“Hitherto shalt thou come”

Ebenhaeser, West Coast

The people of Ebenhaeser believe that their town has thus been ordained for them.

Off the beaten path, Ebenhaeser tells a story of the previously dispossessed, hard work and quiet dignity – reinforcing the truth that individuals make a place what it is. With a strong sense of community, the 150 families (2 600 residents) live on 1.6-hectare smallholdings, making a living from fishing, as well as farming crops and wine grapes under the name Eenheidsboerdery. Many residents also commute weekly to nearby Lutzville and Vredendal for work opportunities.

The town has many historically interesting clay buildings – some rapidly deteriorating – as well as traditional ‘riet huise’. Not having big-name stores, small, home-based shops flourish and visitors are plied with a daily supply of freshly baked bread, lovely cakes and home baked biscuits. Residents display admirable creativity in their gardens with striking ornaments made from cooldrink bottles, enamelware, old tree trunks and stones.

Lying 37 km from Vredendal on a bend of the Olifants River as it approaches the estuary, the settlement was established as a Rhenish Mission station by Baron von Wurmb in 1831. Its name, ‘stone of help’ is derived from the book of Samuel: “Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, “Hitherto hath the Lord helped us.”

In December 2014, 88 years after the Nama people of Ebenhaeser were dispossessed of their land, the community benefited from the biggest rural restitution claim in the Western Cape.

Ebenhaeser’s residents, who all speak a poetic Afrikaans, may not have urban luxuries at their fingertips, but they have a pro-economic growth culture of frugality, hard work and respect for the family.