaapse barok en die bydrae van Anton Anreith: ’n stilistiese oorsig van argitektoniese versiering en toegepaste kuns op die Kaap die Goeie Hoop 1652-1800
deur Dr Hans Fransen, 160 bladsye, R250
January 19, 2015 10:56 pm | Link | No Comments »


Ghost town of the Namib

NAMIBIA IS A LAND that fascinates me, which is perhaps surprising. This arid land is sparsely populated — just 6.6 people per square mile — but its deserts are believed to be the oldest in the world. Those who haven’t experienced its harsh beauty may wonder why this land has attracted its odd and varied collection of peoples, but here the Ovambo, the Kavango, the Herero, the Afrikaner, the German, and the Bushman all call home.

I have already written somewhat about Lüderitz and beyond it the Diaz Point. As you speed down the B4 from Keetmanshoop to Lüderitz — a four-hour drive passing through just the one small village of Aus — you can turn off just before you reach the coastal town and pay a visit to the eerily ghost town of Kolmanskop: Kolmannskuppe in the original German. (more…)

December 13, 2013 3:15 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

A Lecture by Andrew Cusack

College of Arms Foundation
and the
Committee on Heraldry
of the New York Genealogical & Biographical Society

cordially invite you to a talk by



Tuesday 17 September 2013
6:00 PM

Reception to follow

New York Genealogical & Biographical Society
36 West 44th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10036

Open to the public. No charge.
Please rsvp to to reserve a place.

This lecture will provide an overview on the history and evolution of South African heraldry by explaining the significance of the coat of arms of Jan van Riebeeck (1619-1677). Van Riebeeck was the founder of Cape Town and the first governor of the Dutch colony at the Cape.

As the founder of the oldest European settlement in southern Africa, he came to be seen as the father of South Africa after the country was unified in 1910. The central elements of his arms — three annulets or — obtained local, regional, and finally national significance, and influenced the design of a wide variety of South African coats of arms, many of which will be examined in this lecture.

September 11, 2013 11:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

University Nicknames in South Africa

In the course of reading any South African newspaper article about universities, the unacquainted reader may be confused by some of the terminology involved. “Maties Slaughter Ikeys” is a common enough headline prototype — given that, I think, the last time the Ikeys (University of Cape Town) beat Maties (Stellenbosch) in rugby, a white man was president.

What are these mystical nicknames for South Africa’s universities, clouded in mystery to the outsider? Here is a handy guide. (more…)

April 3, 2013 5:50 pm | Link | 12 Comments »

The Impetuosity of Youth

From the Flickr feed of South Africa’s Etienne du Plessis:

These pictures were taken 2 October 1964: I was the pilot [writes Quentin Mouton]. The pictures are original and not ‘touched up’. The ‘Pongos’ (Army types) were on a route march from Langebaan by the sea to Saldanha. The previous night in the pub one of them had said: “Julle dink julle kan laag vlieg maar julle sal my nooit laat lê nie!” (You think you can fly low, but you will never make me hit the deck). Hullo!!!

I went to look for them on the beach in the morning and was alone for the one picture. I was pulling up to avoid them. In the afternoon I had a formation with me and you can see the other a/c behind me. (piloted by van Zyl, Kempen, and Perold).

A friend by the name of Leon Schnetler (one of the pongos) took the pics. The guy that said “Jy sal my nie laat lê nie!” said afterwards that he was saying to himself as I approached: “Ek sal nie lê nie, ek sal nie lê nie” (I wont go down, I wont go down) and when I had passed he found himself flat on the ground.

Memories from the past.

