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.

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