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From Haarlem to Calitzdorp - A Long Journey

Lutheran Church - Haarlem  - a SA National Monument

Lutheran Church - Haarlem - a SA National Monument

Subsistence Farming in Haarlem

Subsistence Farming in Haarlem

A Long Way from Haarlem to Calitzdorp – a South African Short Story

I first met the young attractive women in the warm water pool at the Calitzdorp Spa. She was in her twenties and obviously of Koisan descent. Curly short hair, brown skin and shapely body that advertised her back ground. As we chatted it was interesting that she spoke English without a typical Eastern Cape accent. This was the first time that I had an opportunity to have a conversation with someone from the Koisan population group. When we shared information about where we lived I found out that she lived in the nearby town of Calitzdorp and worked at the Calitzdorp Cellars, in charge of the sales and tasting room. Asking her where she grew up I was interested to hear that she came from Haarlem, a small hamlet nestled in the Langkloof Mountains near the R62 road to Port Part Elizabeth, some 200 km away. How had this young Koisan lady travelled the road from a rural hamlet to her position in Calitzdorp? Surely a story worth telling. So here is a short story about this remarkable young women who made a journey from a humble background to a promising future that knows no limits.

It is interesting to note that when I met Gloria a group of Koisan leaders were camping at the Union Buildings in Pretoria demanding to be recognized as one of the official nations/tribes in South Africa. On our way along the R62 we had passed a group of Koisan dressed in their traditional clothes and obviously marching in support of the requests that they were making to the President in Pretoria. Not only did they want their nation to be added to the official list of South African nations/tribes, but also to have their language added to the other 11 official languages in South Africa.

From Haarlem to Calitzdorp – Gloria’s story.

In the little hamlet of Haarlem the church bells are ringing. This is not Haarlem in the Netherlands or in New York, but in Haarlem in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. The date is 1994 and the new government under Nelson Mandela had come into power. In the local clinic a baby is born and will always share that historic date. From Koisan parents, Gloria Jacobs came into the new world in the shadow of the Langkloof Mountains. A visit to Haarlem today is like taking a step back into history. As an isolated country town life is very quiet and the population comprises mainly people of the Koisan nationality. In the caves above the town there are paintings done long ago, telling stories of hunting and dancing. The main activity in Haarlem is subsistence farming with farmers still using animals to pull their ploughs through the soil. In many ways, like in some other isolated towns in the general area, life and progress has stood still.

In 1782 the first German missionaries arrived in the Langkloof and set up a mission station at Harlem. The beautiful Lutheran church building in the small town was declared a National Monument in 1978. The municipality in this area is named after Saartie Baardman, a young woman whose sad history lingers on in South African history. As a young girl Saartie was taken to England and France where she was displayed and sold to eventually become a part of a freak show in and around Paris in the 1820’s.

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Of the many different groups of people in South Africa, the earliest are undoubtedly the Koisan who were hunters and gatherers long before the Europeans arrived from across the seas and the African tribes migrated from the North. The people in Haarlem are religious and the little girl born on that historic date in South African history was baptised in the Lutheran Church where her mother worshiped. The dusty streets are still not tarred because many of the subsistence farmers still pull their equipment through town on sleds. Farming often, even today, takes place with horse drawn ploughs and by hand.

Going to the primary school in Haarlem it was soon obvious that Gloria was an exceptionally bright child. At the same time she grew up playing soccer in the dusty streets with any excuse for a ball that the kids could conjure up. Often just a scrap of cloth tied around a ball of grass with pieces of string. She also learnt to hunt and spent many an hour up in the mountains hoping to kill an unsuspecting hare or partridge that would make a great supper. She also took her turn in fetching water from the local stream and working in the fields, weeding and turning over soil. Her bath was a zink tub filled with water from the river and the water then heated over the coal stove.

When it came for her to progress to high school again she was an excellent pupil, working hard in the classroom and on the sportfield. The head teacher helped her to apply for a bursary to study at the Nelson Mandela Bay University in Port Elizabeth. Here was a young Koisan girl entering the new world in an open South Africa. In 1963 the area of Harlem had been designated a so called “Coloured Area” under the then Group Areas Act. Now all that was in the past and the new constitution gave equal rights to all, forming what has been referred to as the “Rainbow Nation”. At the same time life in Haarlem has not changed much. Now in 2006 in theory everyone in South Africa was equal, but in reality it was still a time when in many areas acceptance of people from other race groups was still in its infancy. Often at night in her dormitory bed she cried for and longed for the freedom of prejudice that she had experienced as a young person in Haarlem. It seemed like she had to prove herself over and over here in a mixed university environment. In her mind she felt that many looked at with suspicion because of her obvious Koisan background.

Her time at university flew past and because of her bright mind and hard work she proved that she did not have to stand back for anyone. Support from several teachers who really cared helped her to achieve her potential and lifted her up in difficult times. The honours board at the university where she had again excelled academically and on the sport field was testimony to the vision of her high school head teacher. Several of the people in Haarlem helped to sponsor her to help her during the time that she completed her degree in accounting and business. Now at the age of 24 she is working back in the Karoo and in the town of Calitzdorp where the local wine cellar was glad to employ her on recommendation from one of her professors at university. At present she is learning the ins and outs of the wine business and looks forward to moving on to one of the large wine producers in the Western Cape in the future.

The early missionaries from Germany and Holland had come to set up their mission station in the Langkloof many years ago. Here a church, clinic and school originated, and a small group of hunter gatherers started to make the change from their previous existence to agricultural life. Now with a high school and modern health and educational opportunities, a people who had once been hunted and shot like wild animals, have the opportunity to enter into the modern commercial world.

This young Koisan woman has come a long way from the sleepy hamlet in the Langkloof to Calitzdorp –about 200km as the crow flies - has made a huge distance in life. Who knows where she will end?


Brochure by Mr. Bryce Henderson on Google.

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