August 7, 2012 3:08 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Overwhelming the Farber Building

A bland glass-plated giant will piggy-back onto a sound example of the Modern Movement in Cape Town

The Farber Building, one of the few extant examples of the Modern movement in architecture in Cape Town, is to be overwhelmed by an eighteen-storey plate-glass skyscraper. The developers had sought to have the 1935 building designed by Roberts & Small demolished, but the city fathers wisely refused permission. The price of its salvation, however, is that the boring skyscraper will piggy-back onto this actually rather inoffensive Modern structure. (more…)

June 5, 2012 8:54 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

South Africa Gets Personal with Banknotes

New series will feature face of former president Nelson Mandela

South African President Jacob Zuma recently announced that the country’s central bank would issue a new series of banknotes featuring his world-famous predecessor, Nelson Mandela. As the South African Rand is a widely used currency throughout southern Africa, its banknotes have become well-known throughout the region, and current international standards recommend banknotes change their security features every seven-to-ten years. The changeover will take place as the South African government makes a significant investment in the state-owned South Africa Bank Note Company which also prints banknotes for a number of neighbouring countries. SABN hopes to upgrade its printing facilities to take into account the most recent improvements in banknote security features in order to prevent counterfeiting.

I’ll rather miss the old notes (above), branded into my memory from my time living in South Africa. For some reason (the exchange rate, perhaps?) I have nought but happy memories of the Rand and always enjoyed the beautiful animals in a variety of colours printed on the notes. While Mandela will feature on one side of the new issue of notes, the ‘Big Five’ game animals will continue to grace the reverse. The inoffensive animal theme was introduced to keep the currency relatively apolitical, and despite the widespread admiration for Mandela across South Africa, the introduction of the former president’s visage on bank notes is another symbolic way of imprinting the ANC’s grasp on power into the population’s psyche.

As for myself, being obsessed with everything Cape Dutch and Afrikaans, I rather miss the old image of Jan van Riebeeck which once graced South Africa’s rand notes.

March 4, 2012 7:04 pm | Link | No Comments »

Die nuwe Volksblad

Not to be too Gollumesque about things, but I hates it! I always thought Volskblad (Bloemfontein, daily, Afrikaans, f. 1904, circ. 28,000) had one of the most dignified and handsome banners of all the Afrikaans dailies. The logo of the “People’s Paper” exudes a certain classical dignity and seriousness. Previous banners (see slideshow below) conveyed an individuality. I particularly like the chiseled blackletter typeface used in the second banner displayed below: strength, dignity, tradition, age. (more…)

January 11, 2012 8:32 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Krige at Bonhams

HAVING UNEXPECTEDLY been granted a day off (two, actually) I was quite content popping over to New Bond Street yesterday just in the nick of time to see Bonhams’ South African Sale before they went up for auction today. Out of pure ignorance, I used to think South African art was all mediocre before slowly discovering its small but noteworthy patches of brilliance. Francois Krige is one of them. Of the three galleries at Bonhams devoted to the South African Sale (Part II, strictly speaking) one of them darkened with individual lights highlighting the particular pieces hanging on the walls. (more…)

October 26, 2011 8:44 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

The Arrival of Autumn

‘Retail therapy session’ by Christelle Erasmus

Here in London, after a long Indian summer, it has finally turned to autumn. One’s mind turns automatically to autumns past enjoyed, and I can’t help but think of that splendid season in the Western Cape. Of course, as the recent coverage of the royal visit to Australia reminds us, it’s not autumn at all in the Southern Hemisphere but rather warm and summery.

The other day, however, I stumbled across this photo on Flickr (more…)

October 23, 2011 8:18 pm | Link | No Comments »

The Major-General’s Statue

Die staanbeeld van Maj-Gen Lukin in die Kompanjiestuin

While Afrikaans is a mild obsession of mine, I do like finding those holdouts of what they used to call “High Dutch” — in contrast to the ordinary South African spoken Dutch which, because of its differences in grammar and spelling, was eventually recognised as the language Afrikaans.

One such old Dutch holdout can be found on the statue (Af: staanbeeld; lit.: ‘standing-picture’) of Maj. Gen. Sir Henry Timson Lukin in the Company’s Garden, Cape Town. The pedestal proclaims in a very handsome font the General’s rank, name, and orders. In Dutch: Majoor-Generaal Sir Henry Timson Lukin, KCB CMG DSO, Commandeur Legioen van Eer, Orde van de Nyl.

