“Our grasslands need a champion,” says Mercia Komen of Doornrandje. She is particularly passionate about the grasslands that cover Hills and Dales and Doornrandje. And with reason. The RNC has only recently become aware of the specific significance of the grasslands that cover this part of the RNC - the endangered Egoli Granite Grassland (EGG).
“Most of us have grown up thinking that grass is grass is grass and that it’s really trees that are important. Yet it’s grasslands that support the greatest biodiversity in South Africa, outside of the Cape fynbos region - and it is grasslands that are the second most endangered vegetation type in South Africa.”
The significance of these grasslands has been brought home by the recent transfer of 300 hectares of EGG in Doornrandje to the Gauteng conservation authority. This property was purchased by a developer in Midrand as an offset* and transferred to the Gauteng Government for permanent protection. It will ultimately be proclaimed a nature reserve.
“The extraordinary thing is, this grassland type is found only in this western part of Gauteng, stretching north from Roodepoort, and nowhere else in the world,” says Mercia. “The bulk of it has already made way for development; this 300ha is the largest conserved piece of EGG that exists.” Mercia represents the RNC on the Gauteng department of environment’s ‘EGG commitee’.
For Anthony Duigan, a member of the RNC Committee, this is the realisation of a 22-year dream. “When we started the Kareebosrand Conservancy (forerunner to the RNC) in 1987, we had a strong but undefined idea of somehow protecting this unique area,” he said. “Now, for the first time, authorities have realised that our area offers something that is both unique and valuable enough to be conserved.”
Fire! The word that sets the adrenaline going and hearts beating faster. This year has seen the usual runaway fires that sweep across the grasslands and bushveld. But the community is rarely lacking in response. About 40 people responded to the recent fire that someone unknown started on the north-eastern corner of the EGG land.
It quickly swept south, jumping firebreaks and by the time it was doused, had consumed about 200 hectares. A few homesteads had narrow escapes and the efforts of the community fire-fighters saved most of the EGG land at least.
“The Gauteng conservation unit responsible for the EGG land started burning their fire-breaks before winter,” said Mercia Komen, whose property borders this land. “But, as we have learned by bitter experience, runaway fires don’t wait for firebreaks to be completed.”
As always, fires throw up cameos of community life. Among the fire-fighters were Wayde and Travis Hampson and Gareth and Ryan Kruger, their ages ranging from six to nine. Kids in the Conservancy grow up learning that fighting veld fires is not for sissies and is not a game. They also learn how to use fire beaters and wet sacks, how to watch out when the wind changes and how to backburn from firebreaks. This is where stewardship begins – being part of a community and taking responsibility for the place where they live.
*An offset happens when a developer in another area is responsible for transforming grassland, and as part of the issuing of permission to develop, is required to purchase an equivalent portion in an area like the RNC where the grassland will be protected.
Betty Dipholo, Laezonia
Thank you very much for such a wealth of information and knowledge to understand what is happening within our surroundings. Much appreciated.
John Wesson, Chairman, National Association of Conservancies & Stewardship of SA
VeldTalk always makes interesting reading. Keep up the great work.
John Gaydon of Sunninghill comments on Scorpions and rainfall (May VeldTalk).
“My family joined the Conservancy’s Scorpion Walk and had a most enjoyable morning wandering in the veld looking for creepy crawlies. We look forward to events later in the year.
“Re the article on rainfall: My father worked for an agricultural chemical company. One of his tasks was to survey the entire country looking for trends in crop growth etc, and obviously rainfall played an important part in understanding why certain years produced better crops than others. By the time he retired (2000) the rainfall patterns revealed the following: The wet and dry cycles last for seven years each, but within each dry cycle there would be one or two ‘wet’ years, and likewise, within each wet cycle, there would be one or two ‘dry’ years.”
Corlette Wessels of Vlakfontein writes about four year-old Zander, featured fearlessly inspecting a scorpion in his hand (May VeldTalk)
“Zander wil aan alles vat en sien dit as ‘babatjies’. Ons was in die Kalahari in ‘n kamp sonder heinings en die leeus het drie aande so naby kom brul dat ons bene gebewe het. Ons het gesê hy moenie alleen rond loop nie want die leeus gaan hom vang - juis omdat daar geen heinings was nie. Toe ons terugkom, kom hy een aand vol trane en sê “Mama, die leeus brul in my kamer en gaan my eet”. Dit het ons ‘n hele ruk gevat om te verstaan wat hy sê en toe eers besef ons dis Kevin Richardson se leeus noord van ons in die nuwe Leeupark in Kalkheuvel Ons is so gelukkig - ons hoef nie eens Kalahari toe te gaan om leeus te hoor nie!”
Francis Gomes (Doornrandje) of the Community Policing Forum says “Don’t hide crime!”
