Karoo to Coast race remembers the Langkloof’s early pioneers

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The Zondaghs of the Langkloof. From left: Francois, Jimmy, Magdel and James Zondagh.

The adage that art imitates life may be truer than we think, especially when it comes to the people and places in one of South Africa’s most cherished stories: Fiela se kind (Fiela’s Child).

Wolwekraal, the farm on which the story mostly takes place, is a Zondagh family farm and the author, Dalene Mathee was a friend of the family.

The Zondagh name is synonymous with the Avontuur area on the R62 between George and Uniondale. Today Zondagh descendants still farm the area and are one of the area’s oldest suppliers of apples and pears to Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing.

Jimmy Zondagh with the bugle his father blew to alert incoming mail.

The region’s unofficial historian, Jimmy Zondagh tells me: “Dalene Mathee mentions Petrus Hendrik (Piet), my great grandfather in her book. Most of us in this area farm on Avontuur which was shared among his descendants. Our family today lives on Belle-Vue which is also where Piet Zondagh is buried”, he says. “My father was Matthys Petrus (Matt) who farmed here but also operated a post-cart service between Avontuur and Mill River in the direction of George. This is the bugle that he blew when the post-cart approached.”

Aiding the community

Jimmy Zondagh has a treasure trove of memorabilia and an amazing collection of vintage cars and old agricultural equipment. Jimmy and his wife Magdel were among those who started a fund-raising event which today, in its 20th year, is The Karoo to Coast MTB, and which has contributed significantly to Sightfirst, the South African Guide Dog Association and other urgent needs in the community. “A total of 4 307 cataract operations in the Southern Cape have been paid for by the Karoo to Coast funds and 60 guide dogs (puppies) were donated through SA Guide Dog Association through monies raised,” he says.

The 100km off-road route of the Buco Lion’s Karoo to Coast from Uniondale to Knysna, which is also supported by Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, takes in the R339 which features the iconic Prince Alfred’s Pass. Many have called this pass Thomas Bain’s greatest work.

Bain tackled the forested valleys and steep slopes and, with his crew of convict labourers, cut and dry-walled for four years to link the Klein Karoo to the coast. According to the Knysna Historic Society, the pass was opened to light traffic during 1866. When Prince Alfred (the second son of Queen Victoria) visited in September 1867 it was re-named  after which the pass was officially opened on September 29, 1868.

Jimmy Zondagh still remembers family visits by ox wagon over the pass to Plettenberg Bay. “The site that is today The Beacon Island Hotel was a family property and we used to camp nearby,” he says. The pass traverses four different biomes on its route from the Klein Karoo plains to the coast. A section of the pass also bisects the Middle Keurbooms Conservancy – a 30 000-hectare conservation and eco-tourism hot spot.

Zondagh explains that at 68,5 km it is officially the second longest mountain pass in South Africa (behind the 73,3km Baviaans-Kouga 4×4 route). That pass, however, is not accessible to sedan vehicles, making it technically the longest pass in South Africa. It also holds the distinction as the second oldest unaltered pass still in use and it is also the only pass in South Africa where people live alongside the road.

Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing managing director, Roelf Pienaar says that the Zondaghs of the Langkloof were among the first to partner with Tru-Cape and the company values their continued contribution. – Press release

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