One of the greatest feelings I can get whenever I have been away from the village for a time, “especially if for a day or two” is to turn on to the R712 from Bethlehem and see the Maluti and Rooiberg mountains in the distance, as I travel past taxi rock and see Mount Horeb getting nearer my foot automatically seems to press harder on the accelerator or my hand twists the throttle of the Triumph 1200 further back just so that I can see my beloved village that little bit faster, driving past the fields of Cosmos, sunflowers and mielies waiting to be harvested and seeing the bales of grass being harvested to feed livestock over the coming winter months, gives me a sense of pride in my province and community and know that my wife was right in telling me that Clarens is where we are meant to be. Coming through Naauwpoort Nek you get a glimpse of the village in all of its grandeur especially now with the Lombardy Popular’s leaves changing colour , but no matter what time of the year or the weather conditions I never fail to get goose bumps at seeing her. Why you say is he going on about the drive from Bethlehem to Clarens and the Naauwpoort Nek, well the pass through Naaupoort Nek and Titanic rock in particular have bore witness to shots fired in anger both during the Basotho wars of 1865 and the Boer war of 1899 – 1902. The Nek however is probably best known and closely associated to actions taken by Paul Kruger and his Commando in 1865 that saw Clarens being named in honour of him in 1912 at the proclamation of the new settlement.
Like most Clarenites I know a little about the battle of Naauwpoort Nek and I would surmise that most visitors to the village walk past the monument on the square commemorating the battle and at least look at the names of the five Boers that died. I was always under the impression that the battle was fought in the Nek itself and that the Boers where securely laagered just beyond it when the Basotho attacked, but according to information I unearthed recently this is not entirely true. After the attack on a group of Trek Boers near to the present day Harrismith by the Batlokwa (Wild cat people) tribe led by a fierce Chiefteness called Mantatisi , a commando of three to four hundred men under the command of Paul Kruger where dispatched by the South-African Republic (ZAR) on the 9th of September 1865 to take clean up the “moordenaarsnes” (murderers nest) at Witzieshoek, this they did pushing the Basotho through the Golden gate and near to the present day Clarens on the 28th of September the Commando decided to make camp for the night on the farm Boshoek. What the history books do not tell us is that it was late (approx 10 pm) when they arrived and it was a particularly cold and miserable evening and contrary to all normal military practices of the time a laager was not set up with men sleeping in the wagons where they stopped and some even sleeping in a nearby donga, the horses where not hobbled, this could have been a costly mistake as early in the morning of the 29th under the cover of darkness and a light rain Basotho warriors under the command of two chiefs, Lesoeana and Slanggaal fell upon the unsuspecting Boers, killing five in the initial confusion, the unhobbled horses fled and under very difficult circumstances the commando managed to re-group and drive the Basotho back through Naauwpoort Nek, (two kilometres away) inflicting heavy casualties on the fleeing warriors. The pursuing Boers wanted to chase the Basotho through the Nek, but Paul Kruger had a grudging respect for the Basotho and knew that they could have an ambush set up on the Clarens side of the Nek that could have seen more deaths on the side of the Boers.
The word was sent out and more men came to join the Commando from Bethlehem, Paul Roux, Senekal as well as other nearby settlements and within two days there where a large number of well armed men that drove the Basotho out of the valley. The five Boers where buried where they died with only three graves still being visible today, it is thought that two of the men where exhumed by loved ones some years later and buried on family farms somewhere in the Transvaal Republic. The monument that stands on the square today was originally erected on the site where the battle took place and near to where the men where buried, it was unveiled on the 16th of December 1895 in front of a large crowd, the monument was moved to coincide with the silver jubilee of Clarens in 1962 and was re-unveiled by the then State President, the honourable C R Swart. Sadly all that remains today is a badly overgrown graveyard with a rusty fence and gate as well as few sandstone pillars that at one time I presume formed the enclosed area where the monument stood. A couple of years ago Neil van Schalkwyk unearthed the sign post that showed the way to the monument and moved it to his farm so that it wont be lost forever.
So next time you drive through the Nek, take a moment to stop, take in the view and reflect on the past.