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David Livingstone only served as the minister at the Moffat Mission for only a few years before his adventurous spirit encouraged him to venture further north into hitherto unexplored parts of the Dark Continent. However, he did continue to treat the Moffat Mission as a sort of spiritual home base, and returned periodically for the rest of his life.
As time wore on, Livingstone's desire to evangelise pagan souls in remote places was progressively eclipsed by his passion for exploring virgin territory. This increasingly tried the patience of the London Missionary Society(LMS), and in 1857, Livingstone resigned from the LMS. From then until the end of his life in 1873, his exploration was funded by the Royal Geographical Society, and with the help of their president, he was appointed as Her Majesty's Consul for the East Coast of Africa.
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The focal point of the Moffat Mission is the church, which was first built in 1838, using stones bound together by mud (not mortar), a roof made of reeds and a pressed dung floor.
The church was designed by Robert Moffat in an unusual cross shape, and can accommodate 800 people - as a result, for many years it was the largest building in the interior of South Africa. It was extensively renovated for the centenary celebrations in 1938, during which the walls were stabilised with cement. Interestingly, it has only needed rethatching five times in its entire history, which speaks volumes on the dryness of Kuruman's semi-desert climate.
The Moffat Mission is considered to be the Mother Church of the Batswana people, and the only time in its 175 year history that services were suspended in this church was during the 1960s, at the height of Grand Apartheid, when the Batswana people were removed to the Bophuthatswana 'bantustan' ('independent homeland').
(work in progress)
Some of the travel experiences I've cherished most are those that have taught me useful skills that I've been able to apply in my everyday life, so here's one to try with the kids at home ...
If you're bored with conventional floor coverings, then follow this helpful step-by-step guide to making a pressed dung floor:
1. First gather some fine sand and a large quantity of animal dung
2. Sweep the floor to remove dust.
3. Mix dung and sand and add water to achieve the desired consistency.
4. "The dung mixture is smeared on by hand in a circular motion. It will take a day or two for this to dry. Once it is dry, a top layer is added. The top layer is dung only, and not mixed with sand. It seals the bottom layer and makes the flooring last longer." [note that this step takes about three days to complete].
5. Repeat this exercise every four months to keep your pressed dung floor in tiptop condition [if you need to repeat it that often, then it seems to me like that top layer isn't doing its job]!!!
This has been paraphrased from a display on the notice board in the Moffat Mission church which has ... yes, you've guessed it ... a pressed dung floor!
The garden opposite the main mission house at the Moffat Mission is lined with ancient, arthritic pomegranate trees which line the route of the original irrigation furrow that was established by Moffat to bring water from the Eye of Kuruman.
This furrow was 5km long and is the first documented use of irrigation in sub Saharan Africa. Prior to following his calling to missionary work, Robert Moffat had started his career as a gardener, and so was well schooled in the principles of water management - however, given his gardening experience was gained in Cheshire, England, it's fair to assume that he was probably more experienced in draining away surplus water than irrigating with a scarce resource!
It's easy to be somewhat scathing about Kuruman's lack of major tourist attractions, but in fact, it boasts a site that has had one of the most profound effects on Southern Africa's cultural development: the Moffat Mission.
A mission station was established in the region by the London Missionary Society as early as 1816, and in 1820, Robert Moffat and his wife Mary arrived from Scotland. Moffat was an extraordinarily energetic man - whose ecosystem of a beard lent him the appearance of an Old Testament prophet - and he continued his pastoral work in Kuruman for the next 50 years before retiring back to Britain. Perhaps his most celebrated achievement was the translation of the Bible into Setswana (which he completed in 1857), and the establishment of a printing press to print Bibles, which is still in use today.
The Moffat Mission was also the first African posting for the young David Livingstone, who found his hosts so congenial that he married their eldest daughter! You can still view the stump of a wild almond tree under which Livingstone is reported to have proposed to Mary.
The mission was also the place where the first Motswana minister (Reverend Maphakela Lekalake) was ordained. It still continues its pastoral work to the present day and is home to the splendidly titled Kalahari Desert School of Theology.
The Moffat Mission has changed a lot since I first visited nearly 25 years ago en route for a canoeing trip on the Orange River - at that point, there was no museum exhibit to speak of, and we bunked down in sleeping bags on the floor of the mission. In recent years, the Moffat Mission has been substantially renovated courtesy of a couple of government grants, and now includes a small conference centre. However, the museum exhibits are pretty dog eared, and it's apparent that the money has been spent to date on renovating buildings and infrastructure - this is great, but I hope that the powers that be don't overlook the importance of display material that will help visitors to appreciate the history and legacy of this amazing place.
It is a beautifully tranquil spot, and one of those very special places where you cannot but help feel the connection to its history. The fact that you'll be one of a very select band of tourists to visit it just adds to its cachet.
Actually David Livingstone was presuming a good deal when he stepped outside into the garden with Miss Mary Moffat ... and after a discussion under an almond tree, they returned betrothed. Today this is all that remains of the almond tree in Mary Moffat's garden at the Moffat Mission.
