In the Cape the expansion of the railways proceeded rapidly in the 1870s, passing the farm Vischkuil aan de Buffelsrivier which was owned by Stefanus Greeff. A small siding was built on the farm and the first plots sold for development. The settlement rapidly developed into a town which was renamed several times but eventually became Laingsburg after John Laing who was the Commissioner of Crown Lands at the Cape.
On 5 January 1981 a devastating flood swept through the town, drowning 103 people, many of them residents in The Old Age Home. The force of the water was so great that bodies were found as far away as Mossel Bay and some were never recovered. Why did so many people die? The annual rainfall is low, perhaps 100 mm; during the flood there were 425 mm. Houses had been built below previous flood levels; the river bed was not clear and so water built up against the low arches of the road bridge – the arches of the rail bridge were wide enough to allow water and obstacles to pass; and people didn’t clear the town because they did not understand or believe the severity of what was happening.
Looking at the Buffalo River today and the outlet of the Baviaans River it is hard to believe this dry stream bed could present such danger.
The town is an interesting stop and I can recommend a visit to the Flood Museum. And if I had time I would want to drive through Seweweekspoort, perhaps on a route from Oudtshoorn to Matjiesfontein which would also include the Huisrivier Pass. And a brochure called ‘Laingsburg: Roads less travelled’ speaks enticingly of Indo-Quena Temples in the Moordenaars Karoo created by the Ottentottu people (corrupted by the Dutch into Hottentots) who were people of mixed descent from the San Bushmen and Indian traders. Clearly another visit is needed – there is so much more to see and enjoy in this area than the N1 suggests.
The Day our Town Drowned
Flood pictures from 1981 & 2014
Accommodation at Seweweekspoort
The Civil Service of the Cape of Good Hope 1872-1910
Bosch Luys Kloof Reserve