Drought: Gustav Lund’s experiences in the 1920s

Drought is a constant threat in the Karoo. Nelspoort farmer Pieter Lund has monitored the recurring droughts of the Great Karoo. Intrigued by the many tales of hardship during drought conditions that have now and then appeared in Round-up, he decided to share a series of stories.  “In the 1920s, my late father, Gustav Lund, wrote to the Land Bank outlining details of the trials and tribulations he had experienced during a three year drought which started in 1925,” writes Pieter. “This drought was so severe that it led to a serious slump in wool and meat markets.   As the drought spread, there was mounting concern about international financial relations. As its grip tightened, South African commercial banks curtailed almost all overdrafts.  Months and months went by without any relief. Across the country people were hoping and praying for rain.  There was no grazing, all veld resources were depleted and water was scarce. The situation was desperate right across the arid zone.”


Gustav Lund did everything in his power to save his sheep. Then, just as he was about to give up hope, he received a telegram from James Lamb of Lamb and Company in Port Elizabeth. It read: Trek. Save your stock. We will finance you.”   According to an entry in his diary on May 18, 1927, he dashed off immediately.  “I rushed off to Bechuanaland through Douglas and Kuruman, crossed the Ghaapse Berg and hired grazing at a place called Reivilo. I returned via Kimberley.” The trip took seven days and by the time Gustav got home he had 3700 sheep left. He arranged for them to be railed from Rhenosterkop to Taung.  He also arranged for shepherds and their families to accompany the flock and, because he knew they would all have to be at Reivilo for a long time, he sent a wagon and donkey carts as well. It was an arduous journey. Gustav wrote: “The sheep suffered badly on this 700 km journey. Then, once they were off-loaded we had to trek for roughly 85 km across the Ghaapse Berg to reach our destination.  All-in-all, a month had passed since my initial search for grazing began.” Gustav thought that this was the end of his problems, but sadly it was only the beginning.


This re-location of stock did not work out as well as expected.  All hopes of a new beginning were dashed when the grazing did not agree with the sheep. Gustav recorded: “Our hungry sheep started to die from eating the poisonous ‘vermeerbessie’ (Geigeria ornativa).   Within six weeks, we were forced to cut the throats of close to 1 000 lambs to save the ewes. All around were dead and dying sheep.  We could not bury them fast enough.  Yet, we had no alternative but to stick to our guns and in this polluted atmosphere to fight for survival, not only for the stock, but also for ourselves, our wives, children and Messrs James Lamb who had paid for it all.”


A measure of relief came when James Lamb visited. “I was touched that he had travelled to this far flung place to visit us,” wrote Gustav. “He was indeed a welcome visitor.  His encouraging words, smiling face and deep concern for our plight made me even more determined than ever to fight through and not to disappoint the man and the firm who had had faith in me, my honesty, my ability and determination.   A year later I arrived back home with 3025 sheep. We had battled the drought and won. I felt exhausted, but victorious.” Gustav had no way of knowing that an even worse drought was looming. In about five years, in 1933, a worse drought would come and force many farmers to their knees.

© Rose’s Roundup,September 2010 (vol. 2 no.84)

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