by Willie Meyer – from his book “Magaliesberg Kaleidoscope”
About 275 kilometres North of Beijing are the ruins of Shanduk – in English known as Xanadu – the ancient summer residence of the Yuan dynasty, then Mongolian rulers of China. It is probably the mystique of this fabulous city, as celebrated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge in his poem Kubla Kahn that served as inspiration for the naming of the farm and railway siding just east of Meerhof.
The farm of 1 500 hectares through which the Swartspruit runs on its way to Hartbeespoort Dam was established by an attorney friend of Johan Schoeman, John Findlay, in the early twenties of the previous century. Findlay was a successful man and in 1927 had a house built in the Cape Dutch style which became popular again after the restoration of Groot Constantia in 1924.
The father of Willem Wouter (Bill) Bezuidenhout of the Johannesburg Bezuidenhout family at that stage had a dairy farm in Doornfontein. The family was well-off and owned extensive property in Johannesburg since before the discovery of gold on the Rand. What are today the suburbs of Bezuidenhoutsvallei, Doornfontein, Cyrildene and Kensington were all part of their farms.
There is an interesting tale in the family about how the suburb Judith’s Paarl got its name. According to this story the wife of the original owner of the farm, Frederick Bezuidenhout, was not very happy when he sold a part of the farm. She protested that it was “the pearl of the farm”, and that part has since been referred to as “Judith’s Paarl”. It then became the name of the new suburb
The roots of the Bezuidenhouts in Johannesburg have indeed been very deep, but Bill had his eye on a piece of land at Hartbeespoort Dam – specifically on Findlay’s dairy farm. Findlay wasn’t interested in selling and asked a ridiculous price for the farm. In 1943 Bill sold his property, which at that stage he rented out mainly to vegetable farmers, to the Johannesburg City Council, paid Findlay what he wanted and took over the farm.
Bill’s son Barend (Boet) completed his high school training at the Afrikaanse Hoër Seunskool in Pretoria after which he studied BSc Agriculture at the University of Pretoria with a view to joining his father on the farm.
Meanwhile a young physiotherapist from Wuppertal in Germany, Anneli Troost, came to South Africa after the war in Europe to work at the Meerhof School for Physically Disabled children. Here she met Boet, who by that time had taken over his father’s farm. They were married in 1952.
When Boet took over the farm, Bill bought the house which is reputedly the oldest house in Meerhof and went to live there before moving to Derdepoort later on. The house itself has an interesting history. According to the Hartbeespoort Environmental Heritage Association it is possible that the house was built as a pioneer cottage even before General Hendrik Schoeman bought the farm in 1868. Through the years it had been extended and improved and Johan Schoeman used photographs thereof in his publicity material to promote his developments around the Dam.
However, there are the ruins of another old building in the vicinity and Jack Seale is of the opinion that the house might be confused with that. Boet Bezuidenhout himself didn’t think the house was that old. The house on Erf 1 in Meerhof is situated on the water side of Dr Kolbe Lane in Meerhof and is one of the few houses on the Eastern side of the Dam which front on the foreshore.
The present owner of Xanadu is Andries, the youngest of Boet’s three children. The other two are Annette and Christiaan. Like his father, Andries also picked a German girl and was married to Helene Sindhelm in Pretoria on 10 October 1980.
In the mid-1980s Andries was the area manager for a catering company but got tired of constant travelling and returned to the farm in 1986 to farm with cattle and lucerne. He bought the farm from his father in 1990 and with Erik Holm, his neighbour, developed the Oxwagon hiking trail as one of the first ecological projects in the area. With its wetlands, rich birdlife and evidence of early human settlement, it was ideal for conservation. An old golf club that was probably used by British officers who were stationed in the area during the Anglo Boer War has even been found on the spot. Golf is a very old sport, dating from the Middle Ages and was especially popular among the Scottish.
Several artefacts from the Early and Middle Stone Age have been found on the site and in the early nineties the Bernard Price Institute of the University of the Witwatersrand operated an open air paleontological exhibition in the Swartspruit basin. The exhibition has since been moved to the Cradle of Humankind exhibition at Maropeng.
In the nineteen nineties a developer approached Andries to develop Xanadu as a golf estate with a golf course that would have been designed by Gary Player. Those plans didn’t come to fruition but Andries decided to go ahead with the development of an ecologically friendly residential area which would include a business centre. Despite several problems, construction started early in the new millennium and before the crisis in the property market, units sold well. The market has picked up again since and Xanadu is now more real than the one in Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn, which according to some historians, was to a large degree an opium dream.
A copy of the book by Willie Meyer is available at the Kormorant office.