Towards the end of the 19th Century, Willem Jacobus Volschenk built a beautiful little watermill on his farm Witpoort. This mill was to play a small but vital role in the Anglo-Boer War. Martial rumblings erupted in 1899 and. As war fever gripped the country Jan Smuts was moved to write in a memorandum to the Transvaal Executive: "South Africa stands on the eve of a dreadful bloodbath." Sadly he was right.

General Ben Viljoen, the member for Johannesburg on the Transvaal Volksraad not only led the Johannesburg Commando but drove the Boers in skirmish after skirmish around Lydenburg. As fighting raged in the area, the Witpoort Watermill proved a vital asset for the Boers. With its three sieves, ranging in texture from very fine for human consumption to less fine for chickens and courser for cattle, the mill kept the Boers fed.

Colonel Bindin Blood, leader of the attacking British forces which finally located the mill, ordered the mill dynamited but fortunately, only the coarse grinder was destroyed. Another was promptly sourced from a mill nearby, and the mill continued to produce meals for the Boers and surrounding population until the war was over.

Having survived the war relatively intact, Witpoort Watermill received new machinery from Ipswich, England. The mill prospered and as many as 70 donkey carts at a time could be seen waiting their turn to get their owners' maize ground. The process was slow, as with water power, it took 15 minutes to grind a 70 kg bag of meal, and it took three people to operate the mill. A drought in 1963 changed this as tractor power had to be used, which reduced milling time to eight minutes a bag.

In 1986 the mill was electrified which speeded up the process even more. In 1980, it cost R3.10 to grind one bag of meal. When the mill ceased operating in 1994, this cost had shot up to R10. Koos Sonakhosa Mahlangu is a living link to the mills' martial days. His father was the original miller during the Anglo-Boer War. Koos, from the age of four, followed in his father's footsteps. Permanently dusted with the excellent meal kicked up by the heavy millstones, he continued to work the Witpoort Watermill until it ceased operation.

On the property, Willem Jacobus Volschenk's son, also Willem Jacobus Volschenk, was born in 1887, survived the war only to die in 1946 as a result of being hit on the head with a shovel during a dispute over water rights with a neighbour. His grave is in the graveyard on the property.

Today, the attractive red-roofed Mill House with its steel overshot wheel is a fascinating historical addition to Valley of the Rainbow Flyfishing Estate and Nature Retreat and has been recently renovated to host guests.

This article was provided to us by Hydro4Africa