A part of my ebook, Peppermints under the pillow.
The majestic beauty of Wuppertal
Wupperthal (sometimes also spelt Wuppertal) is a small town in the Cederberg mountains in the Western Cape province of South Africa. It was founded in 1830 by two German missionaries of the Rhenish Missionary Society (Rheinische Mission), Theobald von Wurmb and Johann Gottlieb Leipoldt, grandfather of C. Louis Leipoldt, some 100 years before the city of Wuppertal was formally established in Germany. In 1965, after the Rhenish Mission had gradually scaled down their activities in Southern Africa over a period of 40 years, a decision was taken that Wupperthal in future should become part of the Moravian Church, which by that stage had already made the transition from a mission to an autonomous church in South Africa. The town remains a Moravian mission station to this day. The village remains isolated, and is accessible by a gravel road from Clanwilliam over the Pakhuis Pass. Community facilities include the Moravian Church, a shop, a tea room, a post office, a school with two hostels and a community hall. Most families in the community are dependent on small-scale agriculture or livestock farming for their livelihood. The most important cash crop is rooibos tea. The mountainous areas surrounding the village provide reasonable grazing for goats. In its heyday the shoe factory, founded by Johann Leipoldt himself, provided work for many skilled craftsmen. The Wupperthal handsewn veldskoen (traditional soft suede shoes) were for nearly a century famous across South Africa for their comfort and good craftsmanship. A tannery and a glove factory were also in operation for many years. The shoe factory is still in existence today, but operates on a much smaller scale. Tourism is a growing industry for Wupperthal, particularly during the Namaqualand flower season in August and September, when the seemingly barren mountain slopes become covered in flowers for a few weeks. Back in December 1977, after my last matriculation exam was written, I bundled some hiking kit into a friend’s car, and we motored off in the direction of the Cedarberg mountain range, in pursuit of peace and tranquillity, after a hectic series on studying and examination writing. I could think of no better way of relaxing than getting out of the city and into a mountainous environment with a friend. There were no time boundaries, and after a few days of hiking we found ourselves in a time warp. We ate when we were hungry, we stopped hiking when we were tired and we ambled around enjoying the scenic beauty of the Wolfberg Arch and Cracks, while also traversing the Tafelberg, Sneeuberg, Sneeukop and Krakadouw peaks which were an absolute highlight, whilst also getting a lot of pleasure from Maalgat pool and Stadsaal Caves. We also visited the San rock art sites in caves and overhangs throughout the area. My hiking partner Paul knew the Cedarberg mountain range very well, having grown up in the Clanwilliam area, and he suggested we visit the small town of Wuppertal. After 3 hours of early morning hiking, we reached our destination. We were welcomed by an elderly man who was seated next to a tree, on the outskirts of the town. “Hoosit, my name is Koos,” he greeted us with a toothy grin. His thin wavy hair was uncombed and the deep wrinkles on this coloured man’s face indicated that he was rather elderly, and had spent the best part of his life outdoors. He was puffing away at a long pipe, and as we moved closer we realised that he was not smoking “normal” tobacco, but something a lot stronger! “What can I do for you?” he asked, aiming to please. “Hi,” we said. “We were just hiking in the area and wanted to take a look at your beautiful town,” I added. “Ja, brother. You are most welcome. You can stay as long as you like.” Koos replied. Before we could answer, Koos got off his chair and said, “Come and meet my family. You must stay with us tonight. I will tell you about our dorpie (small town).” Paul and I looked at each other and nodded in agreement. It would be very interesting listening to Koos’s stories and spending time in this quaint town. “I would be a pleasure to spend some time with you. We have lots of time,” we said in acceptance. We followed Koos down the road and soon arrived at his humble abode. Koos whistled loudly and within seconds, his family was standing outside their front door, waiting to greet and be greeted. Koos started by introducing us to his family first. “This is Paul and Finlay. They are visitors to our town and will be spending the night,” he told his family. He then introduced us to his wife Marie, his young son Frik and teenage daughter named Isobel. Marie went into the kitchen and brewed up a really strong pot of coffee. Koos told us to make ourselves comfortable, and we did so in front of his house in some chairs, while Marie and Isobel served us coffee and rusks. We chatted for hours and Koos explained that he was a shoemaker by trade, and was taught this craft by his father and grandfather. Marie worked at the local church and she soon left us to go off to work. “Tomorrow I will show you the art of shoe making,” said Koos. Now, I will take you for a walk around the town. He told Isobel and Frik that it was time for them to go to school, and they reluctantly left us to our coffee and rusks while their father continued to entertain us. Our walk around the town took us a few hours, and it became clear that Koos was a legend in his own right. He introduced us to people who lived life to the fullest, and were honest and hard-working. Tant (Aunt) Grieta who worked at the post office was a merry old lady, who giggled at Koos every time they spoke to each other. It was evident that she had an eye for Koos, but Koos just laughed it off when we asked him about it later. “That woman’s just crazy,” he said, and changed the subject quickly. The shop was an interesting place. The old man behind the counter was almost asleep when we entered the shop, and the doorbell rang as the door opened, causing oom (uncle) Piet to almost fall off his chair. We spent an hour here, listening to the two elderly gentlemen exchanging stories about the old days, while we sipped away at some Hanepoot wine. This wine is grown in the Stellenbosch and Swartland regions of the Western Cape, and is a rich sweet wine which is nice to sip away at while engaging in conversation. After two bottles were finished, and two hours later, we left Oom Piet and his shop, richer for the stories which we had heard, and for the Hanepoot we had just consumed! Koos then took us to see the community hall, the school and we finally ended back at his house. “Thanks Koos, that was very informative!” I said. We sat outside this kind man’s house and consumed another bottle of Hanepoot, while we told him something of our lives and where we came from. We learnt a great deal about Wuppertal, thanks to our new friend. The next day we mixed our leftover rations with Koos’s food, and had a breakfast of cereal, eggs and bread. We ate with the family around a large dining table and washed it all down with Marie’s strong coffee. Koos related a story to us about the shoe making business that he and his family were involved in. “When I was a lightie (little boy), I used to sit on the workbench watching my pa (father) hammering away at a pair of leather boots. Nobody could make boots like my pa,” he said. Koos asked his pa why there were so many single shoes in the window sill, without their partner. “Those are rejects,” Koos’s pa answered. “I also use them to keep away unwanted dogs who scavenge around outside.” It was only a few days later that Koos was in his father’s workshop, and he heard his father shout and throw a boot taken from the window sill, straight at a stray dog who was sniffing around outside. “My pa had some funny ways,” remarked Koos, “especially after a few glasses of witblits. Witblits is a famous alcoholic beverage which is colourless and made using grapes. The English name, White Lightning has a kick of note, and should be drunk in small quantities. However, Koos’s pa was a man of quantity, in all respects, and he drank Witblits daily, which did eventually take its toll in the man’s old age. Drinking witblits during those times in the early 1900’s, was an accepted form of entertainment and a great leveller on a social level. “Come, I will take you to the shoe shop now,” said Koos. He rose, put on his leather hat and we followed him out of the kitchen. We arrived at the shop minutes later, and Koos spent the rest of the morning showing us the art of shoe making, hand-made style. It was a sad moment when we bade Koos farewell. He gave us a half grin, shook our hands and waved us off. We thanked him for the very kind Wuppertal hospitality and made our way out of town.