An icon ris­ing where Oom Paul’s cows grazed

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

SEV­ERAL lodges get called “iconic”. (Liv­ing lan­guage, hey; for cen­turies that was a rare word for a Rus­sian Ortho­dox fig­urine). For a while I think we even had a chief lodge, al­ways “iconic” – Mount Grace in the reign of its founder, Chippy Brand – get­ting ev­ery­thing right, all the time.

When Themba Mahleka in­vited me to a lodge called Kedar, it didn’t ring any chords. I as­sumed small and new. I gave Themba – its de­vel­op­ment man­ager – my stan­dard re­ply. I’ll see any­thing, on re­quest, but I write noth­ing un­less I be­lieve it’s valid for my read­ers. And no PR; I write the truth as I see it, which can be far from what the pro­pri­etors think I should see.

Themba was un­fazed. So we get to Kedar, which at 20 years is ar­guably new but at 66 units not small. It’s 1 000ha of what was Boeken­hout­fontein, Paul Kruger’s farm near Rusten­burg. It does reg­u­lar lodge stuff: game-drive, spa, etc. Its dif­fer­ent-sound­ing name comes from To­rah-Bi­ble-Qur’an; Kedar was the sec­ond son of Ish­mael and fore­bear of Mo­hamed. In one way it ploughs a fur­row all its own – idio­syn­cratic his­tory, un­ex­pected his­tory, un­fold­ing his­tory.

Ex­am­ple: in the 1890s, the farmer of Sterk­fontein – fa­mil­iar Sterk­fontein, a hop-and-skip north-west of Joburg, now fa­mous for Caves, Cra­dle and Mrs Ples’s grow­ing family – was one Sarel Oosthuizen. Come the war, Sarel had a stel­lar, brief, mil­i­tary ca­reer as a gen­eral fa­mous for fierce­ness, known as Rooi Bul.

On July 11, 1900, four of Sterk­fontein’s neigh­bour-farms hosted a bat­tle – a eu­pho­nious col­lec­tion, Dwarsvlei, Leeuhoek, Doorn­bosch­fontein and On­rus, but con­fus­ing. Which may have some bear­ing on why the bat­tle – big­gish, the Brits fired 38 000 rounds – slipped through mem­ory’s cracks.

One of its tales, a some­what fuzzy one, has Rooi Bul steal­ing a booby­trapped Bri­tish can­non, which blew up. A fuller one is of the Bri­tish com­man­der re­peat­edly, af­ter the bat­tle, press­ing an of­fer of sur­gi­cal treat­ment on Rooi Bul, who chose to die of his in­juries rather than owe his life to Bri­tish medics.

These sto­ries were close to lost un­til last Septem­ber, when they resur­faced at Kedar via a new ex­hibit that in­cludes (and even fired!) the same can­non (with re­placed bar­rel). That’s liv­ing his­tory, which is one of the pun­gent flavours here, where Oom Paul’s cattle grazed. Another is even-hand­ed­ness.

With four Kruger houses on the prop­erty, from the raw 1839 clay cottage to a wide-stoeped ranch-house 50 years younger, you’d ex­pect an Afrikaner per­spec­tive to dom­i­nate. No. The Kruger theme is the high point but, helped by a new se­ries of lo­cally made metal sculp­tures, ev­ery­one else has a look-in.

Bri­tain’s war­rior earls and knights, and their re­splen­dent tu­nics, get much more than to­ken sa­lu­ta­tion.

A tra­di­tion­al­ist Tswana an­gle comes in via Kgosi Mok­ga­tle, whose co-op­er­a­tion with Kruger landed what would be­come the Bafo­keng plat­inum for­tune. Mod­ernising Tswanadom is per­son­i­fied by Sol Plaatje, ren­dered so gen­tly in iron that you al­most see iron eyes blink­ing in­tel­lec­tu­ally be­hind his iron polka-dot bow-tie. Then, too, fig­ures you don’t ex­pect at all. Gandhi strides strongly. Rhodes has not fallen.

It’s com­mon now to stake a claim to ev­ery side of our vi­o­lent past, but it of­ten feels du­ti­ful, be­ing done be­cause it’s the vogue. Here? Hell, no. It’s done with pas­sion, and gives the im­pres­sion it is hatch­ing large fur­ther plans.

Some years down the line, Kedar out­side Pho­keng may have a stan­dard slot on the tourist cir­cuit, like a Wil­liams­burg or Strat­ford-upon-Avon. Peo­ple will say “iconic”.

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