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​A replica of a kakebeenwa – the wagons made by the Voortrekkers and used by gold diggers to get to the Reef – has been installed in Ferreirasdorp.
COLONEL Ignatius Ferreira would probably smile whimsically – a wagon much like the one he drove on to the Reef 125 years ago, has been unveiled close to where he parked his wagon in what is still called Ferreirasdorp, the start of the gold-rush town of Johannesburg.

A nearby story board, showing different kinds of wagons used for over two centuries in South AfricaA nearby story board, showing different kinds of wagons used for over two centuries in South AfricaThe wagon, a kakebeenwa, or jawbone wagon – it took its name from the shape of the jawbone of an ox – stands boldly in Hollard Street in the CBD. It is a replica of the oxwagons made and used by the Voortrekkers when they left the Cape and trekked into the interior in the 1830s. They were later used by gold prospectors trekking to the diggings in Joburg.

This wagon, made by the Voortrekker Movement at Linden High School in 1968, was used by the movement to trek through the Free State and KwaZulu-Natal in commemoration of Piet Retief’s trek through the Drakensberg in 1837. Representatives from all four provinces were invited by the Transvaal Voortrekkers to participate.

“They are following the route described in detail in the diary of trekker Dr Erasmus Smith – from Doringkloof to Lindley, Reitz and Harrismith on to the longest stopover at Kerkenberg where they will join in the Day of the Covenant festivities,” reported The Citizen on 9 December 1977.

Twenty-three-year-old Louis Bester, the leader of the expedition, told the newspaper: “It will be hard work for the children but we want them to appreciate what their great grandfathers went through.”

Wagon loan
After the commemoration, the wagon was donated to the Roodepoort Museum, but made its way to the James Hall Transport Museum in La Rochelle. The retired director of the Johannesburg Land Company, John Dewar, who has been responsible for the mining artefacts and story boards in Main Street, approached the transport museum, which loaned him the wagon.

Peter Hall, the curator of the transport museum, says the wagon is two-thirds the size of an original kakabeenwa.

Dewar has had it superbly restored, replacing everything from the canvas tent cover lined with new bamboo poles, to the leather thongs around the chunk of wood that acts as a brake.

The restoration has been meticulous, he says, “only adding or replacing parts that were completely irreparable. Elements that were missing were replicated from similar objects in museums and literature, such as the back step and loading platform, the wagon bed, the wagon kist, water vat and tar vat.”

A new canvas roof, showing fine craftsmanship in the thong and bamboo lashingsA new canvas roof, showing fine craftsmanship in the thong and bamboo lashingsModern technology was used to make the replica pieces, “but all work was documented so that the core object (the original) was not compromised”, he adds.

“The thongs or remme and wagon whip were sourced from two different farmers who are some of the last people in the country capable of creating these items.”

He plans to have two full-size, fibreglass oxen made, to be placed at the front of the wagon. In time a camping site, complete with a 3-legged pot, will be positioned nearby.

The wagon is protected under a corrugated iron roof, and surrounded by a tall metal fence. “Nothing has been vandalised – people are interested in [it],” he says.

Erik Holm, a retired entomologist and wagon restorer, says wagon restoration involves several skills – carpentry, leatherwork and paintwork. He contends that South African oxwagons were the best in the world, using some of the best woods available locally. Around 17 varieties of wood were used, from the hardy yellowwood, abundant in the Cape where the first wagons were made, to the more pliable Boekenhout.

A European tradition of painting the wagons was also used in South Africa. The wheels were painted with red lead paint, an excellent water repellent. Scrolls, flowers and ornaments were painted on them and the chests that they carried. Wagons were repainted once a year, and wagon makers could be recognised by their distinctive designs.

The Main Street wagon beams in a new coat of paint, and of course, the wheels are red.

The name Ferreirasdorp, the town’s first mining camp, goes back to the first months of the establishment of the town of Johannesburg.

Colonel Ignatius Ferreira – he received the military title in the campaigns against Sekukuni in the 1870s and battles in Zululand – was born in Grahamstown in 1840. He was a Boer and an unsuccessful prospector on the diamond fields of Kimberley, according to Eric Rosenthal in Gold! Gold! Gold!

After the Zulu War, Ferreira went prospecting in the Transvaal; he pitched his tent next to his wagon, where Ferreirasdorp is today. “Since most of the new arrivals were younger than he and lacking in experience, they tacitly accepted his leadership by referring to the settlement as ‘Ferreira’s Camp,’” writes Rosenthal.

Dr Hans Sauer was the district surgeon in Johannesburg in the early days. He is quoted by Rosenthal: “Within a fortnight after our arrival,” said Sauer, “Ferreira’s Camp began to assume the aspect of a busy place; tents and tented wagons covered a wide area, and here and there primitive reed-and-clay shanties appeared. Newcomers turned up every day, by ox wagon, by horse wagon, by mule wagon, and by every imaginable sort of vehicle, from the Old Colony, from Natal, from the Orange Free State, from Kimberley, from Pretoria, in fact, from all parts of South Africa.

Sauer continues: “This rush continued without interruption for years. As there was practically no accommodation in Ferreira’s Camp, everyone had to manage in the open as best he could. All this happened in the beginning of the winter of 1886.”

Gold was discovered in September 1886, and the gold fields declared by president Paul Kruger in October. Ferreira went on to float his own mine.

Ferreira’s wagon is believed to have stood a block away from St Alban’s church in Ferreirasdorp, where the present bus station stands. In time, the Main Street wagon will possibly be moved to this location.

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