Livingstone Online and the Clarens Klopse: Community Engagement in the Maluti Mountains

By Jared McDonald
University of the Free State, South Africa

On 30 May, I was invited to present a paper at the Clarens Klopse in my capacity as Livingstone Online’s lead contact for South African research. The Clarens Klopse is a community forum that meets once a month in Clarens, the eastern Free State village that I call home. The term “Klopse” is borrowed from Cape Afrikaans and roughly translates as “club.” The Klopse regularly invites speakers to present on topics deemed to be of interest to its members and Clarens residents.

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Figure 1. Panoramic view of Clarens, nestled among the Maluti Mountains. Copyright Jared McDonald, CC BY-NC 3.0.

Clarens is a quaint village set in the foothills of the Maluti Mountains, which mark the border between South Africa and Lesotho. The area boasts a rich social history, in addition to the geological attractions of the eastern Free State. The many cave walls and sandstone rock overhangs of the region provided the canvas upon which the hunter-gatherer San ethnic group painted their rock art several hundred years ago. In fact, the area is home to the largest collection of rock art in the world together with the neighboring Drakensberg Mountains.

Subsequent to the San, the baSotho settled the valleys and hilltops of the Maluti Mountains. European farmers migrating northwards from the Cape Colony later also inhabited the area, establishing farms in the surrounding countryside. Later still, the region became a flashpoint during the Mfecane and the social upheavals associated with the expansion of the Zulu kingdom during the early nineteenth century. The mountain kingdom of Lesotho was borne out of a related conflict under the astute leadership of its first king, Moshoeshoe.

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Figure 2. Example of San rock art in the Maluti Mountains. This is a hunting scene depicting San hunters chasing Mountain Rhebuck. Copyright Jared McDonald, CC BY-NC 3.0.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Boers who refused to surrender to the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War (or South Africa War, 1899-1902) sought shelter in the caves and hideaways of the Maluti Mountains. Several sites where the Bittereinders (as those who fought to the bitter end of the war are known) eventually surrendered are still littered with discarded bullet casings and other abandoned ammunition.

The mountainous landscape and history of the Clarens district attract many tourists, hikers and adventure seekers. The Clarens Klopse do their part in ensuring that the history of Clarens and its surrounds is preserved. Though David Livingstone did not visit the area, he continues to generate much interest among locals.

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Figure 3. View of the Maluti Mountains. Copyright Jared McDonald, CC BY-NC 3.0.

As a result, I was pleased to accept the invitation to present a talk at the Klopse on Livingstone and Livingstone Online titled: “The Life and Afterlife of David Livingstone: From the Victorian Era to the Digital Age.” The presentation traced Livingstone’s missionary career and the fame he achieved as an explorer in Africa. The notion of Livingstone’s “afterlife” draws from the ideas of Livingstone Online’s associate project scholar, Justin Livingstone, who has written on how and why Livingstone has been remembered since his passing in 1873. The audience was also introduced to Livingstone Online and the Spectral Imaging Project.

I used this last segment of the talk to discuss the current status of our “Livingstone’s Letters in South Africa” project. Since 2013, a small subset of the Livingstone Online team (director Adrian Wisnicki, asthetic designer Angela Aliff, research assistants Mary Borgo and Alex Munson) and I have been developing partnerships with libraries, archives and museums across the country, including the Brenthurst Library in Johannesburg, the University of Cape Town’s Library, and the Graaff-Reinet Museum.

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Figure 4. Entrance to Clarens, dubbed the “Jewel of the Eastern Free State.” Copyright Jared McDonald, CC BY-NC 3.0.

The goal of these partnerships is to create a critical edition of Livingstone’s surviving letters in South Africa. Our edition will include sixty such letters that cover all phases of Livingstone’s career. The initial phase of critical encoding is now complete, and we’ve embarked on the editing phase of the project. Within the next year, Livingstone Online will publish all relevant images, transcriptions, and critical materials, an endeavor that collectively represents the project’s first foray into partnering with institutions in Africa.

The presentation was followed by a lively question and answer session. Those in attendance – including community leaders, local business owners, retirees, and several academics – were particularly interested in Livingstone’s legacy and how he is remembered today.

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Figure 5. Clarens Green. Copyright Jared McDonald, CC BY-NC 3.0.
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