The history of Soetkraal and its people

13 March 2011

Speaker:     Edwin van Huyssteen

My grandfather and grandmother van Huyssteen had, with two ox-wagons, moved to Soetkraal in 1936 .  They had come from Clarence – that was on the de Vlugt side. 

They were in their early-fifties and had eight children.  Joey, their eldest daughter, was in her twenties and Philipp was just four years old at the time.  He was the youngest and became blind when he was a 13 year-old. 

Eddie, my Dad, moved to The Crags at the age of 40, buying some property there.  By then his parents had died, so he helped his brother Phillipp find some property at The Crags as well – so that he would still be living nearby. 

The farm Soetkraal  belonged to the Thesens of Knysna .  They had given my grandparents – and then the next generation – the right to stay at Soetkraal for as long as they chose to be there.  But all the van Huyssteen children had married over the years and moved to The Crags, Knysna and elsewhere. 

Access had been a problem; it was not easy.  Transport was only on horseback, the ox-wagon, or on foot. 

When my grandmother died  in 1967 they had to transport her remains by ox-wagon to The Crags; and from there to Knysna by car. In  those years a wagon took three days to reach Knysna from Soetkraal. 

The Soetkraal children went to school in Wittedrift, where they were accommodated in the hostel and went  home only for school holidays. They had to walk from Wittedrift to Soetkraal, a distance of about 60km. 

On Soetkraal they had about 600 head of cattle and about 1000 sheep.   Meat was never a problem. 

They also had pigs, goats and chickens. 

There was also considerable wildlife, which included bush pigs , porcupines, bushbuck and other buck.  Also leopards – which presented a major problem, catching sheep and young cattle.  On one occasion my Dad shot about 11 leopards which had killed 54 sheep.  The family also did some hunting with the hounds. 

Water was no problem.  There are three rivers  and it was then clean drinking water.  Rivers could overflow with big rains, which could  confine them to the farm for a few days. 

They planted potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans, mealies and several other vegetables.  They also planted wheat and produced their own flour to make bread.  Timber was plentiful and people came from all over to cut down stinkwood, yellowwood and komassie trees. The timber was then transported to Knysna by ox-wagon.  There is still an old steam engine that was used to cut wood into planks  or building timber. 

The van Huyssteen family resided in the house, pictures of which survive.  Its yellowwood floors were beautiful.   

There was another house that belonged to the Vermaak family.  

Four families (Scholtz family included) stayed there at one time or another. 

Of my Dad's brothers and sisters, only Oom Salie is still alive.  There had been five sons, three daughters. 

Soetkraal lies in a valley, with mountains on either side.  This meant strong berg winds and heavy thunder-storms.  The lightning often resulted in mountain fires that could spread – producing good grazing for the cattle. 

The access route was heavy going, skirting three fountains. There was snow on the mountain at times. 

But there was enough to eat.   And it was safe.

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