Latest News! 23rd July, 2020.

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The farms are looking good in the Overberg The farms are looking good in the Overberg - Photo: Archives

The week that was

* Western Cape drought broken

* Tours update

* Road signage and vandalism

* History of Du Toitskloof Pass

* Bloukrans Pass completely closed

* Podcast

* Pass of the Week

* Words of wisdom


Weather Watch:

At the time of writing this newsletter, average dam levels for the City of Cape Town were at 77.4% after three major cold fronts swept in, bringing heavy downpours, snow and gale force winds. Even Namibia and Namqualand were drenched, promising a good showing of wild-flowers during August and September (if our government allows us to travel!) It seems the drought in the Western Cape is now finally broken. The Eastern Cape did get some rain, but not nearly enough.

Tours Update:

August: All tours cancelled or postponed due to Covid travel restrictions.
September: Ben 10 V3 Tour - Fully booked
October: Swartberg 2020 Tour - 3 tickets left. Click here to book.
November: Wild Coast Tour - Fully booked

Signage refursbishment project

Progress is slow, as time and good weather windows permit. As always with new projects, the learning curve is steep. An extraordinary amount of interest has developed from our social media postings about road sign vandalism and particularly so amongst the biking fraternity. We are starting things off with an education programme. The best way to connect with a biker is to ask him how he would feel if we pasted an MPSA sticker on his bike without his permission. The response is predictable - Outrage!

"Then how come you think it's OK to put a sticker on our signboards?"

That brings the point home instantly. We are connecting with all the major biking clubs in South Africa to get the point across and a national biking magazine will be doing a feature on the issue as well. It's a start and hopefully within a few years we will have a better culture amongst adventure travellers to not deface road signs.

A number of interesting options have arisen as suggested by readers and followers - some of that well worth considering and one of the Rotary Clubs are interested in assisting as well.

Closure of the Bloukrans Pass on the R102

We posted a photo on our Facebook page of the new concrete blocks which now completely block access to the old Bloukrans Pass - one of Thomas Bain's early construction projects and clearly a much loved pass by the greater South African public. The post attracted 28,700 views and 204 comments. It would seem that the new measures are a combination of ensuring Covid 19 inter provincial travel is controlled and some of the comments suggest that smugglers are using the old pass to evade the road block on the N2. Others feel the Eastern Cape roads department is to blame, as the eastern half of the pass lies in that province, whilst the better maintained western half lies within the Western Cape. The Bloukrans River forms the actual provincial border.

It will remain to be seen if the concrete blocks are removed after Covid 19. Like so many things at the moment, conspiracy theories abound. One thing is for certain, the old pass is a much loved part of South African history. 

The pass can still be driven from the eastern side, but when you reach the western end, you will have to retrace your route back to the start. Please understand that if anything happens to you or your vehicle, you will have no insurance cover or claim against the relevant roads authority as the pass is officially closed.

History - Du Toitskloof Pass and the manganese mine. (Sent in by Kuba Miszewski)

This interesting article provides an insight into some of the history around Du Toitskoof Pass.
It was written by Peter E. Spargo from Rondebosch, Cape Town in 1999.

Although the Western Cape is not generally considered a mining area, over the centuries, there have in fact been a remarkable number of mining ventures in the area. Thus at one time or another gold, silver, tin, manganese and tungsten mines have all operated in the region – honestly or fraudulently! Amongst the most fascinating of these mines have been those devoted to the extraction of manganese – and none more than that in Du Toit’s Kloof.

Manganese has been known since at least the first century of the Christian era and for the last few centuries has been used on a small scale for operations such as decolourising glass, while its oxide was later used in the production of chlorine. As a result it has long been sought by prospectors and it is therefore somewhat surprising, that the metal, whose ores are so widely distributed throughout the Western Cape, should not have aroused more comment earlier in the Colony’s history. However, in the early-1870’s a substantial deposit of manganese ore was discovered in Du Toit’s Kloof above the point where the Molenaars River joins Du Toit’s Kloof Stream, i.e. near the old original road tunnel, up above to the right as you face Worcester direction. It is not clear who the original discoverer was of the deposit, but we know that by the mid-1870’s a substantial mining operation was underway on the site.

[More lower down]

We can do no better than reprint an early (1875) description of the mine by John Noble, Clerk of the Cape Legislative Assembly, who reported that:

‘A new source of wealth has recently been developed in the mountain range directly opposite the Paarl. Rich veins of manganese ore run through the sandstone formation there in various directions, and at one spot, in the locality known as Du Toit’s Kloof, it forms a great lode, standing out like a craggy ridge on the hill tops, and extending in mass over hundreds of yards. It is said to contain thousands of tons of ore. This is now being worked, and is found to be of a very superior quality, yielding from seventy to ninety per cent.’

The ore that was exposed on the surface of the mountain could be, and indeed was, mined directly. However, in order to extract that portion of the orebody which was underground, the early miners drove a horizontal tunnel, known as a drive or adit, into the hillside until it intersected the orebody. The pieces of ore were then loaded underground into small railway trucks, holding perhaps 200 to 300kg, and these were run by hand along a gently sloping narrow-gauge railway track to the entrance of the adit. Here the ore was sorted by hand with the pieces containing the highest percentage of manganese readily recognisable as being the most dense and the darkest in colour. The poor quality ore, which usually had patches of brown due to the presence of iron, as well as other waste rock, was dumped near the entrance to the adit.

