Anglo-Boer War Spy – Maria Koopmans-De Wet

Posted on June 10, 2014 by Cape Rebel

by Marthinus van Bart


Maria Koopmans-De Wet (1834-1906) came from a prominent Afrikaans family in Cape Town. Her father, Johannes de Wet, LLD, had been both an advocate and an acting president of the Cape Legislative Council. This sophisticated, erudite and highly intelligent woman was respected by all, but – in addition – feared by Cecil John Rhodes and his henchmen. Rhodes called her the most dangerous person in the Cape Colony, ‘more dangerous even than Onze Jan Hofmeyr of the Afrikaner Bond’. Owing to her sharp intellect and eloquence, Maria was a formidable opponent of Rhodes.

When Rhodes wanted to demolish part of the Castle to make way for a tramline to Sea Point, she took up the cudgels against him. He blustered that it was only a small part of the Castle that would be removed, to which Maria countered: ‘His nose is only a small part of Mr Rhodes’s face. Let him have it amputated, then look in the mirror to see how he looks.’

She also blocked the chopping-down of old oak trees in the Company Gardens to make way for a new High Court between Parliament and Tuynhuis. The High Court was later erected between Keerom and Queen Victoria Streets, where it stands today.

Maria was prominent in arranging mass meetings to protest against the Anglo-Boer War, and in particular to condemn the concentration camps, the scorched earth tactics of the British forces, and the deportation of Boer prisoners. As a result, the military authorities dubbed her a ‘Cape Rebel’ and the pro-Empire press labelled her as ‘Queen of the Rebel Ladies’. After martial law was declared in Cape Town, she was placed under house arrest; and scarcely a day went by without her house, 23 Strand Street, being searched by the military police.

Although she never admitted it, Maria was in fact one of the leaders of a women’s espionage ring, nicknamed the Kappie Kommando, which reported to the Boer secret service in Pretoria (the Speciale Diensten der Z.A. Republiek). One day the military police arrived to search her home while she was seated at her worktable, busy with espionage-related correspondence. She took a needlework basket, also on her table, and thrust it under the noses of the inspectors with the sarcastic remark that they had neglected to check its contents. The inspectors were so taken aback that they overlooked the incriminating letters on her table.

Maria worked closely with Emily Hobhouse, several relief committees and the Red Cross, to raise funds and bring some comfort to those in the concentration camps and to Boer prisoners of war. Food, medicine and clothing were collected, packed and stored in her home in Strand Street, for distribution – like the information she gathered – to its destination. She also corresponded regularly with British pro-Boer intellectuals, such as the publisher William Stead.

The neo-classical Koopmans-De Wet House, designed by Louis Michel Thibault, stands as a proclaimed heritage site in Strand Street, Cape Town. After Maria’s death on 2 August 1906, it was preserved as an eighteenth-century house-museum, which it remains to this day.X

Posted in English

Cape Kitchen

Posted on June 04, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From  Leipoldt’s Cellar & Kitchen
by C Louis Leipoldt

In the good old days, when she still bore the hallmarks of a true mother city, nurturing western civilisation, Cape Town was home to genuinely old-fashioned Afrikaans cooking at its outstanding best. No nation’s culinary art can really be appraised from what is served in hotels and public eateries: to fully appreciate the finest cuisine, the connoisseur must have special friends with exceptional cooks, for excellent traditional food is invariably found in private homes, not restaurants.
This was no less true of Cape Town. Fifty years ago, the food in our hotels and fashionable cafés, such as that of Kamp, was generally prepared and served in accordance with European guidelines. There were, of course, notable exceptions, one being the highly regarded White House in Strand Street, which had a good collection of game in its backyard – I particularly remember a young camel that, alas, didn’t survive very long. The White House was renowned for its excellent table. Even at eight in the morning, one could relish sosaties with fried bananas and no less than six different sambals. Lunch was especially enjoyable, and from time to time the menu would contain such delicacies as turnip and tomato bredie, curried crayfish soup, saffron bobotie with almonds and raisins, and stewed veldkool. A dessert that was particularly savoured by plattelanders and Capetonians alike was the thin, juicy, fragrant pancakes with a delicious sauce made from eggs, cream and Van der Hum. Another hotel with excellent food, and a really impressive cellar, was the Old Royal in Plein Street. Queens in Sea Point was, in later years, also well known for its first-rate table, although not for authentic Afrikaans cooking.
The best traditional Afrikaans dishes were to be found in private homes and small boarding houses. There you could enjoy really outstanding traditional fare, properly prepared as it should be, over the moderated heat of a wood fire – we would not have considered scorching our food with a hot wire! The best of the Afrikaans boarding houses was probably that of old Miss Wahl in Queen Victoria Street, the popular home-from-home of many platteland Members of Parliament. The hostess was herself an excellent cook, with the knack of being able to prepare simple yet exceptionally delicious food. Some of the house recipes, such as her crayfish salad, crayfish frikkadel, bean soup and milk tart, were as traditional as you could get. And one of the simple delights there was her coffee, served with plain cake and a really good preserve.
Traditional Afrikaans cooking can be compared to that found in the area south of the Ardour River in France. There you find the closest relative of our boerewors. There too you encounter the habit of serving up, in all its grisly splendour, an ox head, complete with horns and skin, slow-roasted in a huge oven. This is decidedly out of favour in these parts, but I nevertheless encountered it in the Transvaal. The last time I tried it – and it was absolutely delicious – I was in the company of General Botha. He declared, pertinently and with relish, that the cheek of an ox head, slow-roasted in this manner, was the tastiest meat a human tooth could ever chew.
The culinary art is essentially the art of making food tastier and more nourishing, and additives are both useful and necessary for this purpose. A dish without salt is not only tasteless, it is less nourishing than one that has been properly salted. Salt is a spice that must be used carefully, but just as boldly, as ginger, fennel, or cinnamon. I know a species of sage that improves the taste of a potato bredie twentyfold, and a geranium leaf – one from somewhere in the eastern districts – that considerably improves the taste of a chop. If we were more serious about our culinary art, we wouldn’t hesitate to harness the treasures of veld and kloof, for one thing is sure: without experimentation there will be no progress.
7 August 1942