We would appreciate it if all incidents in Ward 5 (Hennopsriver, Gerhardtsville, Laezonia, Doornrandjes, Hills and Dales, Roodekrans, Knoppieslaagte, etc), are reported, however minor. This will assist us in our crime prevention initiatives. Please note: do not mention names or publish photographs of suspected thieves/hi-jackers/perpetrators. This information should be given to the Police directly as it is unlawful to publish names of suspects until they have been tried in a Court of Law. Also please encourage all your neighbours and other members of our community to participate on the Facebook Group "Gerhardsville/Hennopsriver" or "Rhenosterspruit Nature Conservancy"
The request from Niko Knigge (VeldTalk no 40) for computers for Hennopsrivier Primary and for Bathabile Primary (Doornrandje) elicited an impressive response.
“Kenric Wood (Hills & Dales), Trevor Garbett and Nick Dale (both from the Oori) contacted me immediately with offers,” says Niko. “And Jakes Parsons (Hills & Dales) of Autotraders had us all sitting up with surprise. His company offered 20 computers of which 10 each will be donated to the two schools! This is really heartening. Local residents have offered to assist with computer training as well.”
Where would South Africa be placed on the list of The World’s Dirtiest Countries?
Picking up someone else’s litter is not deemed the most elegant of activities and not many are willing to do so but Conservancy residents have often ignored image and put in heroic efforts to clean the roads in their area. The Plastics Federation of SA have been most helpful in supplying hundreds of plastic bags for picking up rubbish. (www.plasticsinfo.co.za )
Hills and Dales residents have a novel approach – pick your patch and look after it. Stretches of road have been “adopted” and labelled: Krugers’ Kilometre, Paul se Pad, Larry’s Lane, etc. If the 50 million citizens of this country followed suit, we could be called The Cleanest Country in the World. (Keep on dreaming…).
“Please Miss Michelle, ask Miss Myrna if we can also play soccer on the field where our fathers play.” Several small hopeful soccer stars wanted Michelle Panos in the Oori Game Reserve (Riverside Estates) to approach Myrna Thomas, Director of the SOS Training Village, for permission to use the adults’ soccer field.
Myrna immediately responded by offering additional land for the boys’ own field, plus an area for a girls’ netball field. “This is a wonderful offer,” says Michelle. “We will be able to provide Oori kids with an opportunity to meet in a supervised, healthy environment. My son has played soccer at club level. He has offered help with coaching. Two of our Oori employees have played soccer professionally and would love to help too.”
Myrna spotted further opportunities. “SOS Children’s Villages are the official charity of FIFA for the 2010 World Cup (SOS is an international organisation),” she said. “Maybe this could lead to future opportunities for the Oori Junior Soccer Team!”
Michelle and Steve Panos have approached Oori residents for comment on the proposal. “We’re hoping to get general support from the community. Myrna said she would personally donate the nets and the first soccer and netballs and Gerald Chapman has offered to level the ground. We will further need donations of bricks, cement, old oil drums (for bins), two junior soccer posts, two junior netball posts and four to five sleepers for benches.”
The RNC has offered to sponsor the netball poles – to be made by Laezonia’s well-known ‘Security in Steel’ man, Henry Schultz.
Ever practical, Myrna cautioned: “We also have to consider issues such as toilets and litter – all litter must be collected by the teams. Noise levels will also be monitored. But we will assist in the building and marking of the fields and setting up the poles.
“SOS is there to help shape the future of children, and if this is a way we can build community spirit in the Oori, then great!”
The focus of the 2009 Conservancy AGM (26 July) is bold and forward-looking. The committee and members spent much time developing a Manifesto, setting objectives for the year ahead and defining the portfolios which will spearhead the actions needed to reach these objectives.
A new constitution is also on the agenda.
The Conservancy had two officials from PHRA-G (Provincial Heritage Resource Agency – Gauteng), Grant Botha and Simon Mohlala, going around in circles on 7 July.
Among the many diverse historical sites in the RNC are at least a dozen stone circles dating back from the Early Iron Age (about 500 AD) to the Late Iron Age (about 1870 AD). Mostly hidden in the long grass, the circles are best seen after veld fires and by using Google. They are thought to be settlements of tribes living in the area at the time. They are scattered over Hills and Dales, Roodekrans and Doornrandje, with some possibly in Hennops River as well.
These sites are usually identified by a large circle of piled stones and rocks, now mostly collapsed, enclosing smaller circles and pathways. Some have evidence of middens nearby – an ancient form of landfill – actually a rubbish dump! Pieces of potsherds can be found in them, some with decorations still visible. Interestingly, Grant pointed out that virtually all the circles are placed within sight of one another. Good military and communications strategy, no doubt.
The day tour, arranged by RNC members Stella Angus and Dalene van der Merwe, also included the Anglo-Boer War Silver Mine and Daisy Farm, the site used by the security forces during the apartheid years. Daisy Farm is unfortunately being demolished by someone carting out bricks and building materials.
The RNC is approaching PHRA-G for assistance in protecting these places by declaring them Heritage Sites.
In its 22 years of existence the Conservancy has seen a variety of events – hiking, cycling, relays, climbing, cave explorations, looking for goggas. But a Horse Picnic was a delightful idea.
The Angus family of Hills & Dales suggested it and offered to take it on – from marketing it, to using their place as the starting venue, to supplying a picnic lunch in the middle of the veld.
