My town Visit Nieu-Bethesda and your life will definitely change
This village in the arid Karoo looks and feels like a phantasmagorical green oasis – the sort of place that, like a pilgrimage to Mecca, will change your outlook on life.
Somewhere in this once-ordinary flat-roofed house where sculptures and shivers now await you around every corner, on 5 August 1976, Helen Martins swallowed caustic soda. Three days later, she died in agony in the hospital in Graaff-Reinet. She was 78.
The “eccentric, mad” woman of flesh and blood no longer wanted to live, but death was in no way the end of her story. Forty years later, Miss Helen survives through her legacy: the now world-renowned Owl House and its garden, which she built with the help of a few men from the local township, Pienaarsig, between 1945 and 1976. Finely crushed coloured glass and otherworldly concrete sculptures transformed it into a private universe where she felt safe.
Ironically, this legacy – a physical manifestation of her rebellion against the social, moral and religious rules of her time – together with the fossils found in the area, is responsible for the continued existence of Nieu-Bethesda, despite all expecations to the contrary.
Yet, in all respects, it feels as though time has stood still in this fertile valley at the foot of the Sneeuberg range, where Kompasberg – at 2 502m the second-highest peak in the Eastern Cape – watches over the town. Nieu-Bethesda still has dirt streets where, in the early mornings, you will see little piles of steaming cattle or horse manure, or possibly a tumbleweed or three. Just as in days gone by, the residents still get their leiwater (irrigation water) in turn thanks to an abundant fountain. There are still no banks, ATMs, filling stations or streetlights. And the urban refugees who arrive seeking asylum repeatedly recite the four praises in which four s’s ensure the necessary alliteration: solitary, slow, serene and starry – with a sprinkling of dust. >