Don’t you love a mystery? A real one, I mean, involving a disappearing stream and sinking monuments. Well of course you do. Unless you are particularly fond of the Clarens village square, which you will note I have avoided terming a green for now. At least for the next month or two, anyway.
So here’s the plot: Once upon a time, in a bygone era of creaking leather bridles and the clatter of unshod hooves, there was a tiny settlement hard by what we shall call Stone Mountain (well, they couldn’t spell ‘Horeb’ in those far off days). The population, if that is not too formal a title for an unruly assortment of mountain people in veldskoens, spent their days wondering where they were and experimenting with new ways to render themselves insensible with Sotho Mountain Cabbage. Entertainment was limited, apart from a one-legged duck, and their limited attention span was focused on the natural phenomena of the district. The predominant feature, a mountain rising sharply to their west, presented a perfect profile of a well-known Boer Republic President, eyebrows and all, which of course they didn’t know, since there was no golf course to stand upon to contemplate the great man’s visage. Nor did they have a street café to disport themselves in. Or art galleries by the dozen. In fact, all they had was what Oom Koos wistfully called two-thirds of bugger all.
Well, not entirely true: They had a stream of rushing water which tumbled down from a spring to the south, which was ironically (but lovingly) named the kleinJordaanstroompie. This natural, unfiltered water flowed robustly through the centre of what they laughingly referred to as their outspan, before gushing away to draw a shallow border with King Moshoeshoe’s Kingdom to the east. Even the one-legged duck liked it, although he was allegedly swept away in the great flood of ’77, or eaten by Oom Koos. The point is that this gushing, galloping waterway flowed on for years as our forefathers (OK, fathers-in-law) began the tortuous process of assembling civilisation around its grassy banks. A misunderstanding between the Boer Republics and the British Government led to some unpleasantness and a monument or two sprang up along the path of the kleinJordaanstroompie, lending a sombre touch to the idyllic scene. Post-war, the Clarens village square became the centre of social life and discourse, playing host to horses and carts alike as their owners gazed dreamily about them, fantasising about coffee shops, bottle shops and brasseries (no, you fool, that’s spelt brassieres). In short, Clarens had grown unerringly from its humble beginnings to a dot on the map so small that it was hidden by the ‘F’ in Fouriesburg, once (and arguably still) the capital of the Free State. And all the while, the kleinJordaanstroomjie chuckled on.
And then one day, it didn’t. Well, flow actually. It simply disappeared. About the time the Post House sank its foundations and the forerunners of SAPS first boiled a pot of water over an open fire. The village population woke to a deafening silence where once there had been, well, the tinkling of a babbling brook. The village people (I’ve been dying to say that) searched everywhere but the recalcitrant stream had simply vanished into the ground. Dark rumours spread that King Moshoeshoe’s grandchildren had nicked it back or that it had been hijacked to provide hydro-electric power for the Transvaal. But nothing was ever heard of it again! Gone. Vanished.
That’s the story. Except for an important detail: Keen observers will have noticed that the monuments on the square are in fact sinking, slowly to be sure, but steadily. The marble monolith which dominates the centre of the square was once nine-metres high, but only the old and infirm can remember this, since two-thirds of its historical significance is now underground. Even the well-loved rows of rose bushes have disappeared, swallowed by the malevolence of a forgotten stream. What does this mean? In short, and at risk of spreading alarm and despondency, it is your faithful scribe’s duty to warn you that the kleinJordaanstroompie has been coiling its length beneath our feet all these years. We are literally riding our luck as, by my calculation, the amassed volume is now roughly the equivalent of the Mediterranean Sea (and I did use a pocket calculator).
So, be warned. A one-legged duck can’t be wrong.