Most of this works perfectly well as Afrikaans but for two slight differences. First: The lack of ‘i’ in de always indicates Dutch rather than Afrikaans, but because of the relative youth of Afrikaans, de can sometimes be employed as an antiquating device. For example, when translating the name of Captain Haddock’s ship in the Afrikaans translation of the Tintin book, the translators chose De Eenhorn (the Unicorn) rather than Die Eenhorn. Obviously an old-fashioned sailing ship would belong to a Dutch-speaking era rather than an Afrikaans-speaking one.

Second is the military rank. Here translated as majoor-generaal, in both Dutch and Afrikaans this evolved into generaal-majoor. Just one of those things. The South African Defence Forces has a history of experimental military ranks which did not last: Commandant-General (for General), Combat General (for Major General), Colonel-Commandant (for Brigadier), Commandant (for Lieut. Colonel), and Field Cornet (for Lieutenant).

There’s your random bit of Afrikaans arcana for the day.

October 23, 2011 8:11 pm | Link | 1 Comment »

Cape Town’s ‘Nazi’ Street to be Renamed

Oswald Pirow Street will rechristened after Dr. Christiaan Barnard

The city of Cape Town has recently effected a small number of street name changes decided at the end of last year. The N2 route as it heads into the centre of the city, currently called Eastern Boulevard, will be renamed Nelson Mandela Boulevard. The open square between the opera house and the city offices will be renamed Albert Luthuli Place. Most significantly, Oswald Pirow Street on the Cape Town foreshore will be renamed Christiaan Barnard Street.

The renaming of streets and other places in South Africa has proved a controversial and unsettling task. Many streets named after leading figures associated with the 1948-1990 apartheid regime remain. In 2001, the New National Party (NNP) mayor of Cape Town, Peter Marais, attempted to rename Adderley Street and Wale Street after Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk respectively. But Marais’s plan provoked a surprising public backlash, as well as opposition-for-opposition’s sake from the local ANC. The proposed ‘Nelson Mandela Avenue’ had already been renamed once: originally Heerengracht, the grateful citizens of Cape Town rechristened it Adderley Street in 1850, as a token of thanks to Charles Bowyer Adderley MP (later 1st Baron Norton) for his successful campaign against turning the Cape into a penal colony. (more…)

July 25, 2011 8:02 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Salazar-plein / Salazar Square

Cape Town’s monument to a Portuguese friend of South Africa

Doubtless there were once many streets, squares, and places named after António de Oliveira Salazar, Portugal’s longtime dictator — the Ponte Salazar being the one that springs immediately to mind. That bridge, like most other Salazarian toponyms in the Lusosphere, was renamed after Portugal’s Carnation Revolution, even though the dictator remains a reasonably popular figure (a poll for the RTP television programme The Greatest Portuguese he came out top with twice as many votes as the runner-up). (more…)

July 20, 2011 6:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Winchester Mansions

STARING ACROSS Sea Point Promenade towards the waters of the Atlantic in Cape Town, there sits Winchester Mansions. The hotel was built in 1922 in a style emblematic of the period’s revival of interest in the Dutch colonial age at the Cape. People often associate the 1920s with Art Deco, but the style was only just emerging in Paris at the time, and wasn’t even called ‘Art Deco’ until the 1960s. The ‘mother city’ has its fair share of Art-Deco and Moderne buildings, but architectural trends took a while to arrive in South Africa — though they tended to last longer then elsewhere. The Cape Dutch Revival emerged in the 1890s and perhaps reached its high-water mark in the 1900s and 1910s. Curiously, it is not associated with the simultaneous emergence of Afrikaans as a language and the rising consciousness of Afrikaner identity, but rather with a very Anglo and colonialist mindset. It was Dorothea Fairbridge and Milner’s ‘Kindergarten’ — respectively the social and political forces seeking to unite all of South Africa under the British crown — that promoted the adoption of the Cape Dutch as a national style. Thus the years leading up to Union in 1910 and its initial decade or two were the heyday of the Cape Dutch Revival as it was the favoured boustyl for the respectable Cape- and Rand-based imperialists.


