ABOUT THE KLIPHUIS

Benjamin Louis Rabinowitz was born in Krekenava, Lithuania in about 1878. Aged 20, he arrived in South Africa and was assisted by his sister and brother in law who had already established themselves in Porterville. Picture this hardy soul who had no knowledge of the local languages or conditions and who was sent off into the inhospitable hinterland either carrying his wares on his back or at best with a donkey or mule to carry his goods. Villages were far apart and his clientele’s farmsteads were scattered sparsely over a huge area. To add to his problems, the Anglo Boer War started and Namaqualand saw some bitter hostilities during the conflict. Louis was naturalised in 1903, and by 1905 he is recorded as having a store in Port Nolloth, where he employed his first cousin, the well-known Solomon Rabinowitz (styled as the King of the Richtersveld). The latter won renown as a prospector and trader, who discovered one of the fabulous diamond deposits on the coast at Buchuberg, which was to make his fortune.

Louis’ wife Ellen and eldest son Joe arrived in 1914, being swung ashore in the notorious ‘basket’ from the coaster Nautilus. At the time they were the only Jewish couple in town and their house became the focus on feast and high days for the other Jewish bachelors. In all they had six children, of whom the last Hyman, died less than a decade ago. His wife is still living in Wynberg, Cape Town. In 1920 the family moved to Concordia for about a year for business reasons, but then returned to the Port. Louis also tried farming at a place called Kniebrand, some 43 miles inland on the way to Steinkopf, much against his wife’s wishes, but this venture was a failure and the family returned to the coast, where Louis died relatively young of a heart attack in 1929. Ellen carried on with the business until after World War II, though most of the children had left for schooling in Cape Town, except the youngest daughter.

According to the title deeds, the plot on which the Kliphuis stands, was granted in 1910 and it was during the following decade that the house was built. According to the eldest son, Joe’s writing, his father, helped by a mason, a carpenter and several locals, built the house out of quartzite blocks quarried on the farm of one Goosen, some distance inland. Some 150 cubic metres of stone went into the construction of the 50cm thick walls, and Louis made the elementary mistake of using the fine sand underfoot as well as seawater to mix with his lime. In no time at all, the mortar crumbled, and the work had to be done over with expensive (but still very brack) water carted in from Julies Hoogte some 9 kms distant. To this day the friable mortar is being blown out between the stone blocks by the relentless southeaster winds. Still, this monument to Louis and Ellen stands proudly with its 50cm thick walls, oregon pine floors, windows and doors, to this day. It has been extensively altered over the past hundred years, not always sympathetically, but it retains much of the spirit of the original mansion and remains a landmark that is known to most inhabitants of the town as the Kliphuis. It is a fitting place to house the historic collection of printed matter relating to the region, from almost three hundred years ago until the present day.

Your Host is Arne Schaefer, previously long-time owner of Africana Books in Cape Town. His interest in Namaqualand was kindled nearly four decades ago during a visit to the region’s spring flowering season. Since then, he has travelled widely over most of even the faintest tracks in search of historical and other landmarks, while amassing a large collection of the literature dealing with this fascinating part of our country. He has written two books on the region: Lagoon – A Companion to the West Coast National Park ( Yoshi, 1993) with his late wife, Pat, and more lately Life & Travels in the Northwest 1850-1899 – Namaqualand, Bushmanland & West Coast (Yoshi, 2008). He also writes  articles on http://africanabooks.blogspot.com dealing with all manner of bookish matters as well as his worldwide travelogues over the past decade. During his years as an Honorary Ranger with SANP, he has lectured on historical, and natural history matters dealing mainly with the Western Cape region.