A Travellerspoint blog


Philippolis on the southern edge of the (Orange) Free State

South Africa 2003

The Orange River between Colesberg and Philippolis

The Orange River between Colesberg and Philippolis

A road from Colesberg runs north across the rolling hills of the Karoo for 60 kilometres to Philippolis (when spoken, emphasis is on the third syllable). Half way along this road we encountered the wide Orange River over which we crossed, entering the (Orange, formerly) Free State. The countryside along this road was dotted with aloes, creaking windmills, sheep and the occasional rather odd-looking cattle known as Boerebeeste.

If Colesberg can be described as a ‘one horse town’, then Philippolis is a ‘one horse village’. It was a village with charm and character.

Philippolis: The Old Jail

Philippolis: The Old Jail

Signposts directed us to the Old Jail House. Until about 46 years ago this was, in fact, the jail for Philippolis. The army then used it for about 20 years before it became a police post. For two years it remained derelict but largely untouched by vandals as the locals considered the place to be haunted. Its most recent owner, Harry, bought the jail and has turned it into a bed and breakfast business. He has preserved as many as possible of the jail's features and guests may spend the night in the cells.

Cells in the Old Jail of Philippolis

Cells in the Old Jail of Philippolis

The converted warden's office is very popular with honeymoon couples. We stayed in a large bungalow next door to the jail.

Laurens Van der Post was born here

Laurens Van Der Post was born in Philippolis. Following his death in 1996 at the age of 96, a very beautiful memorial to him has been laid out at the edge of the ‘white’ part of the village just near to the edge of the ‘black’ part. A series of white concrete pillars, representing the various stages of Van Der Post's ‘journey through life’, overlook a beautiful sunken garden made up with stones and bricks of many textures, all having various symbolic meanings.

Philippolis: Van Der Post memorial garden

Philippolis: Van Der Post memorial garden

Adjoining this, there is a small guesthouse that is a very good piece of contemporary architecture. The architect of the whole memorial complex is a South African woman. Jens Friis, a PhD law student at Stellenbosch and travel writer, and his mother Naomi, showed us around. We explored Philippolis, which is essentially a fine collection of old single-storied houses with stoeps and often adorned with decorative cast-iron work. There is no restaurant in this town, only a café, the Kokkowitz Café, which closed at 7 in the evening. Harry had arranged for us and, it seemed, all of the other guests at the Old Jail House to have dinner at the home of the Friis family, near the Van Der Post memorial. We enjoyed a bottle of very good red wine, which was produced in the Free State.

Adam Kok lived here

Harry does not provide breakfast himself, but instead he told us to eat it at the Kokkowitz Café. After a very long wait, we received an excellent fried breakfast. We then walked past the simple flat-roofed house that used to be the residence of Adam Kok (1811-1875), the King of the Griquas, to see the houses that used to be owned by the father of Van Der Post, where the author was born. In Voortrekker Street we visited the Trans Garriep Museum. This museum was icily cold inside. It contains a series of rooms that attempt to reconstruct the kind of house in which white people lived in 19th century Philippolis. There is a small exhibit about the London Missionary Society that set up a mission in the town and also another about the Griqua Kingdom that thrived in the 19th century, and its successful King Adam Kok III.

The Public Library is next door to the museum and is housed in one of the town's largest buildings. Formerly this was the home of the Jacobsohn family who owned a shop, still standing but now closed, in the town. The Jacobsohns, the last Jewish family living in the area, now live on a farm and have donated their home to the town. A very friendly and informative librarian showed us her library. Most of the books were in Afrikaans, also quite a few in English. There were also books in Southern Sotho, Xhosa, and Tswana (only two books in this language - one appearing to be a manual on woodworking). Philippolis is located in an area where several different kinds of Africans live. Many of the ‘black’ people in the area have some Griqua ancestry.



The librarian's parting words to us were:
"You never know what will kill us here in South africa, but one thing is certain, and that is we will never die of boredom!"

Posted by ADAMYAMEY 12:53 Archived in South Africa Tagged south_africa philipolis Comments (2)


A tiny town in the Eastern Cape

A noteworthy grandfather

There used to be a mountain railway (with switch-backs zig-zagging up and down mountain sides) connecting Barkly East with its neighbour Lady Grey, but now it no longer functions. It was built with the encouragement of Barkly East's mayor Iwan Bloch. Iwan Bloch was my grandfather. In 2003, we visited Barkly East to see where my mother and her siblings spent the first 10 years of their childhood.


After skirting a ‘Black’ township, the road crosses a very small bridge over a very narrow river into Barkly East. This small bridge used to be known as the Bloch Bridge (named after my grandfather). We received a warm welcome from the three people who run the Old Mill, a very comfortable guesthouse.

Downtown Barkly East

Downtown Barkly East

Nothing is left of the main building of Seligmann’s, the shop run by Iwan Bloch, except a large warehouse that used to be part of the company – the wool store - still stands. Opposite the Market Square Mukheibir’s Stores still stands, now a supermarket, but still run by the same family that ran it in the 1920s. Number 22 White Street was, according to my aunt's map, the home of the Blume family (Mr Blume and Iwan Bloch were both directors of Seligmann’s). Number 23, also a corner plot, is the house that was formerly owned by my grandparents Iwan and Ilse Bloch. This house is now the home of the Van Zyl family who own a farm about 45 Km outside Barkly East, and also own the Bridge Café near the Bloch Bridge. We were fortunate to have been allowed to look around inside it.

Apartheid of the dead

The road to the village of Rhodes passes the entrance to the Barkly East cemetery. A very poor looking shantytown, consisting mainly of shacks made of corrugated iron sheets, borders and overlooks the cemetery.


In an enclosure at the far end of the cemetery is the little Jewish section containing 11 graves. Of these 5 had been defaced and could not be identified. In fact many of the Christian graves had also suffered vandalism. In a country with so many poor people, as in South Africa, the marble and other valuable trimmings on unguarded gravestones are very attractive as targets for theft. Amongst the remaining six were the graves of Oscar Levy (second husband of Ilse Bloch), Emil Seligmann (nephew of Sigmund Seligmann, who founded my grandfather's shop in 1885) who ran the Rhodes’ branch of Sigmund’s company) and Jack Vallentine (who worked for Sigmund Seligmann and also married his wife’s sister). Next to the cemetery for ‘white’ people is a large cemetery for ‘black’ people. Even when dead, the apartheid regime decided to separate ‘black’ from ‘white’.


Posted by ADAMYAMEY 09:19 Archived in South Africa Tagged cape south_africa barkly_east Comments (0)

(Entries 1 - 2 of 2) Page [1]