A State of Euphorbia
There’s a lot more to Jansenville than meets the eye of the passing traveller
Even at 9am on a weekday, Jansenville can hardly be described as your classic bustling metropolis. The little Eastern Cape village snuggled deep into the Noorsveld offers wide streets, sunsets beyond money, all manner of protein and a sense of peace unheard of in big cities.
The few locals wandering the streets begin to cheer loudly, however, when their Working on Fire squad comes jogging up the hill, singing rhythmically and adding a special twinkle to everyone’s day.
We’ll get to Working on Fire later, just note for now that they’re a marvellous bunch. Let’s talk about the noors – all the spiky stuff you drive past on the dirt road between Pearston and Jansenville. It’s as biologically forbidding and ‘Eina! Ouch!’ as just about anything a Madagascan spiny forest could dish up.
The town is ringed by a startling variety of euphorbias, succulents that are generally toxic, filled with blistering milky latex. But the distinctive sweet noors, often found in thick prickly stands, is a different kind of euphorbia, edible in times of drought, with the agreeable habit of flowering and scattering nutritious seeds during the dry, hot midsummer.
And that’s not all. There is also the shepherd’s tree (delicately trimmed by goats and kudus), the prickly pear and the Aloe ferox. And look, there’s also some carbon-credit-friendly spekboom in the mix. You can imagine Boer and Brit having a go at each other in this hostile terrain during the Anglo-Boer War. Here's what General Jannie Smuts had to say about it in a speech he made in Jansenville long after the war:
‘It’s 20 years ago that I was in this area, when I had to bypass your town. On that occasion, I would very much have liked to have called in for a chat and a cup of coffee, but for your highly-armed fort and impenetrable noors’.
Among this setting are clumps of lovely airhead beasts – the Angora goats with their lustrous locks and not a lot going on between their ears. They give the fashion world mohair, one of the top natural fibres around,. But boet, "they’re also as dof as two planks.
They sometimes get lost in a dwaal while feeding on bossies and end up with their long locks firmly wrapped around the spiky noors. And for six weeks after shearing, they must be ushered into shelter if it gets cold, windy or rainy. Not the brightest sparks in the shearing shed, so to speak.
Near the northern entrance to Jansenville, the Queen of Kudu Pies rules supreme from a hilltop padstal called Thamela. A staggering variety of tasty hot pies issues from the kitchen of Tilana Backeberg, each with its own doughy code markings.
Ask any commercial traveller or farmer who stops here regularly and you will discover there is something special about her kudu pies. There’s nothing like seeing your kudu pie emerge fresh from the oven and sinking your fangs into its tasty, juicy magic five minutes later.
We’ve all had those dreadful package pies with their tricksy sell-by dates, disgustingly think dough and meerkat-roadkill fillin, so you know what I’m talking about. “I get a lot of kudu-pie spies coming around here, asking for the recipe,” says Tilana. But it’s a family recipe known only to Tilana and her husband Rudy – and it’s going to stay that way.
On the other side of town, the Queen of the Goat Samoosa has built her empire at a padstal by the Sundays River called Ark in the Karoo. You see, the Angora goat offers a little more than a nice blanket and a pretty face. To most people’s surprise, they can offer pretty good eating, as well. You don’t slag the kids because their ringlets have the most value. You go for the old nanny goats with
Bella the Airedale terrier, guardian dog of Thamela padstal.
The veld around Jansenville is rich in euphorbia species. ABOVE: Dawn on the PearstonJansenville road. LEFT: Jansenville’s Working on Fire squad on their cheery morning jog through the community.
ABOVE LEFT: The town fort and the dense noors that gave General Jan Smuts pause during the Anglo-Boer War. ABOVE: The Kudu Pie Queen, Tilana Backeberg. LEFT: The Angora goats of Blaauwkrantz Farm wend their way to the shearing shed. BELOW: Ark in the Karoo padstal on the banks of the Sundays River.