Scott Balson's trip to South Africa -
14th September 2006 - Kokstad

Perth : Johannesburg : Pretoria : Pietersburg : Pilgrim's Rest : Ladysmith : Champagne Castle : Estcourt : Durban : Ixopo
Kokstad : Port Elizabeth : Plettenburg Bay : Cape Town : Victoria West : Griquatown : Mafikeng : Johannesburg : Perth

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I was on the road by 8am and arrived in Kokstad about 9.30am - meeting Milner Snell, the Chair of the Kokstad Museum, at the pre-arranged spot of the Wimpy outside the town. Milner had organised an article about my visit in the Kokstad Advertiser newspaper in August and the article was perfectly presented - I was very happy with it.

Although I had once spent many years at Ixopo it was my first trip to Kokstad - and the roads and heavy traffic (big slow trucks) reminded me why. On the road I passed Umzimkulu where Strachan's store had once stood when I worked in the bank in the 1970s; and Rietvlei where Smith Pommer had once hung out with his "bandits". It is at Rietvlei that the Griquas of Kokstad still have title to two large tracts of land that have now been taken over by African squatters - squatters they cannot get to leave despite appeals to the courts. The road to Kokstad was speckled with dozens of large and small shanty towns like the ones that had sprung up on Griqua land. Yet this isolated region was once Africa's richest when it comes to trade tokens!

Image right: Article about "Children of the Mist" that appeared in the Kokstad Advertiser on 24th August 2006 (pg 9)

Kokstad was disappointing and without Milner's help we would never have seen any of the Griqua sites like the site of the first settlement at Mount Currie, the Griqua Church in which Dower did all the beautiful carpentry, the Kokstad Museum which was being renovated and the various monuments - as well as a trip to Matatiele - the beautiful township nestled in the foothills of the Drakensberg and near the tragic Ongeluksnek where the devastated Griquas first entered what was then known as Nomansland. (More below the pics showing my trip to Kokstad)

The road leading into


Umzimkulu town


The typical African shanty towns

that now line the road

The natural vegetation - pretty

The historic Rietvlei - now just

another African shanty

Approaching Kokstad

The most saddening part about my trip to Kokstad was the reality of the position that the Griqua people have been left in. They were forcefully moved to just two streets in Kokstad by the Apartheid government in the 1960s. These two streets are dust bowls today - the African Government post-1994 decided to upgrade the streets occupied by the Griquas because the Nationalist White Government pre-1994 had let them fall into disrepair. After stripping off all the tar in preparation or relaying the roads they ran out of money and today the Griquas have houses on potholed and run down streets that reflect the black government's failure to treat the Griqua fairly. You can see my article on Kokstad at this link.

Image right: The school being built at Kokstad funded by Oprah Winfrey

During my time in Kokstad I was told by Griquas how affirmative action which had created so many jobs for the blacks had by-passed the Griqua who were not seen as black and did not form part of the racial mix required in the larger businesses. As a result the Griqua had become increasingly impoverished. The Griqua leaders like John de Bruin now worked as carpenters on the new black school near Kokstad that has been funded by Oprah Winfrey. Her humanitarian work in this area and others is fantastic. 

The highlight of my visit was Mount Currie and the Griqua Church - outside who's front entrance the Griquas burned most copies of Dower's book "The Early Annals of Kokstad and East Griqualand" on 1902 - making this book extremely rare today.  

Strachan street in Kokstad

The gate leading to the Griqua's

first settlement at Mt Currie

Mount Currie under cloud

The old Griqua graveyard

The tree where the Raad met

Light grass where the "Fort" lay

The epitaph on the monument

which marks the spot

The site of the armoury which
exploded and killed eight

Fragments from the site now in
the school principal's office

James Cole's daughters old home
now lawyer Barry Elliot's office

All that remains of the Royal

Today Kokstad is black - 
few Griqua are seen

A typical Griqua house from
early 1900s

The appalling state of the road
on which the Griquas live

Milner Snell outside the
Kokstad Museum

One of Adam Kok's famous
canons outside the museum

The original Kokstad Advertiser
printing press

Some of the remains of the tragic
dangerous Ongeluksnek Pass

Griqua trek down the
near Matatiele

Title deed signed by Adam Kok

Adam Kok III and his

colourful outfit worn when he met
the British near Natal

The le Fleur Griqua colours

Adam Kok III's sculpture

Kok's chair -see photo above

The token coins held by the museum

Three Griquas outside the museum

The large African location at Kokstad

In the African location

John de Bruin - a carpenter

Where Adam Kok and his wife are
buried today

The plaque on their tomb

The famous Griqua Church

where all the carpentry was done by
the Rev William Dower

The altar of the Griqua Church

Men on the right, women on the
left - even today 

Milner Snell climbs the Church's

Inside the ceiling of the Church

More of Dower's work

The splendid pulpit

William Murray - in the Manse

The place where Dower's books
were burned by the Griqua

The beautiful architecture

The Griqua

Church today

Gert Samson - the old caretaker at
the Griqua Church

Presenting "Children of the Mist"
to Audrey Steenekamp Curator of
the Kokstad Museum

Presenting "Children of the Mist"
to Milner Snell

James Cole's store at Cedarville
on the road to Matatiele

The road to Matatiele

The wide streets of Matatiele

The quaint Museum at Matatiele

Griqua Church built out of matches

St Michael's Anglican Church in

The road back to Kokstad

The beautiful scenery

The "Droewig" (sad) valley where
Pommer was forced to eat his dogs
to survive

In the evening we went and met John and Cyril de Bruin, the elders of the Griqua Community in Kokstad, at their home. The two men Cyril (82) and John (75) do not look their age and are as sprightly as 30 year olds.

After chatting and discussing the book "Children of the Mist" Cyril de Bruin said he was delighted that we had met because he was concerned that it was a "white man's" book and not balanced. After our meeting he said that he now felt comfortable endorsing the book to the wider Griqua community and Milner said that our meeting with the two brothers had been the most important of the day.

We then went to dinner with "Pie" Dorning, James Cole's granddaughter and the couple who had kindly put us up for the evening.

John de Bruin, Scott and Cyril de Bruin

Heather and Don Hogg and "Pie"
Dorning - Cole's granddaughter


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