This gravel pass provides a link via several Xhosa villages along the old R61 between Mthatha (Umtata) and the coastal resort of Port St. Johns. It used to be part of the main road before the R61 was upgraded and tarred. In the process, this section of the R61 was bypassed.
Spectacular views over almost the entire length of the pass was our reward over the valley carved out by the Mngazi River with the main attraction being the massive block of rock called Mlengana (Execution Rock) with its many myths and legends that is the focal point of the pass.
The pass is 7.6 km long and displays an altitude variance of 421m producing an average gradient of 1:18 but it never gets steeper than 1:10 which makes it quite doable in a normal car in fair weather. The usual cautionaries of livestock on the road apply and this pass is also subject to frequent rock-falls, especially after heavy rain.
We spent a fair amount of time enjoying the sweeping views on a picture perfect day. We re-joined the R61 near the base of the Tutor Ndamase Pass, and turned left, heading back towards Thombo, where we left the R61 and headed south (still on tar) albeit it a slower speed, until we reached the Isilimela Mission Hospital. Things were starting to get interesting as our route took us through some very remote places and finally down a long valley, where we took a lunch break near the Gologodwini River, but after lunch we had a surprise waiting for us just a few kilometres down the road.
The concrete low level bridge was missing. The road could be seen on the far side, climbing steeply up the mountain. It was time for cool heads. The alternative would have meant backtracking a very long way, almost certainly ensuring an after dark arrival at Coffee Bay. The real adventure of the tour was about to begin.
Next week: Eleven made it. One didn't.
Great South Africans
Wolraad Woltemade (c.1708 – 1 June 1773) was a Cape Dutch dairy farmer, who died while rescuing sailors from the wreck of the ship De Jonge Thomas in Table Bay on 1 June 1773. The story was reported by the Swedish naturalist Carl Peter Thunberg who was in South Africa as a surgeon for the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (known in English as the Dutch East India Company) at the time.
Woltemade was born in Schaumburg, part of present-day north-western Germany. He migrated to the Dutch settlement at Cape Town (Kaapstad) and worked for the Dutch East India Company as a soldier and after retirement as keeper of the menagerie of the company or as a dairyman. Many of the earliest European colonies were established by commercial companies, rather than through the direct intervention of the governments of European nations. For example, note the history of the British South Africa Company.
On the morning of 1 June 1773, near mid-winter in the southern hemisphere, a sailing ship named De Jonge Thomas was driven ashore in a gale onto a sand bar at the mouth of the Salt River in Table Bay. Many lives were lost as the ship started to break up but a substantial number of survivors were left clinging to the hull. The stricken ship was not too far from dry land and many sailors attempted to swim ashore. Most of those who did so perished; the water was cold and the current from the nearby Salt River too great. Except for the very strongest swimmers, those who headed for the shore were carried out to sea.
A crowd of spectators stood on the beach. Some came to watch, others to try to help and yet others were hoping to loot the cargo that was being washed ashore. A detachment of soldiers was in attendance to keep order among the spectators. Corporal Christian Ludwig Woltemade, the youngest son of the elderly Wolraad, was among those standing guard. As daylight came, Wolraad left his home, Klein Zoar on horseback, taking provisions to his son.
As he reached the beach, Wolraad was filled with pity for the sailors marooned aboard the wreck. Seeing that nothing could be done by those on the beach, he mounted his horse, Vonk, and urged the animal into the sea. As they approached the wreck, Woltemade turned the horse and called for two men to jump into the sea and grasp the horse's tail. After a moment of hesitation, two men threw themselves into the water and did so, whereupon Woltemade urged the horse forward and dragged them to shore. Wolraad rode out seven times, bringing back fourteen men. By this time he and his horse were exhausted, but at that moment, as they rested, the ship began to collapse. Wolraad once more urged his horse into the water but by now the desperation amongst the sailors was tremendous. Seeing this as probably their last chance to escape before the ship was destroyed, six men plunged into the sea, grabbing at the horse. Their weight was too much for the exhausted steed; all were dragged below the waves and drowned.
Woltemade's body was found the next day, but the horse was not found. Of the 191 souls on board, only 53 survived and of these 14 were saved by Woltemade.
