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Skelmkoppies, Rosmead Photography

Skelmkoppies, Rosmead

by Mike Rossi


The story of Skelmkoppies’, was told to me on June 17th 2010, by Mr. Hennie Coetzee, Middelburg, curator of the Museum who’s lived there for all of his 75 years. 


The San people who existed in Middelburg area from the middle ages, lived mostly in caves — rock paintings of fish and buck on Teebus and Koffiebus, bear testament to their lives as hunters and gatherers. In those days the karoo plains were littered with wildlife. Herds of over a 100 000, grazed the karoo bush – Springbok, Rhebuck, Gemsbok, Steenbok, Kudu and Eland. To the San Bushmen, this was their land — their animals.


In the late 1600s Dutch and German settlers arrived in present day Middelburg area. Conflict began immediately as they hunted the game. The settlers tried to introduce the San Bushmen to cattle farming but the San resisted — they were hunters and gatherers. Instead the San chose conflict; but the bows and arrows were no match to the Dutch settlers flintlock guns. Thousands of the San Bushmen were killed.


Life was tough. In winter, the days were hot and the nights bitterly cold. In the daytime the settlers worked the land, while their children stayed in ox wagons. The San warriors always watched and waited, looking for opportunities to retaliate.


In the early 1700s, one family clan, the ‘Venters’ worked the land, 40 kilometres North-East of Middelburg. One day, the San bushmen, while hiding behind a small group of koppies, now called ‘Skelmkoppies’, meaning “Thieves Hill” saw the settlers had wandered some distance away from their ox wagons. Seeing this as an opportunity, they came down and entered the ox wagons. They took the screaming children, onto the koppies and in full view of the settlers, slaughtered them.


Angered, the Venter’s wanted vengeance. A cunning plan was hatched. The women dressed as men, got onto horseback and rode away, in full view of the San Bushmen. The men in turn, dressed as women, went about their ‘womanly’ chores, around their ox wagons. The San now believed that the ‘women’ were unprotected. When the San arrived, they fatally realised their mistake. But the settlers vengeance, continued. They hunted down the San Bushmen. Terrified, they sought refuge deep within the caves of Thebus and Koffiebus. The settlers dynamited the entrances sealing the San bushmen and their families in. Hundreds of men, women and children perished of starvation.


The Venter family buried their children on that land. They stayed for several generations — the family graveyard, always a reminder of their ancestor’s hardship. When they finally sold that portion of the farm in the 1800s, the contract stipulated that the family’s graveyard, had to be maintained by the new owners and any subsequent owners. If you travel from Middelburg towards Rosmead you’ll see the ‘Skelmkoppies Road sign’.


The distance between the koppies you see and the camera position is were I envisioned the Venter family clan stood when they heard the screams of their beseeching children. The camera angle and height is approximately the average tallness of a person in 1650 – 1.65-meters.


Part of the "Shadows Over Stones" Photographic Art Collection. Available as “Custom Finish & Bespoke” Fine Art and Photo Prints, framed or unframed. Photography created as beautiful pieces of Wall Art for you to invest and enjoy, from OPENPHOTO-STUDIO.

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