An icon rising where Oom Paul’s cows grazed
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”.