head picture

return to home page


A small town in the Eastern Free State, about 35km north of  Bethlehem. GPS coordinates: 26.6874°S 27.8704°E elevation: 1476m.

History of Reitz

Reitz was different in its origin, whilst most towns in the Free State started with a proclamation, Reitz came about before it was officially proclaimed.
It started as an outspan on the farm Stampkop. An outspan is a place where transport riders could stop and release their oxen for grazing. It was common practise and also a necessary practise to give the oxen a chance to refuel before the next days trek.
Soon a shop appeared run by Mr.Singer, that shop also handled the post and the place became knowns as Singers Post. Next was a blacksmith and other small businesses. The first plots were sold from 1884 onwards and the Volksraad authorised the establishment of the town in 1889. Initially the name given was Amsterdam and later changed to Reitz after the president of the Free State at the time, who came in person to proclaim the place.


Reitz british gravesReitz burgher gravesInteresting place this cemetery, it goes back to before the Boer War. It has a section for British soldiers (on the left) and one for the burgers of the republics, on the right.
An interesting grave is that of Gert Diedericks Haasbroek, born 19 April 1879, died 12 Nov 1914 in the battle between government forces and the rebels in Mushroom valley near Winburg. The Rebellion as it is known was an uprising of mostly Afrikaners against the plan of the government to invade German South West Africa on the side of Britain.
Reitz de Wet graveReitz Haasbrook grave And the picture on the left, the graves of Kommandant J.I.de Wet (1867 to 1921) and his wife, Elizabeth S.A.de Wet 1870 to 1908. I like this picture because it symbolises affinity for each other even after death
And for this one I managed to source a picture from Ref 3. In the back row the generals Kruitzinger, Herzog and Delarey, kneeling Kommandant de Wet, referred to here as a relative of Christian de Wet.Reitz komadant JI de Wet The caption says 'leaders of the last Boer contingent'.
The name John Mair appears on the main monument of the British grave yard and also on the monument specifically for the fallen of the battle of Graspan. Some detailed information was sent to me from Australia, see the website. He died under somewhat controversial circumstances, the relevant section from that document is repeated here:
Lieutenant John Mair was killed on 6 June 1901 during a confrontation with Boer commandos involving captured supply-wagons. A force consisting of 100 Mounted Infantry and 100 South Australian Imperial Bushmen had travelled by night to intercept a Boer convoy carrying supplies for General De Wet’s commandos. The troops were under the command of Major Sladen of the East Yorkshire Regiment and Lieutenant Mair was a part of the Mounted Infantry component of the force. The encamped Boer convoy was located in the early hours of the morning at a farming district known as Graspan (or Can Cans), near Reitz in the Orange Free State (120 kilometres east of Kroonstad). After a brief engagement the wagons were captured and forty-five prisoners taken. Sladen sent forty of his men back to De Lisle’s column to request reinforcements and then began positioning the captured wagons in defensive formation around a kraal at Graspan.
The Boer command received news of the taking of the convoy and a force of about 400 men under General De Wet set out to attempt to re-capture the supplies. The counter-attack began at about noon; the Boer forces were initially mistaken for a British Mounted Infantry unit which allowed them close access to some of the wagons. Major Sladen based his main defence at the kraal and nearby wagons. Elsewhere the fighting was carried out amongst the wagons, often in a situation of chaotic confusion. It was in such conditions, away from the main defensive lines, that a situation occurred that resulted in the death of John Mair and two other soldiers.
Reitz John Mair It was alleged by witnesses that Lieutenant Mair and two soldiers from the 2nd Bedfordshire Mounted Infantry (Lance-corporal W. Harvey and Private G. Blunt) were shot down after the three men had surrendered. Private E. Sewell of the 2nd Bedfordshire Regiment was a witness to the killings; he stated that during the fighting he had retired to join a group commanded by Lieutenant Mair, "when, finding we were outnumbered and surrounded, we put our hands up".
The Boers took our arms from us and retired round some kraals; shortly afterwards they came back, and two man shouted, "Hands up." We said we were already prisoners, and that our arms had been collected.
One of the British soldiers, Private Blunt, shouted, "Don’t shoot me, I have thrown down my rifle." It was reported that the Boers then said, "Take that," and shot Blunt through the stomach as he held his hands above his head. At that point Lieutenant Mair stepped out from the wagons (also with his arms above his head), and said, "Have mercy you cowards." One of the Boer commandos, mounted on his horse near to where Mair was standing, "deliberately shot Lieutenant Mair dead". The mounted man then shot at Private Pearse and Lance-Corporal W. Harvey, standing together with their hands up; the one bullet hit Pearse on the nose and killed Lance-Corporal Harvey. Lance-Corporal James Hanshaw reported that two Boers then rushed from the wagons and threatened to shoot him. They then kicked him and told him to lie down.

Reitz state of the graveyardP.S.:A quick update from a visit in December 2019. The cemetery is being used as a rubbish dump. Absolutely disgraceful behaviour of some people and no action from the authorities. In general a sight one sees far too often nowadays. Have we become a rubbish country?

NG Church

Reitz NG churchAt the end of church street on the hill is an imposing church, made from sand stone. This is the NG church of Reitz.
The first church (NG) was built in 1886, and 1894 expanded. During the Boer War the church was badly damaged by the enemy, most of the wood had disappeared from the inside. With the help from the community the church was quickly restored.
Growing numbers made it necessary to build a new, larger church. The corner stone was laid by President MT Steyn, the building completed and inaugurated in 1914 and the cost was £12000.

the Silos

Reitz silosThe silos of the Co-op, which, by the way, is still a farmers Co-op, owned by the farmers. This is unusual since most co-ops in the country have converted to companies.
Reitz silosI had the fortune of being able to visit the installation, taking a lift up to the top. The picture shows one of the belt conveyors taking the maize into the silos.

Pumped enough

Reitz silos

Und sie laufen! Naß und nässer
Wirds im Saal und auf den Stufen:
Welch entsetzliches Gewässer!
Herr und Meister, hör mich rufen! -
Ach, da kommt der Meister!
Herr, die Not ist groß!
Die ich rief, die Geister,
Werd ich nun nicht los.

Sorry it's in German, it is part of the poem by JW von Goethe called 'der Zauberlehrling', or in English 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice'. Which, by the way, I had to learn by heard at school, it didn't do me any harm. Its about a sorcerer's apprentice who was told to fetch water from the well to fill a bath, but he was very clever and called the spirits to do the job. Only problem was he did not know how to stop the spirits and the whole house got under water.
This is the poem that goes through my mind when driving past this place near Reitz, 15km out on the way to Kestell, with a wind pump standing under water. Obviously it keeps on pumping and nobody knows how to stop it.
Reitz silosWell, the real story, as told to us by the farmer (I have forgotten the name). In the early 1980's he build a dam wall and had just finished and thought that he must now go and remove the wind pump. Along came the tropical storm Domoina in January 1984, it filled the dam from empty to full in one night and submerged the pump.
The dam, by the way, served his wife as a training pool to swim the Midmar Mile, a tough annual swimming competitions in the Midmar dam near Howick in Natal. But that was before he put the hippos into the dam.

Ref 1.: Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Nasou Limited, 1974
Ref 2.: "Ons Kerk Album van Hollandsche Kerken en Leeraren", publisher: unknown, printed in the 1920's
Ref 3.: Joseph Kürschner, Die Buren und der Südafrikanische Krieg, Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1902

return to home page