09-Mar-2002 -- The road can get very boring on the long trip home from the eastern Cape to Johannesburg. We have done this trip many, many times, so the Confluence Project was a good excuse to leave the main road and explore some of the back roads of our wonderful country.
However, the Confluence 31S 25E appeared to be right on the N9, roughly halfway between Noupoort and Colesberg. Sections of this road are being rebuilt, so we had to negotiate some rather slow detours. In addition, we had travelled through a few storms, and seen all four seasons in one day. As Jocelyn does not like driving in the rain, I was doing most of the driving. And no sooner would she take over, but we would enter more rain and have to swap back again. In the pictures the view to the South shows the black storm clouds which had been following us all day.
Noupoort (“Narrow pass”) is lovely little valley, its main claim to fame being that the road and the railway line follow the same route through the Renosterberg (“Rhinoceros mountains”). Two major railway lines from the North converge at Noupoort, and there is a small marshalling yard and refuelling station there. The peaks round this area have typical names such as Rooiberg (“Red mountain”), Perdeberg (“Horse mountain”) and Gryskop (“Grey peak”). There are some other passes with interesting names, such as Moordenaarspoort (“Murderer’s pass”), and Oorlogspoort (“Battle pass”, presumably dating back to the Anglo-Boer War).
In the valley is a picturesque farmstead, with some rows of tall stately poplars. In the summer they are bright green compared to the dark grey-green veld, and in autumn they turn to bright yellow before dropping their leaves. This Confluence was easy to find, being not more than 200 metres from the main road. So a little climbing over the fence (See notes on Confluence 30S 26E!) and walking through the veld, and the photos were taken.
Much of the central part of the Cape is semi-desert, with very low rainfall. In recent years the rains have been fairly good, at least in this region, but there have been severe droughts in the past. In order to keep their cattle alive in the bad years, many farmers planted "prickly pear" cactus, Opuntia spp. I was under the impression that this plant has become something of a pest and been declared a noxious weed in South Africa. The main reasons would be that it uses up precious water, and spreads into land making it useless for other purposes. However, there are still many farms with patches of the plant. After the flowers appear, they develop into egg-shaped fruit which are eaten as somewhat of a delicacy in South Africa, known as the "Turksvy" or "Cactus Pear".
According to the South African Cactus Pear Association, "Cactus pears (Opuntia species) are native to the semi-arid parts of Central America and the southern USA. Cactus pears, formerly called prickly pears, were first introduced to South Africa more than 300 years ago and were used as fences to protect crops against wild animals. The spineless "Burbank" varieties cultivated today were introduced into South Africa in 1974, mainly as a drought-tolerant crop for the arid Karroo regions. The excellent characteristics of their fruit has led to the cultivation of a number of these varieties for fresh fruit production."
Some other research tells me that the South African Department of Agriculture is actively spreading biological control agents on weed species such as Harissia martinii, Sesbania punicea and some aggressive Opuntia spp. Notice 2485 of 1999 by the National Department of Agriculture lists 10 species of Opuntia which are all designated as Category 1 Alien Invaders. In terms of the legislation, "Category 1 plants shall not occur on any land or on any inland water surface, and such plants shall be eradicated and the control methods stipulated in regulation 15.D shall apply." The worst variety appears to be Opuntia aurantiaca, the Jointed Cactus, known in Afrikaans as Litjieskaktus, Litjieturksvy, or Katjie. Jointed cactus has become South Africa's most costly invader plant and has had a long, expensive history of control dating back almost a century.