Sweet Heart of the Sandveld
Words and pics Keri Harvey
“If you’re the post office lady, you’re supposed to know everything – even though I don’t really want to,” says Joline Coffee with a smile, as she sorts the day’s letters into piles. Joline came to visit her parents in 1993, and stayed. “I love it here,” she adds. “It’s unpretentious, beautiful and unspoiled. Just yesterday when I was walking home from work I heard the Fish Eagles calling. The fauna and flora is really fantastic.”
Joline is a member of the local tourism body and says Redelinghuys is the place for people who love nature and stillness. “And it’s even more beautiful in springtime,” she says, “with the white daisies and pink Sandveld lilies. And Verlorenvlei wetland has more than 200 bird species. Fish Eagles are still my favourite, though.”
It’s just 160 kilometres from Cape Town, on the R366 between Elands Bay and Piketberg, but arrival in Redelinghuys is tinged with time warp. There’s a new tarred road leading me here – completed in late 2015 – and winding across the reeded Verlorenvlei. The village – population 574 in the 2012 census – has just one tarred road, along with one police station, post office, library, clinic, church, take-away and bottle store. But there are two schools and three cafés, all set in scattered bluegum trees. Many of the homes boast beautiful Victorian architecture and deep verandas; others are thick-walled Sandveld houses under cool thatch, because summers in Redelinghuys can be scorchers.
“Come let’s take a drive,” says Joline, “there’s somebody special I’d like you to meet.” A short trip down dust roads, and we are at Tannie Kaaitjie se Boskombuis. She welcomes us warmly, wearing her pink, frilly bonnet – traditional attire for riel dancing.
Tannie Kaaitjie Swart arrived in Redelinghuis 25 years ago and says she’s living her heart’s desire here. “I can shear sheep, hitch a donkey cart, ride a horse, tan skins, sew clothes, make a garden, play guitar and dance the traditional riel,” she says. “The only things I can’t do are read and write.” But that’s no problem to her because she cooks from pictures in recipe books and magazines.
Joline’s ‘boskombuis’ is a colourful and creatively decorated shelter alongside her little home. This is where guests can relax and enjoy Tannie Kaaitjie’s authentic Sandveld cooking. She’s renowned for her clean tripe, fishcakes and liver cakes, sweet-potato and pumpkin dishes, fire- and oven-baked breads. With a week’s warning, she’ll cook up a storm – the menu of your choice – and dazzle you with hospitality and kindness.
As we head down the hill back into the village, Joline explains that Redelinghuys was first documented by Olof Bergh in 1682, when he led a copper-prospecting expedition here from St Helena Bay. But it was the Redelinghuys family, on insistence from the daughter, who donated land for the church to be built on, and so gave the town its name.
As I was photographing the majestic steepled church next morning, a policeman in civvies stops to chat. “I saw you in town yesterday,” he says, “and wondered if you had met Oom Hannes Carstens.” He points down the road. I tell him I’m heading there shortly because Oom Hannes is synonymous with Redelinghuys. His 3D murals adorn the village, and it’s difficult to tell just what is real and what is clever paintwork.
“You see that one,” says Oom Hannes with a wry smile as we meet. “I caught him stealing guavas, but I don’t think he’ll do it again.” He points to a ground level window with a face peeping through it – but it’s all paint. There are owls nesting in the pitch of the roof, cracks with creepers growing through them, Fish Eagles in mid flight, and we haven’t yet stepped into his house.
Inside it’s quite the home gallery, with more than 180 paintings on the walls. The kitchen is filled with painted chickens, the bathroom is walled in water lilies and bird’s nests hang from the ceiling – some real and some painted. A bedroom is clad in flower paintings, the lounge in diverse pieces from birds and beasts to fruit and farmyards. Behind the door hangs Oom Hannes’ favourite painting of the more than 900 he has created: a tiny picture of flowers in a bowl with a dark background. He says it looks most like the paintings of the old masters.
A retired train driver, Oom Hannes only started painting at 53 and has never had an art lesson in his life. Now his works are in homes in more than 15 countries and his massive murals – up to 120m² – are all over the West Coast.
“I just do my own version of what I see,” he says modestly. “I took a chance with murals and it worked.” It worked so well that a new mural in the village nearly caused a car accident, because drivers couldn’t figure out if it was real or not. “I know I am meant to be here,” he continues, “because my soul feels at home and I understand the kinks of the Sandveld people.” Local schoolchildren love him too and visit often. It’s playland for the open-hearted.
The Sandveld Dorpshuis, which offers accommodation in the village, also has one of Oom Hannes’ murals inside – to the enchantment of guests. Energetic local Jane Louw owns the Dorpshuis, which is charmingly old world and has rooms opening onto the front veranda or back garden
It’s opposite the post office on the only tarred road in town and is an institution in Redelinghuys. Just a block away, excellent overnight accommodation and meals can be found at Affi Plaas. Owners Jan and Nolene White moved to Redelinghuys just five years ago, but Jan was born in the village and remembers the Dorpshuis being a hostel and primary school at various times. He tells of how you literally had to open the gate to enter the town – and close it behind you.
Over a sumptuous breakfast – Nolene is renowned for her omelettes – Jan tells stories of this village he loves so much. The piano standing in the corner is the one he used to have to sit behind when he was punished in primary school; the farm equipment in the garden is collected from surrounding farms; the wagon at the back too. There are plenty of stories here, like the one of Tienie and Johanna Rust, both blind, who lived in the only double-storey house in town and counted their steps to get to the shop or church unassisted.
“That’s what I like about living here,” says ceramic artist and surfer, Van Wessels. “People leave you alone and you have to stay awhile to be accepted. If you’re up to no good you won’t last here.” Van landed in Redelinghuys on a surfing roadtrip 12 years ago, bought a piece of land for a good price and built a house.
He still surfs about three days a week in Elands Bay and focuses on his ceramic art when the weather is less favourable. Six of his surfer friends have since bought plots here too.
“People are humble and down to earth here. They are sincere and once you’re part of the community they have your back,” he explains. “I don’t know how the new tarred road will change things. There will likely be more ‘blow-ins’ – people that come and go.”
As one of them, I stop at Sandveld Oase General Dealer to buy a cooldrink for the road. A car pulls in to fill up, with the windows down and music blaring, a local band singing ‘Redelinghuys se mense… se stories ken geen grense’.
That’s the truth, and all the stories here are good ones.
• Piketberg Tourism 022 913 2063 [email protected], www.piketbergtourism.co.za
• Sandveld Dorpshuys 022 962 1746, 083 900 7923, [email protected],
• Affi Plaas 022 962 1616, [email protected]
• Joline Coffee (for Redelinghuys local info), 079 938 2314
• Van Wessels 076 589 5737, [email protected]
• Oom Hannes Carstens 022 962 1946
Source: Country Life