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Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal
Submit an article to Indago - a peer reviewed journal

Elmar du Plessis


With the recent heavy downpours in Bloemfontein and the images and videos thereof popping up all over Facebook, one cannot help but be reminded of one of the biggest disasters to ever hit Bloemfontein, the flood of 1904.

In the early years of Bloemfontein its famous Bloem Spruit regularly flooded its banks after a heavy rainstorm. One bystander described it as follows: “A magnificent sight after a good downpour, the water, brown and foaming, shooting up as it flung itself against the huge boulders in its way, or swirling and eddying around them.” This, however, was under normal circumstances.

In 1902 the Cape Parliament introduced the first radio legislation in the world: “Electric Telegraph shall be interpreted as including any system or means of conveying signs, signals or communication by electricity, magnetism, electro-magnetism or other like agencies, whether with or without the aid of wires, and including the system commonly known as Wireless Telegraphy or Aetheric Signalling and any improvement and development of such system.” The first wireless licences in the world were also introduced in South Africa (1902), and by 1910 the country was producing its own radio equipment.

Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl was born in Pretoria in 1887 and studied at Victoria College (today Stellenbosch University) before travelling to Germany to complete his doctorate in electrical engineering. While busy with his studies he unwittingly reinvented the thermionic valve that had first been developed by the American Lee de Forest in 1906. Van der Bijl’s research came to the attention of the American physicist Robert Millikan, who invited him to join his staff at the University of Chicago.

In the late 19th century, before the introduction of the railway, coach travelling became the main mode of transport. The foremost destination was certainly the newly discovered diamond fields at Kimberley. Stagecoach companies such as the Inland Transport Company, the Red Star Line and later the Zeederberg Line strived to transport passengers from the Cape Colony and Natal to the interior of South Africa as quickly and in as much comfort as possible. By 1891 there was a network of 73 stagecoach routes in the Free State.