July 17, 2011 8:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

Cooking with Sir Laurens van der Post

Our beloved Mrs. P loves to bake and cook, and so she is always posting recipes. I am incapable of baking or cooking, so I tend not to post recipes. The other day, however, I stumbled across this culinary bit by Sir Laurens van der Post, the famous South African writer, so I thought I’d post it in honour of Mrs. P.

East and West Meet at the Cape

The Cape Malays came up with dishes that are all so a part of the South African way of life that they have become almost sacramental substances. Among them are bobotie, sosaties, and bredie. Bobotie, a kind of minced pie, is to South African what moussaka is to the Greeks. Sosaties, or skewered and grilled meats are what shashlyk are to the people of the Caucasus and shish kabob to the Turks. The stew called bredie is what goulash is to Hungarians.

A basic bobotie begins with minced lamb or beef, a little soaked bread, eggs, butter, finely chopped onion, garlic, curry powder and turmeric. All are mixed together, put in a pie dish with meat drippings, and baked in a low oven for a time. The moment the mixture begins to brown, the dish is taken from the oven and some eggs beaten up with milk are poured over the top; then the dish is put back into the oven and baked very slowly to a deep brown. The pace of the cooking is important: if the oven is too hot the bobotie will be dry, and that should never happen, for an ideal bobotie is eaten moist, over rice. (more…)

June 12, 2011 3:00 pm | Link | 2 Comments »

A Little More Graaff-Reinet

Here’s just a handful more photos of Graaff-Reinet from the blog of Angelika Wohlrab, a South African tour guide, author, and photographer. Above is another Cape Dutch gem, the Urquhart House with its splendid plasterwork design in the gable. (more…)

March 29, 2011 7:20 am | Link | 1 Comment »


The Gem of the Karoo

IF YOU HEAD OUT from Cape Town making for the Valley of Desolation, you take the main road to Johannesburg, breaking ranks at the town of Beaufort-West in the Great Karoo, where you head eastwards on the R61. That road eventually joins up with the N9 (famous for its “Uniondale Ghost”) and, before you reach the Valley, takes you to the pleasant little town of Graaff-Reinet. The town was founded in 1786, making it the fourth-oldest in South Africa, after Cape Town — the “mother city” — Stellenbosch, and Swellendam. Graaff-Reinet was named in deference to the Dutch governor of the day, Cornelis Jacob van de Graeff, and his wife whose maiden name was Reynet, but the burghers earned an early reputation for rebelliousness, proclaiming their own independent republic in 1795, with further uprisings in 1799 and 1801. While now situated in the Xhosa-dominated Eastern Cape, Graaff-Reinet is predominantly Afrikaans.

The town, which rests on a bend in the Sunday’s River, has a host of architectural delights, of which my favourite is the Reinet House (below). It was built in 1812 as a parsonage for the Dutch Reformed minister, and was later part of the teacher training college until it fell vacant and was restored as a museum after the Second World War, being opened in 1956 by the Rt. Hon. E.G. Jansen, the Governor-General of the day.


March 23, 2011 9:00 pm | Link | 10 Comments »

Moedertaalsprekers in Suid-Afrika

Vanuit die blog van die “vryskut visuelejoernalis” Charles Apple, ons kry hierdie grafiek van sprekers van die twaalf offisiele tale van Suid-Afrika. Dit is die werk van die grafiese kunstenaar Rudi Louw van Naspers. Dié grafiek het in Die Burger verskyn. (O, Die Burger! Ek mis jou!). Afrikaans is nie eerste in nommers nie — Zoeloe is bo-op, Xhosa is volgende — maar die taal is eerste in ons harte. (Awww…) (more…)

March 13, 2011 9:00 pm | Link | 1 Comment »
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