Beaufort West Consigned To The Dust

In the valley lies Beafort West- the place Olive did not like

Olive Schreiner, author, liberal free-thinker, champion of the under-privileged and women’s rights,  loved the Karoo, but she didn’t like Beaufort West. Olive stayed Beaufort West for a while during the Anglo-Boer War – towards the end of June, 1900. She hated the town and its people and didn’t hesitate to say so. In a letter, which appears in Karel Schoeman’s book Olive Schreiner and the Boer War, she write: “It’s so much worse here than in Cape Town, simply because the place is so small.  The Dutch don’t want or trust me and the English simply insult one. You don’t know how horrid the jingoes are here.”  Then later she wrote: “Beaufort West is dusty and dirty.”  Schoeman says a considerable military presence in the town at the time may have influenced her. He continues: “She  looked on Beaufort West as a temporary place of sojourn, while she waited for her husband to return from England. In a letter to Alice Greene, Olive stated: “I know Miss Molteno doesn’t like Beaufort, nor do I, but I don’t know where else to go.” At the time she was staying at the boarding house of Mrs Kriel, a sister of the Boer scout, Danie Theron.  “Personal considerations aside,” says Schoeman,  “Beaufort West should  have been the most suitable place for Olive, not just because of its climate (she was an asthma sufferer), but also because it was the only large settlement in the Karoo linked directly to Cape Town by rail.”  In 1900, the town’s white population numbered about 1500.  Contemporary photographs depict an attractive place with tree-lined streets. The town had many Boer sympathisers, including  the local Dutch Reformed Church minister, Ds Petrus van der Merwe. The Review newspaper referred to Beaufort West as filled with  “ incendiary sentiments” and as “a conspicuous  lump of indigestible Boer Republicanism.”

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