Just a stones throw from Clarens, snuggling against the western foothills of the majestic Malutis, Percy van Reenen and his family established a farm in 1875. He called the farm Vuurland (Land of fire). It is said he also named the spectacular sandstone cliffs when his family watched an astounding sunset and he exclaimed “Goue Hek” – what we now call Golden Gate. The Van Reenen farm and two others where amalgamated to form the Golden Gate Conservancy in 1962.
Just into the Golden Gate park to the left, close to a picnic spot, you will find a small cemetery, where the Van Reenen clan and others rest in perpetuity.
As one approaches the low-walled cemetery, a beautiful marble angel on a gravestone draws the attention. Serene and quiet.
This is the grave of Ina Heloise Theron nee Van Reenen. She was only 26. Her husband a local clergyman. I remember a park tour guide telling me she died in a motor vehicle accident on a dusty gravel road on 18 August 1917.
The inscription at the feet of the marble angel is in Dutch: ‘Zijt niet bedroefd gelijk als de anderen de geen hoop hebben‘. Translated: Do not grieve as those with no hope. Heart-aching and poetic.
Close by another tragic story unfolds. Side by side lie two tombstones. The graves of Valerie Wilcocks, 22 and Johan Bestendig De la Harpe, 21. Inscribed on both graves: Struck by lightning on Mont-Aux- Sources,18 December 1932.
A story of forbidden love. Just like Romeo and Juliet. Two families of the area involved in a simmering feud. Valerie the strong-willed feisty daughter of the then Freestate Administrator, CTM Wilcocks, in love with Johan Bestendig de La Harpe, son of Percy de la Harpe. (In Afrikaans ‘Bestendig’ means perpetuate, lasting, durable, stable, consistent.)
The young lovers used to ride off from their respective family farms and meet in in the area close to where the chain ladders to ascend Mont-Aux- Sources are situated.
On 17 December Johan had celebrated his 22nd birthday. One can only speculate that Valerie could not attend the birthday celebrations, and they agreed to meet at their secret place the following day to have a celebration of their own. It seems they met elsewhere, as they were out riding on Johan’s horse, Moscow.
As it happens at Golden Gate and the majestic mountains of the region, a sudden summer thunder storm caught the two off guard. A single bolt of lightning hit the couple. Killing them and Moscow instantly.
Forever young. Together in perpetuity. I have no idea whether the plaque indicating the spot where the tragedy occurred is still there. The Basotho folk who regularly wander the mountains attest that during fierce summer storms, you can see Johan and Valerie riding off on Moscow.
It seems that the feuding of the two clans ended that day, as the two young lovers lie side by side in the Van Reenen Cemetery, with Ina’s Angel watching over them.
A third young person has his resting place here, with his brother. Nathan van Reenen, 16. He died a hero, helping a woman attacked and mugged in Durban on 7 December 2013.
“Do not grieve as one with no hope, we are forever young,” their souls echo in the wind as the sun sets the cliffs of Golden Gate alight in fiery shades of ochre, orange and red.
If the golden Maluti mountains could talk, what tales they would weave.
NB I have no idea what the Van Reenen cemetery looks like today, it has been nearly 17 years since we visited. I write this lest the lovely sad stories are forgotten, and as promised for my blog friend, Wet and Dusty Roads, who recently visited Golden Gate, en route to Sodwana Bay.