You’ll find German hospitality at its best in the small settlement of Lüneburg in KZN
The top end of the Pongola Valley looks splendid in her finery: the grass veld is a lush green, wildflowers are springing up, and the streams are in spate after the first spring rains. To get here from Piet Retief, you travel 55 km along “the most rugged road in the country” and cross the Ntombe River, which joins the Pongola further down the valley. It’s an area that’s not only abundant in water but also in history.
About 8 km from Lüneburg, the rugged road passes by Ntombe Church, an imposing red-brick building constructed in 1860 for one of two mission stations in the area.
In 1854, the Hermannsburg Missionary Society in Germany dispatched, to South Africa, missionaries who built a mission station at the settlement they came to name Hermannsburg.
A second group of missionaries arrived in 1859 to build the stations Ntombe and Ekhombela. They brought with them a group of artisans and workers to help with the construction, but financial pressures later led to their discharge from the mission society. These artisans and their families ultimately settled in the valley – and soon discovered the natural forests growing on the slopes of Ncaga Mountain. They began logging yellowwood and stinkwood trees and selling the wood in Barberton, which enabled them to buy land for farming.
The year 1869 saw the establishment of the Lüneburg congregation, who built a small sod church.
Continuing your journey, the road descends deeper into the valley and, in the distance, at the foot of Ncaga Mountain, the steeple of Lüneburg church emerges among jacaranda trees. The sight will beckon you to look twice, but don’t let it distract your attention from the road. The residents of Lüneburg are keen to improve the roads in the area, but may not do so since the road network falls under state ownerwhip and maintenance. The district’s farms span two provinces: locals on the KwaZulu-Natal side are permitted to maintain the roads themselves, but doing so in Mpumalanga could land them accountable for any road accidents which may occur.
“At least the condition of the road deters cattle theft,” Martin Niebuhr says. “It’s the only road between Lüneburg and Wakkerstroom. If anyone plans on stealing here, they have to be prepared to negotiate this terrible road.”
The Niebuhr family farm lies 7 km from Lüneburg’s church, school, butchery and shop. Four Niebuhr families live here; the young children are the sixth generation on the farm.
“That mountain is Mhlangamvula – which means ‘where the rain is collected’,” Martin says, looking up at the clouds gathering above the >
Drakensberg peak. A farmer always keeps an eye on the weather. “Alongside it is Mhlangampisi, or KwaMandlangampisi. It’s the secondhighest peak in Mpumalanga – 2 266 m above sea level.”
The four families are getting together for a braai tonight, as they often do. “Three times during the week, and four times over a weekend!” jokes Ingelore, Martin and Uwe’s mother. Everyone moves inside to help themselves: braaivleis, smoked sausage, baked potatoes, salad, pickled vegetables and fresh bread with jam. Before they eat they say grace in song, in German… and in perfect harmony.
“I’d say that 90% of socialising here takes place through the church, but we also have many friends in the area,” Martin says.
“We often braai together,” Nicola adds. “And when the children play sport, we parents get to catch up.”
The church youth group offers an opportunity for the young people to socialise. “You join the youth group at age 16 and continue until you get married,” Martin says. “All the young people in the area get together on Sundays to play games and sport.
“There’s also an annual competition involving all the German communities in South Africa; a big day when about 1 200 people gather to play sport and make music.”
Music is an important part of their lives. Nicola plays the organ in church and teaches piano at the school. She is paid a small stipend, but she regards it more as a hobby – many parents give back to the community in some way or other.
Nicola, who studied hotel management, manages Wandersheim selfcatering accommodation on the farm. Martin and Uwe’s main business is forestry and timber harvesting – pine, eucalyptus and wattle. They also farm with maize and soya beans, and rent out portions of their land for grazing.
The two Niebuhr brothers are >