Wednesday 11 December 2019

Robertson - an Example for other South African Towns

CAPE ARGUS - 1927, August 4
Educationally, Robertson has excellent facilities. There are two high schools, one for boys – a large, modern and exceptionally well-equipped building in Education Street, with two boarding establishments, McGregor House and De Waals Hostel – and one for girls, an equally up-to-date building, with a domestic science block in Reitz Street. The school stands in large grounds and a short distance further up in the street is a hostel for girls, capable of accommodating some 70 boarders, and named Merwehof after Dr. Van der Merwe, the late Moderator of the Dutch Reformed Church. Both the boys and girls’ hostels are roomy and airy, and surrounded by recreation grounds.
Each school has some 300 pupils and, in addition to preparing students for the usual matriculation course, they give special facilities for instruction in music. Students are prepared for the licentiate diplomas in piano, violin, organ and singing. The two teachers of singing have London diplomas and pupils are sent to Robertson from all over the country. A feature of the instruction in the boys’ school is the agricultural course. The work is specially arranged for each class and it is of a varied nature, including instruction and practical work in the many different agricultural pursuits for which Robertson is noted.
Tales of the “good old days,” when South African towns were in their infancy, invariably tell us what strict disciplinarians the old “skoolmeesters” were. Who has not heard of father’s schoolmaster whose “kweperstok” (quince stick) was never beyond reach? Such a martinet had the school going youth of Robertson in its early days. He was a Scot who freely employed a light, flexible cane of peculiarly searching qualities.
A certain grim humour attaches to the story of the occasion when the cane operated on the schoolmaster himself. At dinner one day he swallowed too large a piece of beef, which lodged in his throat, and all efforts to dislodge it proved unavailing. Whether a cynical pupil who had good reason to remember the cane suggested using the implement tradition does not say, but the fact remains that it was hurriedly fetched from the school, and employed to ram the obstinate piece of beef down!
First the unfortunate teacher tried, and then his landlord, but to no purpose. A doctor was summoned post-haste from Worcester but before he arrived that night poor “meester” had passed away. His name may be read today on one of the few weather-beaten tombstones that surround the Dutch Reformed Church.
One of the leading farmers in the Robertson district, is Mr. DJ de Wet, of Zandvliet, who specializes in racehorses and has just added to his stable a splendid stallion from the same stock as this year’s Derby winner. Mr. Chris de Wet, his son, is an expert on sheep, and recently procured in Australia for their merino stud stock a ram costing £2,000 and another costing £1,000, in addition to several stud ewes.
Some indication of the progress of stud sheep farming in Robertson district may be gained when it is stated that the breeders are competing successfully among other important at the Central Show at Bloemfontein with the sheep kings of the Midlands.
Among other important stud farms in the district are those of Mr. Paul de Wet, Zandvliet, noted for sheep; Mr. JS de Wet, Excelsior, for Frieslands; Mr. Gideon Malherbe, De Hoek, for Jerseys; Mr. Adriaan van Zyl, Boesman’s River, for Frieslands and Clydedales; Mr. Leo Visser and Mr. Dove, of Goedemoed, for sheep; and Mr. Bennie, of Bonnievale, for Frieslands. Poultry farming is largely carried on at Bonnievale, and cheese manufacturing is yet another resource exploited by the Robertson farmer. It may be remarked that Robertson is not a place where farmers sit in blissful contemplation of the shifting colours on the high mountains while nature does the job. The farmers there are as hard worked as farmers anywhere else in the country. They have their losses and their set-backs. They grumble about irrigation rates and the price paid for their products by the pampered consumer. But they are energetic and progressive, and will push their fine south-western district to enviable heights.
In Safeguarding public health, the Robertson Municipality sets an example which other South African towns might follow. Robertson’s town hygiene is something to be envied by other places – and it is due to the enterprise and strong personality of a woman. 
In securing the services as Woman Health Visitor of Miss M. Cilliers, a holder of the Royal Sanitary Institutes’ certificate, the Town Council took a forward step that has today given it a town which is almost model from the health point of view. Not that Robertson has any particularly modern and costly institutions designed from the point of view of public health. It is much simpler than that. A dynamic worker whom all Robertson hold in high esteem – if not a little bit in awe! – Miss Cilliers preaches – and enforces – the doctrine of individual effort. She sees to it that all concerned put first and foremost the ideal of keeping the town clean and healthy. Where food is prepared or kept for public consumption the premises are, under her watchful eye, maintained sweet and fresh. There is constant war on flies. All butchers’ meat is gauze protected and carried in covered wagons; the bakeries are places of fragrant cleanliness; the dairies are kept spotless, and the streets are always a public testimonial to Robertson’s health enterprise.
Miss Cilliers has a free hand in promoting public welfare interests. She is armed with the authority of a fine set of municipal regulations, and, besides that, per post is partly a Government one. But quite apart from that she has those outstanding personal qualifications and capabilities that spell success in work of this character. Miss Cilliers is an indefatigable worker. A trained nurse to whom responsibility is no novelty, she renders splendid services among the poorer members of the community, while she is constantly watchful that the ordinary public services come up to all health requirements.
Miss Cilliers started her work at Robertson less than a year ago. The means the adopted were simple but firmly moved to provide washable walls and floors for their premises and to cover their meat stands with wire gauze. Not satisfied with that, the Health Visitor got them doubly to protect their meat by also screening doors and windows with gauze. She pays them pretty frequent visits to see that everything is always in shipshape order.  Robertson’s bakeries invite a visit at any time. Gauze here, too, and, like the butchers, the bakers have covered in delivery vans.
One up-to-date place has appreciated the economy and healthfulness of machine-made bread and the Municipality is now preparing to erect a properly equipped abattoir. Here, there, and everywhere the Health Visitor speeds in her “flivver.” Nothing escapes her vigilance. No litter is allowed to accumulate anywhere. Yards and furrows, stables and streets, shops and general sanitation are always under critical inspection. Where the Health Visitor thinks something might be improved there is no gainsaying her!
It is in Robertson’s coloured quarter that the success of her work is most apparent. What Miss Cilliers calls her slum area is a portion of the town which has been converted from squalor and decay into a decent, habitable place. Numerous places which have been condemned by her have been bought in by the Town Council, or the landlords have been compelled to make the necessary repairs. Badly aired places have had to be supplied with ventilators, and, generally, every effort is being made to keep the coloured people living under normal, healthy conditions. They have a wholesome respect for “Nurse” and they keep their yards and houses fit for her inspection at any time. They have actually come to take a pride in this work and they even sweep the streets in front of their houses. They usually have a smiling greeting for the Health Visitor, the value of whose work among the sick poor they greatly appreciate.
Miss Cilliers’ effective methods have warmly commended themselves to the Town Council. Her work is highly valued and the Union Public Health Department’s latest report on Robertson is a well-deserved tribute to her ability.

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