Whitfields of Southern Africa
  Matjespan reunion of the Whitfield Clan 1997
 

Extract from "SA Country Life" Magazine - April 1997

"If your vision of the northern Free State is flat, boring mealie fields, then Matjespan comes as a surprise. Rounding the bend at the top of Matjesbult, you are faced by a 2,5km expanse of water, fringed with willows and pink with drifts of feeding flamingos. This is Matjespan, the home farm of the Whitfield family.

The first Whitfield to arrive in South Africa was Charlotte, an 1820 settler. She settled with John Brown near the Clay Pitts in the Eastern Province, a focal point during the turbulent Frontier Wars. Here she raised five children.

Her grandson, Alfred Leo, made his way up to the Kimberley Diamond Fields in the late 1800's. Although he didn't strike it lucky, he and a partner set up a pont on the Vaal River, near present day Orkney. It was a very lucrative operation because all the coal destined for the Diamond Fields had to cross the Vaal, as the roads to the south were too sandy for the oxwagons to negotiate. They eventually sold their enterprise and Alfred invested his share in Matjespan.

Alfred and his wife, Amy, bought the farm from Lucas Steyn for 'drie duisend pond sterling betaalbaar in een enkele gelyke termyn in goud', in 1896. They built their new home overlooking the pan.

At the outbreak of the Anglo-Boer War, Alfred, being a Burgher of the Free State rode out with the Commandos. On his return he found that his homestead had been burnt down by Capt. Kloppers, acting on the instructions of Gen. C.J. de Wet. The reason given was 'because he was English'. Alfred promptly joined the British side. Being an excellent marksman and knowing the countryside, the British asked him to raise The Kroonstad Scouts who would be able to apply similar guerrila tactics as the Boer Commandos. This resulted in the Boers placing a price on his head. In 1901, Alfred was killed in a skirmish on the farm Boschpoort, outside Kroonstad. Story has it that the man who shot him knew him well, and wept when he realized whom he had killed.

After the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging, Amy and her three small childrenwere able to return to Matjespan. It was early winter and her son, Cecil, vividly remembered their return. There was no roof on the house, and they found a dead horse in the kitchen. He also remembered seeing the hundreds of rotting sheep and cattle carcasses at the fords across the Vaal and Valsch Rivers, the result of Kitchener's scorched earth policy to prevent the Boers from re-equipping the Commandos from their farms. Amy returned to a farm, and indeed to an entire district whose economy had been devastated by war.

Amy had a terrific battle to keep herself, her children and the farm workers housed and fed until the farm could be restocked. A British colonel offered her £10 per morgen for the land but she refused saying, "No, my husband wanted this land for his children."

It is a 100 years since Alfred and Amy Whitfield came to live at Matjespan, now situated in the heart of the fertile maize triangle. Today, two of her grandsons and four of her great grandsons still farm the land that she fought so hard to keep.

Recently the Whitfield clan gathered to celebrate the century that the land has been in the family. The centenary celebrations lasted an entire weekend with family members coming from all corners of South Africa, even as far afield as England, France and Saudi Arabia. In true country style, there was a duck-shoot, followed by a hunter's breakfast, a candlelit gala banquet, and on the sunday, family and friends gathered at Matjespan for a quiet, dignified service of thanks and rededication.

As Goethe once said: "That which thy fathers have bequethed to thee, earn it anew if thou wouldst possess it."
 
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