The really daunting problem facing the miners at the time, was how the ore was to be transported to the nearest railhead, which was Wellington, many kilometres away, and from where it would be taken to Cape Town for export overseas. The present road through Du Toit’s Kloof, building of which commenced during the Second World War using Italian prisoners of war and was only opened in March 1949, was of course then not in existence, and the narrow cattle track which ran through the kloof would have been quite inadequate for the wagons which would be required to move such large masses of material.

It was therefore decided to build a cableway – described at the time as ‘an aerial wire tram’! – from the mine to a spot a few kilometres from Wellington, where the ground was relatively flat and from which wagons could readily transport the ore to the station in the town, at that time the terminus of the railway from Cape Town. This meant erecting a series of stout steel support towers, each on a rectangle stone base, and stringing on these a pair of parallel heavy steel cables, starting from the mine, up the Du Toit’s Kloof, over the crest of the neck where the road backtracks and goes down towards Wellington – a distance of some eight kilometres. [The terminus of the cableway is in the Daljosaphat Forest Reserve about five hundred meters above to the right and from Hawequas. I found it some years ago after a fire, but now that the forest has regenerated, it would take a fair hunt to find it again. There were still some old bottles and pieces of porcelain plates that could be found on the site.] Engines at either end of the support cable would pull buckets loaded with ore, from the mine along one of the cables to this terminus near Wellington, while the empty buckets would return along the other cable.

Drawing of the old cableway

The cableway was designed, manufactured, installed and apparently operated successfully, although many of its technical details are still obscure. Given the remoteness, ruggedness and extreme steepness of parts of the terrain which had to be traversed, as well as the great weight of the steel cables, the support towers and the haulage machinery, as well as the lack of suitable roads along which this great mass of material had to be hauled, this must without question rank as one of the truly great South African engineering feats. Sadly, it has and was never acknowledged as such – or indeed in any way. Unfortunately as well, no photographic record of the cableway appears to have survived, but the illustrations in a roughly contemporary manual, C.G. Warnford Lock’s Practical Gold-Mining (London, 1889) provides us with what is no doubt a reasonably clear idea of what the cableway looked like. (Refer to illustrations below).

Sometime In the late-1870’s the mine closed down. The reasons are not known, but is probably largely due to economics. Perhaps, like so many mines throughout the world, it ran out of capital rather than ore, or perhaps the world price of manganese fell to a point where mining was simply uneconomical? But the situation was to change in a most unexpected way. 

In 1882 Robert (later Sir Robert) Hadfield, an eminent British metallurgist, made a remarkable discovery. Steel was tough but not very hard, while cast iron was hard but brittle. Hadfield was therefore searching for a material which possessed the toughness of steel with the hardness of cast iron. Eventually he discovered that a manganese-iron alloy possessed just those qualities – as well as being remarkably resistant to abrasion. This discovery was to change the face of metallurgy throughout the world – and perhaps even the very nature of Western society itself – and make manganese one of the most important of all alloying elements, a quality which it retains to this day in numerous extremely important products such as railway tracks.

Sketch of some of the machinery

Hadfield’s discovery meant that throughout the world there was energetic prospecting for new deposits of manganese, while old deposits and mines were re-examined with fresh eyes. Clearly the abandoned Du Toit’s Kloof mine was one of these, for it cannot simply be a coincidence that in 1883 we learn that, although the mine had not yet actually resumed working, a new cable was being installed in the cableway system. The following year the mine is reported as having been re-opened and was being worked by a private company, the ore being described as ‘plentiful and rich’. Once again, we have no evidence as to how long the mine operated and how much ore was actually transported to Wellington, but there is evidence that by the turn of the century it was definitely closed again, and by 1907 it was already being referred to as the ‘Old Manganese Mine’. A further attempt to work the mine in about 1911 resulted In an attempt to obtain a mining lease from the Government, the mine being on Crown Land, but nothing more is heard of this project and it was presumably not followed through.

Thus ended what is thus far the Western Cape’s largest mining venture. Like so many other mines throughout the world, it raised high the hopes of many people, absorbed a substantial amount of capital, was conceived with technical boldness and vision, prosecuted with skill, determination and courage by the miners themselves, but in the end failed due to one – or perhaps both – of those two eternal enemies of mining ventures everywhere: shortage of capital and insufficient reserves of payable ore. (Fraud has of course also played a prominent role in the failure of numerous mining ventures, with exploration samples all too often being ‘salted’ to increase their apparent value, but there is no evidence that this was the case here.)

Today all that remains of this bold venture are the underground workings at the mine itself (which must be entered with extreme caution due to a semi-collapsed portion about halfway along the adit where it passes through a clay band), there are some very dangerous open excavations above the entrance to the adit, a few of which are flooded, a number of piles of ore, pieces of the original machinery for working the cableway, and a number of rectangular stone structures which served as the foundations for the steel towers carrying the steel ropes of the cableway.

As far as the route of the original cableway is concerned, this can still be traced in many places by the pieces of manganese ore lying on the ground – presumably spilled out of the containers moving overhead. The stone foundations of the terminus of the cableway, not far from Wellington and located as mentioned in the forest, has unfortunately been damaged by forestry operations and is urgently needing restoration by a local historical group. Failing this, then another visible piece of our history will soon disappear. Of the company records there is, sadly, virtually no remnant.


A chat about Part 2 of the construction of Andrew Bain's masterpiece - Bain's Kloof Pass and a day or two in the dentist's chair.

Pass of the Week:

It is perfectly appropriate for us to feature the Bloukrans Pass this week. At least we have good video footage of it for you to enjoy.

* * * * *   B L O U K R A N S   P A S S   * * * * *


Trygve Roberts

Words of Wisdom: "Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.”– Chris Grosser 

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