Chris Smit’s Story 

Chris Smit’s Story

 

Join us as we take you on a Journey covering a period spanning over a 100 years.  Particularly looking into the History of Wakkerstroom, as told by Oom Chris one of it’s oldest residents.

Oom Chris as he is fondly known, was born on the 25th April 1933 in Wakkerstroom.

He was named Christian Andries Smit, and was the eldest son of Pieter Gabriel Smit.  He Matriculated in Heidelberg and completed his B Com. degree at the University of Pretoria.

 

Oom Chris served as a councillor in Wakkerstroom for 27 years.  He was the Chairperson of many sub–committees and was Mayor for 16 Terms, after which he was appointed Town Clerk, a position he held for 14 years until he retired.  He was a member of the committee of three who were involved in Centenary festivals held in Wakkerstroom on 6th November 1959.  He was also the founder of the Angling Club and chaired it for 21 years.  Oom Chris was the last Chairperson of the Wakkerstroom Rugby Club.  These are just some of the many committees that he served on.  He was also Curator of the Oppikoppie Private Museum which has sadly closed its doors last year.

Chris is also a registered Tour Guide and is still actively taking tours out to the Bushman paintings in the area, on a private farm.

 

Childhood Memories

Chris was the oldest of three brothers. There was a sister who was older than Oom Chris.  The Smit Family lived on the Burger Erven, five kilometres out of town.  Chris remembers that they were very poor.  Their father had no motor car nor truck, the only means of transport was a Harley Davidson motor cycle with a side car.

Oom Chris recalls the hardship that they had to endure.  There was no money and the shopping consisted mainly of bartering, a pound of butter, a dozen eggs, a fowl or two for coffee, salt, pepper, sugar or tea.  As kids they did not know what pocket money was so they had to make other plans.  They soon noticed that when they exchanged a dozen or two eggs, the shop owner put them under a hen in the back yard in order to hatch them. During school break they would go and steal the eggs and exchange them at another shop for sweets etc.  Oom Chris recalls places of interest that no longer exist such as the five fountains on the slopes at the foot of Ossewakop which supplied water to the town from 1906 to 1975.  Another story that Chris loves telling is the night that all the Stage coach horses were killed somewhere between Volksrust and Wakkerstroom (Halfway Station) by marauding lions which caused the post to be an hour and a half late that day.  The last lion was shot and killed in the area in 1918.

 

Oom Chris relates the story about why Wakkerstroom did not expand.  The first reason was due to the fact that after the discovery of gold on the reef in 1886 the British Government decided to build a railway line from Port Natal (Durban) to Wakkerstroom which was situated on the Transvaal border.  The townsfolk in Wakkerstroom refused to have a railway line through the town since many of the male residents were transport riders and their livelihood would have been affected.

Many petitions were drawn up and sent to the Government of the Transvaal in Pretoria. The convoluted time wasting mechanism of the day meant that a reply would take almost a year to arrive.  Time was money, so the engineers decided to build the railway line to the nearest point on the Transvaal border. This today is known as Charlestown.

When the folk of Wakkerstroom realised that they had made a mistake and indeed wanted a railway after all, it was denied since too much money had been spent already.

President Kruger was thereupon compelled to build a line from the Reef to the area which was later called Volksrust.  Had the line been built the history of the area of Wakkerstroom would have been very different.  At best a sideline to Amersfoort was built in 1918

The Railway station was a wooden framed building covered with corrugated iron and had an open stoep (varandah) at the front and back.  The office to the goods shed was made of face brick and is all that remains of the old building.  The present station was built in 1969.  Until its closure the station and railway line played an exceptional role in the History of Wakkerstroom.  The station is now known as De Oude Stasie!

Wakkerstroom,s Role in Politics

From its original founding ,Wakkerstroom was one of the larger Constintuencies in the old Transvaal.Over the years Wakkerstroom played a leading role in the politics of the Union of South Africa. In 1924 there was a  by-election  in the Witwatersrand constituency and General Smuts resigned as Prime Minister without consulting his cabinet.A new election was called for, and General Hertzog took over the governance of the Union.General Hertzog was not happy with the current flag and in 1927 the flag law was promulgated and in 1928 our flag was hoisted for the first time .It was the country,s flag until 1994.in 1934 ,another by-election in the Wakkerstroom constituency resulted in a change of government .After the 1948 election when the National Party took over from the ruling party of General Smuts , the first by-election was held in the Wakkerstroom constituency .All eyes ,even abroad were on the outcome of this election to see whether the National Party would succeed in ruling .In 1987 Premier PW Botha ordered the Wakkerstroom Constituency to be split between Ermelo and Standerton .This was the main reason for the split in the National Party and the formation of the C.P.

 

Fishing Stories 

Oom Chris recalls the days when there were many fishing competitions at Martins Dam

Here is one of the stories:

Doc de Villiers, Oom Thinus Pretorius and Oom Stapelberg went fishing one Saturday morning.  The three anglers cast in their lines and waited.  After a While Doc de Villiers walked down to the dam Wall which was also the overflow.  While he was away the other two pulled up Doc’s line ,tied an empty bottle to the line and cast it back in.  When Doc appeared they took up his rod and shouted out “dok jy het hom” (Doctor you have caught one).  Doc rushed up and started reeling in the supposed catch.  “Yes” he said, “this must be a nice one!”   As soon as the bottle appeared out of the water the other two had to flee .

 

 

Note

Much of the history of Wakkerstroom is covered extensively in two books /  booklets:

and were the source of the above story:

 

Wakkerstroom Jewel of Mpumulanga-

Chris Smits Story – A Personal Memoire

Both booklets are available for sale at the Information Centre in Wakkerstroom.