Hoekwil and its Open Gardens

“The actual beauty of Olifantshoek/Hoekwil lies in the caring hearts of it’s people – yesterday and today!” Magda van Zyl.

As you drive through the lush countryside, you may wonder about the history of this beautiful area with its  indigenous forests, amber coloured streams  and spectacular mountain peaks.

At the end of the 19th century, many of the folk in the area we now know as Hoekwil and the lakes were woodcutters who exploited the timber for a living. Much of the ironwood was cut as timber for the mines and had to be carted to George before being sent on to the Witwatersrand. Initially, timber was plentiful and black stinkwood was generally used for planking for the wagons.

As the forests became depleted, the situation of the woodcutters became dire. As a solution, the House of Assembly of the Union Government passed a resolution in 1913 that the farm Olifantshoek (Hoekwil) should be transferred to “the Kerkraad of the George NG Church for the purposes of a labour colony for settlement.”

The resolution was put into effect in January 1915. In 1916 the Algemene Armsorg Kommissie (Poverty Relief Commission) of the George NG Church made the Olifantshoek farm available to families from the surrounding lakes area for the meagre rental of 25c per hectare per year. It was during that time (1912-1923), that ds. Jan Andries Beyers actively took the lead to change and improve the lives of many people, not only those from the lakes area. The establishment of a church settlement at Olifantshoek where about 25 families were accommodated, is a monument of his love and commitment towards the poorest of the poor of his people.

Hardship among the farming communities in the interior caused many to move to the Cape Colony, including the Southern Cape. The Rinderpest outbreak in the mid 1890s killed over 5-million cattle south of the Zambezi River, as well as sheep and goats, and wild populations of buffalo, giraffe, and wildebeest. After this, the farming community was decimated in the “South African War” (Second Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902) when homesteads and crops were burnt to the ground, leading to a period of economic hardship. The Afrikaner communities in the hinterland of the then Cape Colony and Orange Free State were in dire straits. East Coast fever killed about 1-million head of cattle between 1910 and 1912 in the Transvaal alone. One by one the families moved up to Olifantshoek, where there were neither houses nor a steady water supply. Houses were built, sometimes of wood, sometimes of sods, with rough thatching. Water furrows were dug to bring water from the mountains. Gradually a community took shape.

Throughout the years there has been a lot of development and now, after 100 years, the little village of Hoekwil is significantly different. It started off with schools being established by the church; water supply from the Divisional council replaced the old furrow system from the mountains; the railway line was built and gradually the ox wagon disappeared from the scene and large plantations were established.  In 1982 electricity eventually came to town – all this contributed to the material welfare of Hoekwil.

In more recent times, rising property values have led to many or the original inhabitants selling their smallholdings to people from upcountry and overseas, including a significant number of Germans.

For the last seven years residents of Hoekwil have opened their gardens to the delight of many of us living in the Southern Cape. Not only are the gardens lovely  and inspirational, also the spirit, tenacity  and hard work of these gardeners sets an example to other communities to share their own places of Eden that will bring  much joy to many.

We salute the following gardeners: Terry and Jenny Lamont-Smith, Johann and Renata Badenhorst, Andre and Dalene Strauss, Karl and Tilly Reitz.

Below a random gallery of the various gardens.