Woltemade did not immediately become a hero. The Captain (van Lammeren) of de Jonge Thomas was given an official funeral, but there was nothing so grand for Woltemade. The general opinion at the Castle seems to have been that he was an officious fool who had lost his life unnecessarily. In the first report to Holland, his name is not even mentioned – though considerable space is devoted to the eighteen boxes of money providentially saved. This gold was the reason the flotilla had been allowed into Table Bay in the first place, as transporting it by land from Simons Town to The Castle would have been too dangerous given the poor roads, made worse (impassable) by the storm. However, Karl Thunberg, who had witnessed the event, did not forget Woltemade; nor did the formers countryman, Anders Sparrman, when he wrote his famous book "A Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope" in 1775." The VOC (Dutch East India Company) did eventually compensate his dependants, but it took a few years of public outcry to do so.)
The Dutch East India Company provided amply for his widow and children and named a ship Held Woldemade, taken by the British fleet as prize during the battle in Saldanha Bay on 4 July 1781. A railway station in Cape Town is named after him. The Union of South Africa King's Medal for Bravery, instituted in 1939, bore a depiction of Woltemade's heroic act on its obverse. In 1970 the Woltemade Decoration for Bravery was instituted as the highest civilian decoration for bravery in South Africa. This was replaced in 1988 by the Woltemade Cross for Bravery. The Woltemade Cross was discontinued in 2002, as part of the move towards establishing a new South African honours system, following the advent of majority rule.
The name also was given to the S.A. Wolraad Woltemade, one of a pair of salvage tugs built in 1976, which at the time were the most powerful tugs in the world.
South African Cities - Grahamstown
The town's name change from Grahamstown to Makhanda was officially gazetted on 29 June 2018. The town was officially renamed to Makhanda in memory of Xhosa warrior and prophet Makhanda ka Nxele.
Makhanda was founded as Grahamstown in 1812 as a military outpost by Lieutenant-Colonel John Graham as part of the effort to secure the eastern frontier of British influence in the Cape Colony against the Xhosa, who had been forcibly pushed out to the lands that lay just to the east on the Fish River. The brutal expulsion of some 20,000 Xhosa people, including their leader Ndlambe ka Rharhabe, from the Zuurveld and the adoption of a "scorched earth" tactic by Graham and his forces to destroy Xhosa crops to prevent their return was part of the 4th "Frontier" War.
On 22 April 1819, a large number of Xhosa warriors, under the leadership of Nxele (or Makana), launched an attack against the British colonial forces. The Xhosas had warned Colonel Willshire, the commanding officer, of their planned attack on Grahamstown. It was one of countless attacks launched on the nascent colony by the Xhosas. During the course of the battle, the British were running low on ammunition. A woman, by the name of Elizabeth Salt, risked her life by walking into the battle carrying weapons and ammunition to the British troops. She disguised the weapons and ammunition as an infant whom she was cradling. The Xhosa warriors were reluctant to attack a woman and child and so allowed her to pass and resupply the troops. The Xhosas, with a force of 10,000 troops under the overall command of Ndlambe's warrior son Mdushane, were unable to overpower the colonial garrison of some 300 men. Nxele surrendered, was taken captive and imprisoned on Robben Island. On Christmas Day, 1819 he tried to escape, and drowned.
Grahamstown grew during the 1820s as many 1820 Settlers and their families left farming to establish themselves in more secure trades. In 1833, Grahamstown was described as having "two or three English merchants of considerable wealth, but scarcely any society in the ordinary sense of the word. As of 1833, it was estimated that the population of Grahamstown was approximately 6,000. In a few decades it became the Cape Colony's largest town after Cape Town. It became a bishopric in 1852. It was traditionally the capital and cultural centre of the Albany area, a former traditionally English-speaking district with a distinctive local culture.
In 1872, the Cape Government Railways began construction of the railway line linking Grahamstown to Port Alfred on the coast, and to the developing national railway network inland. That was completed and opened on 3 September 1879.
Grahamstown was the location of the testing of the first diamond find by Henry Carter Galpin.
In 1904, Rhodes University College was established in Grahamstown through a grant from the Rhodes Trust. In 1951 it became a fully-fledged University, Rhodes University.
Pass of the Week
Whilst peeking into Grahamstown's history, we looked for a pass to feature from the area. Starting right at the top of the hill near Rhodes University is an interesting pass/poort which is packed with interesting stories, archeology, geology and local history.
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Words of Wisdom: "Simply be yourself. Look past the fanfare and drama to what is enduring. Take time to clarify what is important to you and let non-essentials fall away." ~ Anonymous.