HISTORY OF VAN ZYLSRUS

 

THE TOWN

Van Zylsrus is situated on the banks of the dry Kuruman river.  The region was part of an ancient trade route between the Tswana regions south of the Molopo and the Great Nama land-Damaraland and Ovamboland. 

After the great drought of 1907-1908 farmers, especially of the South Free State and North Eastern Cape, came to the region.  Water was however a great problem in this arid part and  boreholes were drilled by Major Thomas Cullinan on Eensaam, Kameelrus, Murray, Springputs, The Heights, Van Zylsrus and Visgat. 

Van Zylsrus was named after General J.A. van Zyl who joined General De la Rey and fought in battles at Kimberley and Sweizer-Reneke where he freed a group of women from English troups.  He was one of De la Rey’s commanding officers in Griqualand during the 1914 rebellion. 

During the 1914-1915 Rebellion, general J.A. van Zyl fought in and around Kuruman and the Kalahari.  He was also commander of a group of horsemen during the South West Africa (Namibia) campaign.    For four days they rested at a windmill on the place where Van Zylsrus is currently situated and then continued on their Kalahari journey.  According to Donald Riekert, author of Woestynruiter, die lewe van veggeneraal Jakobus Albertus van Zyl, the general, as he rode away, lifted his hand and called out, “For four days I rested here, the name of this place is Vanzylsrust.” 

After the war a few farmers were appointed as borehole guards.  As compensation for their services they received free grazing-rights for their animals.  In 1929 farmland was allocated to farmers.  Van Zylsrus was allocated to a Mr Visser, who sold off a part of his farm which included the residence.  This was the origin of Van Zylsrus. 
 

“The warm Kalahari sands will blow over my footprints.  But the warmth of the Kalahari people will be printed in my heart.  I came as a stranger, I left as a friend.”

 

THE HOTEL

Dudley Venner 

For ten years, from 1974-1984, Dudley Venner was the owner of the former Gemsbok Hotel. 

Dudley, a Gilbeys representative from Kimberley, moved to Van Zylsrus in October 1974.  He bought the hotel (previously a boarding-house) from Mr Attie Lubbe for     R40 000. 

The hotel was a new beginning for Dudley, who lost his son in an accident the previous year. With the help of his wife Babsie, who was the cook and a bar attendant, liquor salesman, two cleaners, two kitchen assistants and one general worker, the hotel soared.  It was a popular place for socialising and overnight accommodation. Regular Saturday night braais and dances were held.

 

Farmers’ day

Mondays were the farmers’ day off.  After taking back their children to the local primary school on Mondays, a group of farmers spent the whole day at the hotel where they socialised in the bar, threw darts and sang and played the guitar. 

Rev. van Wyk, former pastor of the Dutch Reformed Church was so impressed that he requested the bar singers to form a church choir.  

 

Deliveries

Deliveries were made by bus twice a week.  On one occasion a few coffins were put on top of 400 cases of beer.  A delivery assistant caused havoc among his colleagues when he hid inside one of coffins and jumped out when the beer was off-loaded.

 

Prices in 1974   

Dinner, bed and breakfast:       R12.50

Bottle of brandy:   R7.50

Biltong:          R1 per kg

An ox:                  R80

A sheep:          R10

An oryx:          R15 

 

The Kuruman river in flood 

People came from everywhere in 1974 to see the Kuruman river in flood.  The mine at Black Rock donated a cable and a raft with four fuel drums, a wooden platform and a pulley was made to help people get across the river.  After a few drinks at the hotel, one man (Gertjie de Bruin) lost his artificial teeth during a crossing on the raft.  Since them the Kuruman river flowed a few times, but the water level has never been as high as in 1974.

 

Sheep settles drinks bill

Two local farmers, Duusman van Eeden and Dirk Beukes wanted to cash a cheque for R20 000 at the hotel as they needed cash for a few drinks at the bar. Dudley Venner, owner of the hotel, didn’t have cash for that amount and he didn’t want them to buy drinks on credit.  They couldn’t go without a drink, however, and they made a plan. Dirk and Duusman fetched one of their sheep, that was meant to be sold at the auction the next day, to pay for their drinks. Neither of the two was prepared to sit on the bakkie with the sheep.  They then put the sheep in the cabin between the two of them.  The sheep was tied to a pole in the bar and Dudley had to provide drinks that equaled the value of the sheep. (R10 in those days).  The hotel suffered a loss, because the drinks bill was much more than the value of the sheep.

 

2007 and onwards

The current owners, Elbie and Petro Jonker, purchased the hotel in 2006. The hotel needed a facelift and the decision was made to demolish the old building. A new creative arty hotel is now the jewel of the Kalahari.

 

The artists

 

Petro Jonker was the mastermind behind all the creative designs, and the majority of the artwork such as the huge murals, the plaster scratching, the handpainted basins in the bedrooms etc were personally done by her.

 Lenie Brand (Petro’s mother) from Stellenbosch was responsible for the unique mosaic and decoupage mirrors..  For this energetic senior citizen there is no time to sit back and grow old. She adores her garden, does flower arrangements and loves all kinds of creative work.  Although she often complains that a day doesn’t have enough hours, she always finds time to be actively involved in church activities and charity projects. 

 

Teddy Mkhize from Durban was responsible for the beautiful iron furniture and lamps in the hotel.  He didn’t have any formal training as a welder but started making chairs and flower pots from scrap metal in 2000 to support himself and his family.

 

Zakes Malatji, originally from Tzaneen in Limpopo and part of the Integron Construction team, enjoyed the challenge to express his creativity.  Zakes and the hotel’s owner, Petro Jonker were responsible for the uniquely decorated walls in the hotel.  Petro’s fantastic designs and Zakes’ willingness to learn and to experiment with different textures and colours made them a remarkable team.