Ever the pragmatist, Dr Livingstone sensibly selected a bride from good missionary stock who knew what she was up for, and she was to prove a worthy wife and helpmate over the following decades as Livingstone's work and subsequent exploration took him into hitherto uncharted parts of Southern Africa.
The 'Eye' (or 'Die Oog' in Afrikaans) of Kuruman is the major tourist attraction in town by a long way - and cynics would suggest that this is largely because there isn't a great deal else! Clearly they haven't bothered to explore the splendidly evocative Moffat Mission .... but I'm getting ahead of myself ...
Nonetheless the Eye is very special, because without this spring, the town of Kuruman would most likely not exist. The spring wells up from the underlying dolomitic aquifer and ensures a vast year-round supply of high quality water in an environment that receives very little rainfall, thus allowing the establishment of a permanent settlement and agriculture.
The yield of the spring is immense: 20 million litres a day. This an almost unimaginably large amount of water - about equivalent to the capacity of 400 suburban swimming pools - and I have seen claims in tourist literature that this is the largest spring in the Southern Hemisphere (although I am almost sure that this is wrong). Largest or not, it's still a staggering amount of water, especially in the middle of what is semi-desert, so it's not worth splitting hairs over.
If you look closely at the rock exposed in the sidewalls of the spring close to the footbridge, you can see the fallen leaves being disturbed by the inflow of water. The exposed rocks also illustrate the interconnected system of voids and cavities which make the dolomite such a high yielding aquifer (indulge me - I'm a hydrogeologist by training, and we get precious few opportunities to eulogise about our profession!)
The Eye is surrounded by a small park, whose greenness is an assault on the senses after a few hundred kilometres of parched brown Northern Cape landscape. A small admission fee is payable, so it's generally not very busy and is a very peaceful place to while away an hour or so, admiring the water lilies and doing nothing in particular. There is also a small cafe selling cool drinks and snacks, although I'm not sure whether this is open all the time.
I am still baffled as to why in so many languages, the word for spring is 'eye' (or the translation thereof). Any suggestions?
The Kalahari Raptor Centre (KRC) is situated in 600 hectares (a private game reserve). The owners, a retired, British couple, care for injured and orphaned birds of prey, predators and small mammals, although when we were there their colony of meerkats had been wiped out.
You are walked around the aviaries where they are caring for an assortment of birds, some rehabilitated and awaiting release, others disabled and/or for other reasons unable to ever be rereleased into the wild.
The highlight, for me, was the vulture feeding pen - it is open to allow vultures to come and go as they are ready but also provides adequate dining for any nearby vultures. NB when visiting stand downhill to the wind - the smell of the rotting cow flesh (impossible to tell how long it had been there) was putrid - absolutely rank! Very interesting to hear about the plight of the vultures. With years until sexual maturity and then only offering up one or two young, with habitats changing and research (from India) showing changing, manufactured cattle food containing ingredients possibly toxic to the birds, numbers are declining...
We drove out of our way to visit. It was not quite worth such maximum effort but they are doing a very good and worthy job and obviously need all the extra rand that visits can bring in.
NB - Visiting (which when we contcated them by email they neglected to tell us) is by appointment only. So, when we rocked up and found the gate padlocked and padlocked again we were most put out. We spent a good 40 minutes slowly driving up and down the road across the Kalahari, looking to get a bar of reception on our phone in order to call them - was no easy task! When I (eventually) got through, Mrs Raptor was rather curt and disinterested in having us visit. I was, having promised the children and driven for several hours, rather hot, bothered and put out. Eventually she agreed and Mr Raptor was a very nice and engaging man who took us around.
It is also possible to take overnight accommodation at the KRC but we were told, for a family of 4 it is not possible (strictly 2 persons per cabin)
The 'tour' cost next to nothing. There is a small exhibit showing how electric cables along the road kill, the work that the electricities companies are doing to try to prevent this (not only are the cables hazardous for the birds but it costs the companies are fortune when a dead bird stuffs up the suppply/power!)
There is also a very small shop selling the odd magnet and ice cold drinks - we bought a few magnets and left a donation. We didn't want the magnets but they were cheap, it was for a good cause and maybe I was also feeling a little bad about bing so defiant on the phone to Mrs Raptor!!!
The church was built by Robert Moffat and Robert Hamilton with a band of local men.
It was here in Kuruman , in 1824, that Robert Moffat of the London Missionary Society (LMS) and his wife Mary founded their mission station, from where they worked among the Tswana tribes for 50 years.
The lifeblood of Kuruman and the surrounding area is Gasegonyana, or The Eye, the largest natural fountain in the southern hemisphere. It produces 20 million litres of water every single day, creating the lake and supplying water for the area. The water appears at the surface thanks to the 190 million year-old volcanic dolerite dykes that thrust up to the surface in the area, causing a major crack and so an easy route for the water to escape upwards. The canals spreading out from Gasegonyana lead for more than 6km down the valley, creating the green oasis.