The Hantam district is in the South-Western part of the Northern Cape and forms part of the Upper Karoo. It includes towns such as Brandvlei, Nieuwoudtville, Middelpos, Loeriesfontein, and the administrative center of Calvinia. Even though this area spans over 36 000km2 the population is estimated at less than 25 000 people.
Hantam is a Khoi name that means “Mountains where the bulbs grow” and this becomes evident in spring after good winter rains. Then this normally arid region turns into a canvas of colours caused by the millions of flowers that bloom. What makes this region different than its better-known neighbor Namaqualand to the North West is the vast amount of bulb species that also appear here. Niewoudtville is known as the bulb capital of the world.
Climate and soil types are responsible for the vegetation found all around the world and here is it is not any different. Predominant winter rainfall and a climate of relative extremes with shale and dolerite soils give way to renosterveld and succulent karoo vegetation. Different bushes include Skaapbos, Gannabos, Kapokbos, Bietobos, and Klappiesbrak. In some areas, with the help of the government many years ago “Soutbos” has also been planted as extra pasture. In the winter they also get a succulent ground cover that serves as a wonderful additional pasture to the animals.
Because of the mountainous terrain, rainfall can be caught up in dams and be used to irrigate additional feeds like Lucerne, wheat, and oats that were planted in the winter months. But don’t let this fool you into thinking that this region is one of abundance. It is classified as semi-arid for a reason. Droughts are regular and part of the everyday lives of the farmer and good winter rainfall are long forgotten at the height of summer.
Farming activities include mostly sheep, but game and cattle are also found in some areas. The vegetation is best suited for Merino sheep as they prefer the bushy pasture to grass.
With all being said driving through this area and observing the many broken, desolate, and abandoned homestead and houses makes you appreciate the hardship that these farmers, their workers, and their families go through on a year to year basis. But it also makes you wonder about the intense love they have for this place. It makes you wonder: How strong is this imaginary pulling force, a combination of family history, sentiment, clear skies, starry nights, fresh air, and a deep love for ones’ animals.
Maybe it is something to wonder about and something most city dwellers will never understand.
The Boesmanland is not a region indicated on maps but used colloquially to describe a certain region in the Northern Cape. Its borders are the Orange River to the north, the Namaqualand to the west, Kenhardt to the east, and the Hantam to the South.
It includes towns like Pofadder and Aggeneys and places like Namies and Bosluispan. It is described as probably the most inhospitable area in South Africa; arid with infertile soils and saline groundwater. Fauna and Flora are sparse but full of interest.
The rain season is in the summer, something that makes it different from its westerly and southerly neighbors, but to allocate a whole season for rain is wishful thinking. Rain is as scarce as a wealthy farmer in this area, with some kids going to school before seeing their first rains.
Droughts come often and are destructive. Hentie van der Westhuizen, a late farmer of this region has described farming in this area as “Every seven years you start over, then you have had plenty and nothing. You have saved in the good years and used all the savings to keep afloat in the drought.”
When the rains come the landscape changes like the plains in Africa. Bushes like the Skaapbos, Bietobos, Kriedoring, Kapokbos, Kalkoenbos, Kriekiebos, Gannabos, Obikwa, and the Jakkalspisbos turn green. The farmer and animal can once again breathe a sigh of relief for another six months.
An outsider coming to the region for the first time has described it as “There is nothing here but huge open stretches of nothing, filled with nothing as far as the eye can see.” The winters are cold, dry, and long and during the summer the temperature soars to unimaginable highs. But the summer also brings rain, very precious rain. It is during this time when preparation and planning are put to the test by your ability to keep your family alive for another six months because by then the rain is merely a memory.”
This area might be filled with vast open spaces and nothingness to the outsider, but the people living here are a special breed. Tough as nails, hard-working, living close to the earth and their Creator. they are people of faith and supportive of their fellow human beings as they know each others’ hardships and struggles first hand.
A question we ask regularly “why here” is always met with the same response. “I love this place, this is where I come from, this is where my family comes from.”. In the world, we currently live in and where we all look for a sense of belonging, it seems like the Boesmanland, with all its nothing, gives the most.
“Sentiment keeps the Boesmanland alive. We owe it to our ancestors that were here before us to keep their memory alive.”
Black Kei River Basin
The Black Kei River Basin is situated around the town of Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.
The altitude is approximately 1500m above sea level and falls within the summer rainfall areas of South Africa. The rainfall is marginal and erratic. This area is prone to years of low rainfall causing drought, but receives 500mm per year on average. Winters are cold (min -8) and dry with heavy frosts occurring on most windless mornings. Summers are hot (max 40) with thunderstorms generally occurring during late afternoons. Humidity is low for most of the year except for brief periods after good rains. The extremes of this climate are exceptionally healthy for both cattle and people.
Soils generally range from sandy (< 5% clay) to fairly high clay levels (>15%). Soils are prone to erosion where grass cover is lacking and gradients cause excessive runoff. Large eroded dongas are common on most poorly managed farms. Soils have an alkaline pH and are not badly leached with high levels of nutrients i.e. Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium. Limestone (Ca CO3) deposits are frequently visible on the surface. These high levels of nutrients nourish and make the grass very palatable, farmers refer to it as sweetveld. Phosphate is lacking in all areas. Trace elements are also well supplied (except Zinc) with an abundance of Iron. Weathered ironstone can be seen everywhere on koppies and mountain slopes. The stones are red in colour from oxidised Iron on them (rust).
The veld type is termed by Acocks termed as Dry Cymbopogon -Themeda veld. This being the names of the most common grass species in well conserved veld. The once pristine grasslands have been invaded by Karoo shrubs and the Acacia Karoo thorn tree. This is as a result of bad grazing practices by farmers with small stock over the past 100 years. The special value of this grassveld has been destroyed, thrown away along with the soil and it is doubtful if it can ever be restored. Sporadic fires occur during the dry months and these helps control the woody component.
Some of the more common grasses are:
Species in good veld
Themeda triandra (Red grass)
Cymbopogon plurinodis (Turpentine grass)
Heteropogon contortis (Thatch grass)
Digiteria argyrographta (Smuts finger grass)
Panicum coleratum (Buffalo grass)
Eragrostis chloromelas (Love grass)
Sporobulus discosporus (Ratstail dropseed)
Species in poor veld
Aristida Congesta (Steekgras)
Cynodon dactylon (Couch grass)
Sateria flabellate (Creeping seteria)
Tragus koeleriodes (Carrot seed)