All the history of the Waterberg you ever wanted to know

16 February 2020 - 00:00 By john miller
'Waterberg Echoes' by Richard Wadley.
'Waterberg Echoes' by Richard Wadley.
Image: Supplied

Published in the Sunday Times: 16/02/2020

Waterberg Echoes *****
Richard Wadley
Protea Boekhuis, R995

The German adventurer and explorer, Carl Mauch, kept a diary of his lonely 1869 travels in the Waterberg. In a comprehensive history of the region, one would expect to find his unique record of its topography, flora, fauna and inhabitants. However, to learn also that he was an impoverished carpenter's son who ultimately died in his home town of Stuttgart, alone and unrecognised, is to enliven history with the people who made it.

In this way the reader will be both enlightened and educated by author Richard Wadley as he weaves a complex history into an entertaining narrative.

Wadley brings the Waterberg to life through personalities with, for better and often for worse, their tribal conflicts and villages, farms and towns, education and religion, politics and war, surveying and mapping, transportation and mining, disease and drought, often shaped by the ubiquitous South African matter of race and ethnicity.

The book benefits from Wadley's endless curiosity, his travels in the area and rigorous research. The Waterberg's pre-history, from 300,000 years ago to the 17th century, has its own chapter in which Wadley's wife, renowned archaeologist Dr Lyn Wadley, explains what is known.

In piecing together Waterberg Echoes, Wadley seeks to provide an accurate historical record, sharing every detail he has uncovered, whether full names and birth dates of minor characters or place names of obscure farms. At 832 pages, the book might have been designed to be dipped into on occasion or, with its thorough index, used as a reference for historians and the curious. But the happy surprise is that it can be enjoyed as a long story.

Waterberg Echoes is a lively book enhanced by Wadley's witty and pointed asides. Wadley saves his strong opinions and challenges for the concluding chapter in which, with both despair and hope, he places the Waterberg's past firmly in the nation's history.