What hard work can do
If one man could build an enduring town in the desert a century ago, why can we not set high standards for ourselves today?
hirteen months ago my lovely wife and I took the mini-Malalas on a road trip. We stopped at a small town called Matjiesfontein. The tykes loved it. We loved it. We enjoyed a lovely lunch and then set off on our journey.
I was, however, struck by the words of James Douglas Logan, the founder of this picturesque one-street town on the N1 from Jo’burg into Cape Town.
When asked how he had managed to build the place up, he answered: “It was not that I have done so much, rather that others had done so little.”
As our government leaders tell you that our education system is improving and that the matric results are something to be proud of, you might want to reflect just a little bit on this piece of wisdom. Could it be that we are holding ourselves up against the laggards of the world? How about we start shooting for the stars?
Five weeks ago, my lovely wife and I felt somewhat peckish as we drove once more to the Cape. And so it was that we stopped at Matjiesfontein again.
We had left Jo’burg as rolling blackouts swept across the country, thanks to Eskom, so electricity supply was sort of top of mind. So imagine my surprise when I learnt that Logan was the first person to install electric lighting in a private home dwelling in SA. Oh, and he was also first in SA to have a flushing toilet.
You might want to reflect on the fact that Matjiesfontein, which is now a national heritage site, is in the middle of the desert. What it had — a century ago — is called infrastructure development. So one’s thoughts may be turned towards the question of how it is that Eskom cannot complete the Medupi and Kusile power stations today.
The founder of Matjiesfontein should be held up at business schools as an example of what an entrepreneur can achieve.
The young Logan bought the small, insignificant piece of land called Matjiesfontein in 1884. It was nothing but semi-desert and a railway siding.
Says the Matjiesfontein website: “In those early days, dining cars were unheard of, and — aware that travellers needed sustenance on those interminable journeys to the interior — Logan saw the potential of this remote Matjiesfontein halt. He had already found the Karoo air beneficial for his weak chest; and, entranced by the lunar majesty of the landscape, resigned his post and set about creating a village, seemingly in the depths of nowhere, which would make his fortune and become for many what John Buchan . . . would have recognised as a ‘Temenos’ — a special place of the spirit.”
It wasn’t luck. Logan planted trees which still stand, and gardens, and established the famous Lord Milner Hotel, which attracts visitors from across the globe even today.
The town gained fame as a health spa, interesting characters flocked there or passed through, and Logan was made. Olive Schreiner wrote her famous work, The Story of An African Farm , in the village.
You can experience all these marvels and more in just a few hours in Matjiesfontein. Everything there is preserved. It is as it was, almost, 100 years ago.
Many visitors swear by the Lord Milner Hotel. Some young people have claimed it is haunted. It’s pretty. But we stopped for grub at the Laird’s Arms. We knew exactly what we wanted. There were five of us. We all ordered fish and chips. Talk about consensus. President Jacob Zuma’s cabinet should try that — and some hard work.
My lovely wife and I had a couple of beers. The place might be in the middle of the desert, but the hake tasted fresh and divine. The chips were very good. We ate like entrepreneurs at the conclusion of a deal.