GEORGE NEWS - After three days of working hard on their suntan on our glorious beaches, holidaymakers may get an itch to move. This is when they become intrepid adventurers, exploring the hidden treasures to be found on the back roads.
Holidaymakers, turn on your GPS, pack a picnic basket and head for Knysna, passing through Hoekwil and Wilderness Heights. As you drive through the lush countryside, you may wonder about the history of the area.Hardships among the farming communities in the interior caused many to move to the Cape Colony, including the Southern Cape.
The Rinderpest outbreak in the mid 1890s killed over 5-million cattle south of the Zambezi River, as well as sheep and goats, and wild populations of buffalo, giraffe, and wildebeest. After this, the farming community was decimated in the "South African War" (Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902) when homesteads and crops were burnt to the ground, leading to a period of economic hardship. The Afrikaner communities in the hinterland of the then Cape Colony and Orange Free State were in dire straits. East Coast fever killed about 1-million head of cattle between 1910 and 1912 in the Transvaal alone.
At the end of the 19th century, many of the folk in the area we now know as Hoekwil and the lakes were woodcutters who exploited the timber for a living. Much of the ironwood was cut as timber for the mines and had to be carted to George before being sent on to the Witwatersrand. Initially, timber was plentiful and black stinkwood was generally used for planking for the wagons.
As the forests became depleted, the situation of the woodcutters became dire. As a solution, the House of Assembly of the Union Government passed a resolution in 1913 that the farm Olifantshoek (Hoekwil) should be transferred to "the Kerkraad of the George NG Church for the purposes of a labour colony for settlement."
The resolution was put into effect in January 1915. In 1916 the Algemene Armsorg Kommissie (Poverty Relief Commission) of the George NG Church made the Olifantshoek farm available to families from the surrounding lakes area for the meagre rental of 25c per hectare per year.
One by one the families moved up to Olifantshoek, where there were neither houses nor a steady water supply. Houses were built, sometimes of wood, sometimes of sods, with rough thatching. Water furrows were dug to bring water from the mountains. Gradually a community took shape.
In more recent times, rising property values have led to many or the original inhabitants selling their smallholdings to people from upcountry and overseas, including a significant number of Germans.
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