Posted in English

Camp Chops

Posted on May 21, 2014 by Cape Rebel

From Leipoldt’s Cellar & Kitchen
by C Louis Leipoldt


When it comes to camping, tame meat – whether mutton or pork – is always at its best in the form of chops. To braai them properly, you need a hot fire, made of leadwood or thorn-tree in the Transvaal, and in the southern parts any wood that makes good coals. Here in the Cape we are privileged to be able to place a layer of rhinoceros bush over the coals, imparting to the chops a uniquely fragrant taste, but this is a refinement lacking at most campsites – instead you can rub the meat with herbs according to taste.

But choose your chops well, and see to it that they are soft and tender. First give them a tap with a clean stone or a piece of wood – not too hard, for you don’t want to break the fibres – you should only bruise them a little to get rid of the stiffness. Salt them – a pinch of fine ginger in the salt is delicious, and some people are very fond of coriander or aniseed. Dry them well – a wet chop will never braai as well as it should.

Then place them on the grill. If you haven’t brought one along, you could improvise with some of Uncle’s wire fencing, but it is generally preferable to take your own along. First grease the grill with some fat, and make sure it is nice and hot before placing the meat on it. Three or four chops can withstand the initial fire-shock together, but pay close attention to them and ensure that you turn them over as soon as they are nicely browned on the one side. When done, serve immediately with or without a lump of butter. If you have such overly civilised implements as knives and forks with you, a lump of butter is recommended, but a chop should really be eaten as King Louis XIV preferred his – with his fingers. His Majesty did that at table, however, not when he was out camping. His darling, Auntie De Maintenon, found it so unbearably rude the way he used to dirty his jacket – the one with the golden fleece on it, nogal – with dripping fat, that she ordered the cook always to serve the king’s chops with a piece of paper lace around the bone. That is how we came to have Cotelette à la Maintenon – mutton chops with frumpled pieces of paper around the bone. The way they are usually served in hotels, there is – if the truth be told – not much difference between the meat and the paper when it comes to taste and juiciness.

Therefore see to it that you camp chops will not suffer any such reproach. They should have good flavour, and be soft and tasty. It is no small matter to achieve all this with a grill, which is why some people prefer to braai them in a pan. I have nothing against that – a chop fried in a pan can be delicious, but it can also be the opposite. It all depends on the way it is done. A proper chop should retain all its juiciness, so the fire should be glowing hot, to scorch the surface of the meat, which should then be quickly roasted right through. The result is a juicy piece of meat that almost melts in your mouth.

What to eat with it? As far as I’m concerned, I can imagine nothing nicer than a piece of white farm bread, well plastered with farm butter, its inside just as soft as the meat should be and with a beautiful golden-brown crust into which your teeth, be they natural or false, can bite with relish. Vegetables and other additions? I know that camp hospitality ensures that these are always at hand, but I consider them superfluous. A good slice of bread and a chop – they go together like husband and wife, and to separate them from each other is an affront and a sin.

