With October being Transport Month in South Africa, Creative Feel spoke to Jaco Schoonraad, Curator of Animal-drawn Vehicles and the Numismatics Collections at DITSONG: National Museum of Cultural History, and Acting Deputy Director of the Sammy Marks and Pioneer Museums, to find out a bit more about the history of transport in South Africa.
Creative Feel: As the curator of animal-drawn vehicles for the DITSONG Museums of South Africa, could you tell us how you became interested in animal-drawn vehicles? Why does transport appeal to you?
Jaco Schoonraad: Most of my childhood December school holidays were spent with my family at my uncle and aunt. My uncle was a station master at a goods railway station with sidings between Bethlehem and Harrismith in the former Orange Free State. Although the railway was the most prominent mode of transport in the direct vicinity, my memory of reference included the surrounding farming community, who made use of a range of transport modes such as donkey carts, buck wagons, etc. There was a general dealer shop not too far from the railway line and we sometimes saw a man and his two donkeys pulling a cart on his way passing the shop. It was most entertaining to see and hear how he gently encouraged his donkeys to keep going.
Transport is a universal subject and it is very interesting how each mode of transport had its own pace of evolution. The ox-wagon or buck wagon (open wagon with slanted horizontal railings) remained the principal mode of transport to carry freights or goods from the harbours inland towards where it was needed for a long period of time. These wagons were used for transporting construction materials to the landlocked Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) to assist in the construction of the railway network. The objective of the railway line was to allow the transport of coal from the coal mines to the gold mines where heavy machinery was used between Boksburg and Braamfontein (Johannesburg). The railways were later connected with the Kimberley diamond fields and the harbour city of Lourenço Marques, current-day Maputo. This demonstrates how one type of transport assisted with the development of another mode of transport and eventually expanded industries.