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VILJOENSDRIFT

What is Viljoensdrift? Its not a town or a village, perhaps settlement is a better term. Situated over the Vaal river just to the south of Vereeniging. GPS coordinates: 26.7322°S 27.9229°E elevation: 1449m

A settlement which has certainly seen better times, it used to have a primary school, a magistrates office, a post office and a NG church. Re spelling, sometimes one finds it as Viljoendrif, that is without a t at the end.

History

ViljoensdriftViljoensdrift road bridgeIt started with the drift, that is a river crossing over the Vaal. Hans Viljoen advertised in 1857 that he has a pond and is able to ferry people, wagons and live stock over the Vaal on his fathers farm Witkop. To the left is a picture of the ferry as it was most likley in the early 1900rds, I found this in the archives of the Vereeniging museum. The 3rd picture shows what is left of the landing today. It is seen in the middle of the picture looking from the south (Free State side). Until a few years ago one could still see the steel post to anker the rope.Viljoensdrift ferry crossing point
The crossing must have been active until 1927 when the road bridge (single lane) was constructed, but possibly longer, there is a picture of the pont dated 1953.
The settlement started with the discovery and mining of coal in the area.








Railway station

Viljoensdrift apartheid bridgeViljoensdrift rail controlThe line from Bloemfontein came to Viljoensdrif in 1892. And the crossing over the Vaal was in 1893, thus for about a year Viljoensdrif station was the end point for goods and passengers to Johannesburg. At the time of our last visit they still had the manual lever system to set signals and switches. There was talk of the station being automated and controlled from somewhere else down the line. During a visit in March 2013 it transpired that there was work in progress and the system would be centralised by May the same year. Thus good bye to the levers.
A relic from the days of apartheid is the pedestrian bridge over the rails, divided in the middle so to keep black and white apart.

Magistrate and Post Office

Viljoensdrift Magistrate and Post officeViljoensdrift Magistrate This first picture of the building that used to house the magistrate and the post office is from 2004. It has changed a bit since then, not for the better. The two telephone booth are gone, I had my eyes on them for a while but could see no way of getting them away from there. When eventually they disappeared I could see that it was a hell of a job to get them out, they were stuck in a concrete block and had to chipped out with heavy machinery.
The building has been taken over by squatters. The magistrates court room still had some of the insides, like the dock for the accused and the pedestal to elevate the magistrate. These items are now gone, but the coat of arms is still there. Also the post office next door has now been occupied.

Primary school

Viljoensdrift schoolViljoensdrift school monumentThe school was opened in 1904 with Miss Jackson as principle.
The hall and two class rooms of the Viljoensdrift Primary School is still standing, although not in a good condition. Other class rooms used to be prefabricated buildings are all gone.
A memorial pyramid of stones at the entrance with the year 1967 inscribed is a reminder of the disaster that struck the school when a tornado riped off the roof. The picture on the right shows this monument with one of the former pupils. Mel Jones attended the school in 1936/37.

Cemeteries

There are three cemeteries.

the old cemetery

Viljoensdrift Lawrence AlexanderOf interest in this grave yard is the grave of Andrew Lawrence, a victim of the Boer War. He was accidentally shot when he approached the Viljoensdrift Boer War graveBritish post at the drift. That was on the 28 Feb 1902.
There is one lone British grave from the Boer War, the inscription is unreadable.

Viljoensdrift Lawrence AlexanderPostscript: it has just come to my attention (June 2014) that the Lawrence grave has been vandalised (picture taken by Twin Mosia). Obviously it was for the scrap metal, but in the process the cross has been toppled. My opinion, if the thieves want the scrap metal, take it, but why push over the cross? Very sad, the depravity of the thieves.










the non-white cemetery

Yes, in the old days the dead ones were separated by race, that was apartheid.
An odd grave is that of J.J.Digojane *10 8 1898 † 8 4 1964. It is odd because it is far away from the other graves and in the a different direction. All the graves are facing the rising sun, east, whilst this one faces north. Could it be a Muslim grave facing Mekka?

the mine cemetery

Viljoensdrift Boer War graveViljoensdrift new black cemeteryThis is a cemetery originally on the grounds of the mine. When the mine was extended to over the road, that is the area between the R82 and the Vaal river, the cemetery there had to be moved. All the bones were re-buried near the village of Viljoensdrift, very neat with individual crosses at each grave indicating name and relevant date where available.
The first picture shows one of the grave stones in the old location and the second the new grave yard at Viljoensdrift.

Church

Viljoensdrift NG churchThe congregation of the NG church was founded in 1948, the church hall (still standing) was built in 1950 and the church itself, I am not sure, sometime in the 60's, I think. The church is not in regular use anymore, the congregation has amalgamated with the one in Vaalpark. Most likely due to dwindling numbers. Something we have been observing all over the area. Thinking about it, there was Vaal Power Station, the plant is gone, the village remains but is almost totally black. And White City, a collection of about 20 houses where the new mine extension is now, all gone. And in Viljoensdrift itself there are possibly two houses still occupied by white people.
During one of our visits we were told that the church now has special services for bikers, not sure this is still the case.



Worlds War I memorial

Viljoensdrift WW 1 monumentViljoensdrift WW 1 monument inaugurationOn the station platform is a monument, it commemorates the soldiers from this area who lost their lives in the first world war. And here is my gripe, it just illustrates the futility of wars, here these guys from the Viljoensdrift coal fields were sent all the way to France to fight my grandfather and died (my grandfather, by the way, also didn't make it), for what?
The picture on the right was taken during the inauguration of the monument in 1921.

Maccauvlei

Maccauvlei war graveslMaccauvlei golf clubMaccauvlei is well known for the golf course. The farm was originally bought from the Free State by Carl August Pistorius in 1844. The existence of the large Oak trees is due to him. He brought acorn back from one of his business trips to Pietermaritzburg. He sold the farm in 1881 to the mining company owned by Sammy Marks to establish the coal mine Cornelia. The sale was not an easy one, Mr Pistorius was driving a very hard bargain and eventually sold it for the so far unheard of amount of 15500 pounds to be paid in gold coins.
Indirectly Sammy still had something to do with the establishment of the golf course. It was two of his sons, Louis and Teddy Marks, who during a holiday on the coast learned to play golf and liked it so much that they wanted their own golf course. The course was designed and built by George Peck. And a bit later modified by the professional golfer Major SV Hotchkin.
At the time when it was established and a few years after it was the only inland golf course in SA. It has to this day maintained a high standard.
A point of interest on the golf course is the British war cemetery from the Boer War. It is next to the fairway of no.4. This cemetery was established a number of years after the war, with the remains of fallen soldiers collected from different locations in the area.
One can find a more detailed description and history of the Maccauvlei golf club and - course.




Reference:
Ref.1: JC de Bruin 'Viljoendrif Gedenk-Album', printed 1954 by 'Die Drif Drukkery'; just a note here: JC de Bruin was the principle of the school at that time and his hobby was printing.
Ref.2: 'Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa', 1972

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