29 March 1946


Posted in English

Rev. David Ross

Posted on May 14, 2014 by Cape Rebel


David Ross was born in Scotland on 24 May 1831. He obtained university degrees in teaching and theology, also studying some medicine and law in the course of his training. After further study in Holland, he immigrated to South Africa. In 1863 became the dominee of the newly established Dutch Reformed Church in Lady Grey, serving a widespread rural community and travelling vast distances on horseback.

The 68-year-old Ross had been serving the Lady Grey community for some 36 years when the Anglo-Boer War broke out in 1899. He looked askance on the imperialistic ambitions of Rhodes and others, and his sympathies lay with the Boers. His son was a headmaster in Pretoria who fought for the Boers.

As Lady Grey was part of the Cape Colony, Ross was acutely aware of the implications for members of his congregation of taking up arms in favour of the Boers, and he counselled them not to do so unless they had no option (Lady Grey having at one stage been occupied by Boer commandos for about four months). This advice was not always heeded, and when the British regained control of Lady Grey in March 1900, martial law was declared. The arrest of one of his elders directly after a Sunday morning church service resulted in Ross taking strong exception and remonstrating with a British colonel. This led to Ross’s own house being surrounded and searched; he was accused of having helped recruit Cape Rebels and of hiding weapons in his house; and this culminated in his arrest and trial for treason.

Ross represented himself during his trial. He was acquitted, and won admiration – even from his enemies – for his skilful cross-examination of those who testified against him. He was freed, but restrictions were imposed: he could only travel when in possession of a pass, and his horse was seized. Ross complained in a letter to Lord Roberts, which resulted in the restrictions being suspended, but he was then subpoenaed to testify at the trial of a member of his congregation in Aliwal North. As his horse had not been returned to him, he walked the 26 miles (42 kilometres) to Aliwal North, gave his evidence, and returned on foot to Lady Grey, assisted along the way by members of his congregation.

On his return to Lady Grey, Ross resolved never again to conduct church services in English. And never again did he do so.

Posted in English


Posted on May 07, 2014 by Cape Rebel

This poem was written by a young Australian, M Grover, on 25 November 1899.

I killed a man at Graspan
I killed him fair in a fight
And the Empire’s poets and the Empire’s priests
Swear blind I acted right

The Empire’s poets and the Empire’s priests
Make out my deed was fine
But they can’t stop the eyes of the man I killed
From starin’ into mine

I killed a man at Graspan
Maybe I killed a score
But this one wasn’t a chance-shot home
From a thousand yards or more

I fired at him when he’d got no show
We were only a pace apart
With the cordite scorchin’ his old worn coat
As the bullet drilled his heart

I killed a man at Graspan
I killed him fightin’ fair
We came on each other face to face
An’ we went at it then and there

Mine was the trigger that shifted first
His was the life that sped
An’ a man I’d never had a quarrel with
Was spread on the boulders dead

I killed a man at Graspan
I watched him squirmin’ still
He raised his eyes, an’ they met with mine
An’ there they’re starin’ still

Cut of my brother Tom, he looked
Hardly more ’n a kid
An’ Christ! he was stiffenin’ at my feet
Because of the thing I did

I killed a man at Graspan
I told the camp that night
An’ of all the lies that I ever told
That was the poorest skit

I swore I was proud of my hand-to-hand
An’ the Boer I’d chanced to pot
An’ all the time I’d ha’ given my eyes
To never ha’ fired that shot

I killed a man at Graspan
An hour ago about
For there he lies with his starin’ eyes
An’ his blood still tricklin’ out.

I know it was either him or me
I know that I killed him fair
But all the same, wherever I look
The man that I killed is there

I killed a man at Graspan
My first an’ God! my last
Harder to dodge than my bullet is
The look that his dead eyes cast

If the Empire asks for me later on
It’ll ask for me in vain
Before I reach to my bandolier
To fire on a man again

Posted in English

Commandant Hennie van Rensburg

Posted on April 30, 2014 by Cape Rebel

by Marthinus van Bart


General James Barry Munnik Hertzog – one of the pre-eminent Boer leaders during the Anglo-Boer War and South Africa’s third Prime Minister after Union – had been an advocate, and thereafter a judge, before the outbreak of war in October 1899. Immediately after the war, in June 1902, he reverted briefly to his role as advocate in order to defend Commandant Hennie van Rensburg, head of the renowned Theron’s Scouts, who was court-martialed after the Peace of Vereeniging for having been a Cape Rebel.

The founder of Theron’s Scouts, Commandant Danie Theron, had been born in Tulbagh in the Cape, but was an attorney practising in Krugersdorp, and a Transvaal citizen, during the pre-war years. When Mr Moneypenny, editor of The Star, made insulting remarks about the Boers in his newspaper column, Theron went to his office and confronted him about the lies he had published. Moneypenny then personalised his insults, which resulted in Theron resorting to his fists. In due course Theron was convicted of assault and sentenced to a fine, but a hat was passed around in court the moment his sentence was pronounced and – midst much laughter – the amount of the fine was collected, there and then, in the public gallery of the Magistrates Court. 

