Register | Log in

Travel: Frontier Trails


Words & Images Nick Yell

I wonder how long this ‘Stop and Go’ will take?” I asked my travelling partner, Harvey Tyson, as we waited for the flock of sheep to be herded across the road. It was our second day on the road and we had arrived at the start of our double horseshoe-shaped dirt track route through the heart of the much contested frontier region of the 18th and 19th centuries; a region that witnessed almost 100 years of war between the colonists and local tribes.

Our first horse-shoe loop started in Adelaide and was to take us via Post Retief (R344 – don’t let its label fool you – it’s an often-challenging dirt track) and the Katberg Pass to Fort Fordyce Nature Reserve. From there, the second horseshoe loop would take us through Fort Beaufort to the Great Fish River Nature Reserve and then on to Riebeeck East.

We had allowed ourselves a day to get to this starting point; two days to complete the two loops and then one day to get back to Hermanus. Tight, but doable, we thought. That was before the rain and resultant mud tracks sabotaged our plans.

Somerset East, our first night’s stopover on the 800km tar and dirt track journey in from Hermanus, proved a good place to start an historical adventure like ours. After an evening of sumptuous elegance spent at Somerset House – an old school converted into an upmarket guest house – Harvey and I set out to explore some of the town’s historical sites.

Our host recommended two spots: the Old Parsonage Museum and the Walter Battiss Art Museum. The most apposite of the exhibits on show for frontier-history minded folk like us was the Slachter’s Nek Rebellion.

Positioned around the beam that was used to hang the five convicted Afrikaner rebels — four of whom were hanged twice, as the ropes broke on the first attempt — the exhibition brings home the harsh justice that British Colonial officers meted out in those days.

The saga started when Frederick Bezuidenhout, a local farmer, was summoned to appear before a magistrate’s court because of repeated allegations of mistreatment brought by one of his labourers.

Refusing to present himself, Bezuidenhout resisted arrest by holing up in a nearby cave, where he was eventually shot dead by a British soldier. Out for revenge, his brother Hans organised an
uprising of Afrikaner farmers against the British authorities; inciting them by saying that the British were hostile to the Afrikaner’s cause.

After negotiations between the Afrikaner rebels and Colonel Jacob Cuyler failed, many rebels surrendered; but a number of their leaders did not. A fortnight later, British troops attacked them and everybody, excepting Hans Bezuidenhout — who also died resisting arrest — handed themselves over. When charged at Uitenhage later, some were cleared, others imprisoned and six were sentenced to hang, although one was later pardoned.

We stopped our Ford Ranger 3.2 TDCi Wildtrak 4×4 about 15km out of on an incline at the top of an unnamed pass skirting the Mankazama River.