Twenty riders took part. The first group set off at an easy pace for the “long” ride through a stretch of bushveld and then circled back across the lush grasslands of Doornrandje. A few people decided on a leisurely hike, a second group of riders opted for a short ride and five set off in an elegant carriage, drawn by the eager gray Nooitgedacht gelding, Jasper. Jasper did not particularly favour the middelmannetjie on the veld track which meant the carriage wheels had to negotiate the rough edges and rocks hidden in the long grass. With the reins in the capable hands of Caroline Angus this royal party made it safely to the picnic spot. And back.
The Anguses had everything planned – from water for the horses and drinks and hotdogs for the grooms, to a tempting picnic table set up by Stella at a copse of karees, with a sweeping view to the south over hectares of Egoli Granite Grassland.
What a wonderful, relaxing way to spend a day! The next Horse Picnic takes place in January 2010. Book now!
Bathable Primary School in Doornrandje now has 1 200 learners and is bursting at the seams. It also has a brand-new Grade 0 class and the school needs all the help it can get. The vegetable garden is flourishing (boosted by compost and manure provided by local residents) and the veggies are used to complement a daily meal for all the kids of rice or pap. Many kids are orphans and this may be the only meal they get.
Jan Hill of Doornrandje has taken on collecting unused or old toys, crayons or books for the Grade 0s. If you have any to spare, deliver to the school or call Jan on 083 441 0547 to collect. Warm clothing will also be welcome.
Niko Knigge, also a Doornrandje resident, is supporting principal, Solly Kotu’s, latest mission - to set up a computer lab and help children and teachers with computer literacy.
“The RNC in conjunction with the local Delta Plot-watch group would like to help the school realise this dream,” says Niko. “At this stage the school can safely store only laptops and one desktop computer. We ask for donations of any laptops or other hardware and software that work but are no longer in use. We realise that it may be difficult to find laptops but maybe somebody’s workplace did an upgrade and looks for a worthy cause to which they can donate their old stuff. From the RNC / Plot-watch side we will be providing teacher training and backup support.”
Niko would appreciate help for the Hennopsriver Primary School as well. “It has 200 kids but only six computers (through an initiative of a neighbour). If anyone can donate a desktop computer the school could make very good use of it,” he says.
Jane Phiri, an Adult Basic Education (ABET) teacher who lives next to the Bathabile school in Doornrandje, runs free Adult Basic Education classes Monday to Thursday from 18:00 to 20H00 at the school. Currently two classes are taking place, one at matric level and the second one comparable to Grade 10. Other classes (including basic literacy and numeracy) will be offered if there is enough local interest. Jane is also looking for people in the area who can volunteer teaching various skills. If you are interested and would like to contribute, contact Jane at 072 239 8681. Please inform neighbours and labourers of this opportunity.
Regarding the article in the May VeldTalk about rates and taxes, "Die Wet van die Transvaal", Henry from Laezonia writes:
“Whilst some years back we had an intimation that Laezonians were going to be taxed by Tshwane, we took no notice. My late wife and I deemed that, as we had had no service from this animal, we would wait.
“In 2001 the property was transferred into my name according to the will. There was a large amount outstanding. Take note, the deeds stated there were no taxes, informal or formal to be paid on the property. The title deeds were changed, and I was only billed from that date. So watch your legal rights. Farm properties never had municipal levies legally ingested into the title. You can fight this (rates and taxes levied before a certain date) in a court of law - get a good cheap lawyer!”
Note: Tshwane landowners can contact the office of Mr Jonker on 012 358 8367 with queries about rates and taxes.
Readers’ comments on the leopard and spider stories in VeldTalk 37 and 38.
Hugh Roberts, Vulture Valley Conservancy, North-West writes: There will always be people, on hearing that a leopard has been sighted, who will want to kill it, or trap it, collar it, translocate it or in some way to plague it.
I farmed for over 50 years, taking over from my father, and my son now does the farming. There always have been leopards on our property. During that time nobody, but NOBODY, has ever been attacked by a leopard - not even when coming upon a female with cubs. My advice is: just keep quiet about the leopards you see, and you’ll probably save a leopard from people.
Astri Leroy of the Spider Club says: I don't doubt for a moment that leopards appear in peri-urban areas. We had a brown hyena around here and leopards are even more elusive. I keep hoping to see one when taking visitors on night walks at the Walter Sisulu Gardens. No luck yet but I have certainly seen caracal spoor.
VeldTalk is much appreciated. If I do another Spider Walk next year it should be from mid-March to mid-April – that is "spider season"! (See www.spiderclub.co.za)
VeldTalk – readers’ feedback
“From VeldTalk I can see that it’s a beehive of activities and mouth-watering programmes happening around Gauteng. Keep up the good work. Pass my regards to everybody for the wonderful work being done - we owe it to our children at the very least.”
Patrick Kwelepeta, Mayibuye Wetlands, Soweto
“Thank you for VeldTalk. I really enjoyed this very informative newsletter.”
Douw Steyn (Environmental Director, Plastics Federation of SA)
“VeldTalk is not only very informative but also gave me a great belly laugh as well.” Jill Watson, Elandsvlei Conservancy
“Thanks for your 'Veld Talk'. I find it a great read.” Malcolm Stainbank, KZN Conservancy Association