Theron’s Scouts became legendary and remained so throughout the war, despite the fact that Theron himself died in battle on 5 September 1900 at Gatsrand, on the West Rand, less than a year after the start of the war.

At the end of the war the head of Theron’s Scouts was Commandant Hennie van Rensburg. Like Theron, he had been born in the Cape Colony. He came from the farm Langnek, near Modderfontein, in the Eastern Cape district of Cradock, and when war broke out he was still resident there, and a British subject. In May 1901, at the age of just twenty-one, Van Rensburg joined Commandant Wynand Malan’s commando, and a month later he was seriously wounded in an attack on Richmond. An English bullet entered his face in the region of his nose and departed just below his left ear. This Boer was a tough customer, however, for he refused to leave his commando, and in due course his wound healed, although deafness would follow later on. He continued fighting in the Cape midlands until September 1901, at one stage with the commando of Gideon Scheepers, and thereafter he fought under General Manie Maritz in the district of Calvinia. It was Maritz who promoted Van Rensburg to the rank of Field Cornet, and soon thereafter General Malan promoted him to the rank of commandant and appointed him as the head of Theron’s Scouts.

When the Boers finally laid down their arms on 5 June 1902, almost a week after the Peace of Vereeniging, the British arrested and imprisoned Van Rensburg at Cradock because he had fought as a Cape Rebel. Charged before a court-martial with high treason and nine counts of murder, he approached General Smuts – one of the principal negotiators at Vereeniging, and the former Transvaal State Attorney – to defend him. Smuts declined, however, saying: ‘I’m sorry, but the peace terms have been negotiated, and the commandant can be prosecuted.’ (At Vereeniging Smuts and the other negotiators had acceded to Lord Kitchener’s insistence that there be no amnesty for Cape Rebels, against the express wishes of President Kruger and President Steyn.) 

Smuts knew the young Rebel personally, but nevertheless declined to represent him.

Learning of Smuts’s refusal, Van Rensburg approached General Hertzog, whom he had never met, to act on his behalf. Hertzog knew that Van Rensburg had fought bravely, and that he had been a worthy commandant of Theron’s Scouts, and the former advocate-turned-judge immediately agreed to represent Van Rensburg. He travelled to Cradock for this purpose, and with great difficulty secured Van Rensburg’s release on bail of £4 000. Before the main trial began, however, fate intervened. The Cape Parliament voted to grant amnesty to Van Rensburg, and the prosecution was accordingly dropped.

When Van Rensburg inquired about Hertzog’s fee, the general demurred, saying: ‘What Hennie van Rensburg did for our people can never be repaid.’ This noble gesture matched that of Van Rensburg, who had risked his life – as a Cape Rebel – to champion justice and right for his fellow-Afrikaners in the Boer Republics.


Posted in English

The Cape Rebel

Posted on April 07, 2014 by Cape Rebel

A senior attorney recently said he could never understand why, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), his grandfather – at the age of fifty-six – one day saddled his horse and rode off to fight for the Boers as a Cape Rebel. The answer may lie in Leipoldt’s historical novel, Stormwrack, which describes civilians being forced, under martial law, to witness the execution of Cape Rebels sentenced to death for treason. There was no more efficient form of recruitment of Cape Rebels than this.

The Cape Rebel in question was subsequently captured and imprisoned, and he remained a prisoner when the war ended on 31 May 1902. The authorities would only release him if someone of means would guarantee a sum of £1 000 to vouch for his future good conduct. His family was unable to do this, and he remained in captivity for months after the war had ended.

Eventually a complete stranger from the Transvaal heard of the Cape Rebel’s plight, furnished the necessary guarantee, and the prisoner was freed. All the family could ever discover about the stranger was his surname, and they were unable to express their gratitude to him personally. So much was this act of generosity appreciated by the family, however, that the Cape Rebel’s son and grandson – both attorneys – never charged a fee to any of their clients who had the same surname as the unidentified benefactor. In this way, without explanation, they matched the silent generosity, years before, of a complete stranger.

One of the characters in Stormwrack, which portrays the war as civil war in the Cape Colony, states: ‘The wounds of civil war leave scars whose sensitiveness is not always dulled by time.’ This rings true, paradoxically, in the gratitude of a legal family that, to this day, has not forgotten the quiet generosity of true heroism – embodying what is noblest in the spirit of the Cape Rebel.

Posted in English

« Previous 1 14 15 16