The Restless Frontier | 275km

The Restless Frontier.

KING WILLIAM'S TOWN

The first stop along your South African holidays tour is King William's Town. It has its origins in the Buffalo Mission Station established on the east bank of the Buffalo River by the Reverend John Brownlee of the London Missionary Society in 1825. Following the Sixth Frontier War (1834-35), the British Governor, Sir Benjamin D'Urban, annexed the land between the Keiskamma and the Kei rivers, naming it the Province of Queen Adelaide. A fort was built near the ruins of the mission station (destroyed during the war) and on 24 May 1835 the site was proclaimed the capital of the new province. It was named after the reigning monarch, William IV.

The British government, however, refused to ratify the annexation, and barely seven months later the province was abolished. At the outbreak of the Seventh Frontier War (1846-47) the frontier territory was reoccupied by British forces, and on 23 December 1847 the Crown Colony of Kaffraria was proclaimed, with King William's Town as its capital. The Amathole Museum (formerly known as the Kaffrarian Museum) has interesting displays on the region's German settlers, as well as a world-famous collection of over 40 000 mammals.

Its most celebrated exhibit is Huberta, a hippopotamus that wandered approximately 700 km from Zululand to the Keiskamma River between 1928 and 1931. The SA Missionary Museum is appropriately housed in the Gothic Revival-style Wesleyan Church, built in 1855. Among King William's Town's many historic buildings are Grey Hospital (1859), Town Hall (1867), the Old Court House and Post Office (1877), British Kaffrarian Savings Bank (1908) and the Old Residency.

DIMBAZA

...was established in the late 1960s as a 'resettlement village', a euphemism for the dumping grounds for black people moved out of white areas in apartheid South Africa. Between 1970 and 1980, the population of Dimbaza grew from 3 600 to 18 700 and Dimbaza became synonymous with abject poverty, overpopulation and environmental degradation. Industrial development only began in 1973.

Five years later some 18 factories, employing just over 1 000 people, had been established, focussing mainly on textiles, clothing, leather products and furniture. Following Ciskei's 'independence' from South Africa in 1982, Dimbaza was identified as Ciskei's industrial capital. Like the other homelands, Ciskei was reintegrated into South Africa in 1994.

DEBE NEK

...marks the western extremity of the Kommetjies Flats, a plain pitted with ring-like mounds, or kommetjies, each about a metre in diameter and with a central bowl 30-100 cm deep. Stretching from about 10 km west of King William's Town, the flats extend for about 16 km2 around Debe Nek. The kommetjies are said to be composed of the casts of the world's largest known earthworms, the giant Microchaetus, which are reputed to attain a length of up to 7m.

ALICE

...lies on the western bank of the Tyume River and was founded in 1847 at the end of the War of the Axe (1846-47). The town of Alice was named after one of Queen Victoria's daughters, and was once the administrative centre of the Victoria East District. On the outskirts of Alice is the University of Fort Hare, named after the fort built along the east bank of the Tyume River in 1847.

The largest fort in the Eastern Cape, it was named after Lieutenant-Colonel John Hare, acting Lieutenant-General of the Eastern Province in 1838. The university was established in 1916 as the South African Native College on land donated by the Church of Scotland; among its many distinguished alumni are Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo and Seretse Khama.

In terms of apartheid South Africa's policy of Bantu education, it became an ethnic university for Xhosa-speaking students in 1959. Throughout the 1960s, Fort Hare was one of the main centres of the Black Consciousness Movement, and in the 1970s and 1980s its students participated actively in class boycotts and student unrest.

SEYMOUR

...a small rural South African holidays village at the foot of the Katberg, also owes its origin to a military post established in 1846 at what was originally known as Elands Post. A fort was built on the plateau next to the village, and when the town was laid out seven years later it was named after Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Seymour, military secretary to Sir George Cathcart. In the late 1800s, part of the fort was converted into a residence for the magistrate.

A sandstone sundial erected on the site of Elands Post in 1839 can be seen in the garden of the Residence. Another relic of the village's military past is the Seymour Hotel, which served as a mess and recreation centre for the garrison in 1852.

HOGSBACK

...is a tranquil village set amid indigenous forests, pine plantations, streams and waterfalls on the slopes of the Amatola Mountains. The English country gardens, with their azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas, as well as peach, apple and plum trees and berry bushes, are the legacy of Thomas Summerton, who settled at Hogsback in the 1880s. The village is famous for its berries, among them wild blackberries, blackcurrants, strawberries, raspberries and gooseberries.

Unlikely to escape attention are the tunnel-like avenues of hazel trees, while the Oak Avenue is a popular short walk. Visitors on South African holidays can explore the magnificent indigenous forests by following a network of trails. Attractions include the Big Tree, a 34-m-high yellowwood, and waterfalls with descriptive names such as Madonna and Child, Kettlespout, Swallowtail, Bridal Veil and Thirty-Nine Steps.

Another attraction is St Patrick-on-the-Hill, a small circular memorial chapel built of dressed stone by the Houghton family in 1935. In October each year, Hogsback hosts an arts festival featuring cabaret, piano recitals, jazz and classical guitar music, as well as songs and dance.

KEISKAMMAHOEK

The R63 road to Keiskammahoek leads past several historic sites relating to the Frontier Wars. Heading in a northwesterly direction, the road passes the site of Fort Cox, one of the many military posts established during the Frontier Wars and named after Major William Cox of the Gordon Highlanders. Built in 1847, the fort was further strengthened in 1850 and served as a central staging point. A short way on is Burnshill, where British forces suffered defeat during the War of the Axe (1846-47).

The Burnshill Mission, established in 1830, was named after John Burns, one of the founders of the Glasgow Missionary Society. A short way on lies the turnoff to the grave of Chief Ngqika Gaika, father of Sandile. He died on 13 November 1829, and was buried on the site of his kraal. At Boma Pass, at the top end of Sandile Dam, a 700-strong British force that had set off from Fort Cox was ambushed in a narrow gorge on Christmas Eve in 1850. Twenty-three British soldiers were killed in the attack, which became a prelude to the Eighth Frontier War (1850-53), also known as the War of Mlanjeni.

Keiskammahoek lies in a basin at the confluence of the Keiskamma and Gxulu rivers below the Amatola Mountains. Established as one of a chain of military outposts, it played an important role in the Frontier Wars between 1846 and 1853. Castle Eyre, on the western outskirts of the settlement, was built in 1852. The town is an important commercial centre for the timber and agricultural (livestock and tobacco) industries.

From Keiskammahoek, the R63 leads over Red Hill Pass in a southerly direction. Amalinde marks the site of the bloodiest battle in the history of the Xhosa-speaking people west of the Kei River. The battle was precipitated by the claim of Chief Ngqika Gaika to chieftainship over the Rharabe Xhosa, which led to a quarrel with his uncle, Ndlambe. In 1818 Chief Ngqika's son, Maqoma, was defeated by Ndlambe at the Battle of Amalinde, but a British force came to the assistance of Ngqika and defeated Ndlambe.

A short way further on is the turnoff to the Ntaba ka Ndoda National Shrine. Situated at the foot of the mountain of the same name, the shrine was built in honour of the Xhosa chiefs who fought against British rule. Continuing further, there is a memorial on the left of the road marking the spot where Lieutenant Bailey and his men were killed in action during the Frontier War of 1834-35. The name Keiskamma is of Khoekhoen origin, meaning either 'puffadder river' or 'glittering water'.

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