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Families of Gamkaskloof, aka "Die Hel"

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  • William Brooks (1815 - 1895)
    John James Rosser on 21st February, 2012 wrote: We believe that my great great grandfather escaped amid the confusion when the ship The Waterloo sunk off the coast of South Africa on the 28 August 18...
  • Susanna Sophia(?Zacharia) Cordier, b3c1d6e1f7 (1848 - d.)
    Daugher of the first land owner Petrus Swanepoel in Gamkaskloof Updated from MyHeritage Family Trees via son Petrus Johannes Edward Cordier by SmartCopy : Dec 30 2014, 12:08:09 UTC
  • Joseph Cordier (1879 - d.)
  • Lewies Nel (deceased)

Gamkaskloof South Africa Coordinates for Gamkaskloof on Google Earth. 33°22'29.3"S 21°37'47.3"E or click here to see it in Google Maps.

Brief History

Gamkaskloof is a legendary and remote valley situated in the heart of the Swartberg mountains, approximately 100 kilometers from Oudtshoorn in South Africa, also known as "Die Hel" and is surrounded by the Swartberg Nature Reserve.

The history is as fascinating as the natural beauty and splendor thereof. It is almost certain that the first inhabitants of Gamkaskloof were bushmen.

The Gamkaskloof was discovered in the early 19th century by farmers, but the first permanent settler was Piet Swanepoel, who settled in the valley in the 1830s. Later, the Marais, Cordier, Joubert, and Mostert families settled in the valley, After them families like the Nels and the Esterhuizens also followed. growing to a community of between 100 and 160 individuals. These locals did not call their valley Die Hel and did not like this name which "outsiders" used. They called it Gamkaskloof and referred to themselves as "Kloovers". Outsiders who came to settle here were called "inkommers" and were viewed with suspicion before they were accepted in the community.

Over decades, the inhabitants of the Kloof evolved into a homogeneous Afrikaans community. There were strong family ties, with parents looking after their children's well-being. People generally went to visit their relatives often. Divorce was unknown. Children who remained in the Kloof, stayed with their parents until they were married and then built their own homes near the house of the groom's parents. Land was seldom sold and was normally bequeathed to the children by their father.

These farmers farmed with goats, wheat and beans, and later the valley became renowned for the high quality of its dried fruit, They also farmed tea and tobacco, along with distilling witblits and brewing beer made from wild honey.

They would take their produce in a caravan of donkeys over the mountains to Prince Albert or along the the northern gap formed by the Gamka river to Calitzdorp once or twice a year. There they would exchange their produce for the essentials such as salt, paraffin and sugar. This northern access route could later not be used due to the construction of the Gamkapoort dam, which was completed in 1968,

In 1915 the first school (Kleinberg) was built with the teacher also leading the Sunday church, and in 1923 a second school followed. The last school was finally closed in 1981 as a result of many people leaving the kloof. The long droughts followed by floods, together with the new access road and the young people leaving for the bigger schools, led to the final exodus of the inhabitants out of the valley.

The residents had petitioned the government for many years to build a road into the valley. Eventually in March 1960 a road was started by Koos van Zyl, and completed in August 1962 on the eastern side of the valley to provide the necessary access for the inhabitants. It led to the depopulation of the community. The children attended high schools in the nearby towns and most of them did not return to the subsistence life in the valley. The elderly retired to retirement villages outside the valley and the number of residents diminished until the last person sold his home to the Western Cape Nature Conservation Board in 1991.

Piet and Magriet Swanepoel were the last of the original "Kloofers" to move out in 1991. Now one of the Gamkaskloofers, Annetjie Joubert, has returned to the valley and shares tales of the old days with her guests.

The valley was declared a national monument in 1997 and was included into the Swartberg Nature Reserve. Subsequently the cottages in the valley have been renovated and equipped with solar power and bathrooms.

The largest portion of the valley is currently under the management of Cape Nature. They, with the help of the SA Nature Foundation, Simon van der Stel Foundation and the National Monuments Council, are in the process of restoring the buildings in the valley. Onderplaas is being managed as a traditional farm to uphold and maintain the farming methods and traditions of the valley’s historic past.

References:

  • People of the Valley - Life in an Isolated Afrikaner Community in South Africa du Toit, Brian M Published by A A Balkema, 1974
  • The Hell : valley of the lions : Gamkaskloof the most isolated valley in South Africa Van Waart, Sue. LAPA Publishers, 2004.

http://www.diehel.com/history