The 2023 Stoepsit Fees in Rhodes Village was hardly dampened by regular thunderstorms and downpours – sometimes four times a day – not to mention the slippery and muddy roads. Festivalgoers enjoyed not only the bonhomie on local stoeps, but also demonstrations, an interesting talk on the fascinating geology of the area, arts and crafts (mostly made in Rhodes) and locally made preserves and pickles.
This year was the 11th edition of the festival aimed at attracting visitors during a “dead” month when nothing else is going on. Since 2013, “Stoepsit”, as it’s affectionately called by locals, has attracted visitors who gently stroll or cycle around the village and talk to locals on their stoeps, where there is usually something for sale and some refreshments on offer. Over the years, local farmers and their families have been included, with stoeps on their farms close to the village, where offerings may include a stunning garden with tea and scones or a “Boere brekfis” on a working sheep farm that also breeds miniature ponies.
The village patriarch, Dave Walker of Walkabouts Inn, came up with the idea, as he believes the telling and sharing of stories on a stoep is as South African as braaivleis and biltong. Locals were sceptical at first, but the three-day festival has grown in leaps and bounds over the years.
It’s also seen as a convivial way to get to know the locals and hear their stories of why they chose a remote mountainous village in the southern Drakensberg to settle in and what makes them tick. Passions and pursuits abound in the village, as the colourful locals are an eclectic bunch with a wide range of interests. They all have strong opinions and, at times, the local politics veers towards strong disagreements － just like in any small village.
But, for Stoepsit, the locals pull together and bury their differences in the spirit of the community as a whole. Let’s dive into a brief rundown of some of the locals who participated in the Stoepsit Fees this year.
Passions run deep in Rhodes
Pursuits, interests and passions – no matter what you want to call them – are all shared during Stoepsit. Meet long-term resident Tony Kietzman, a tall, rangy man who cares for and prunes roses like a magician. He grows indigenous plants for his nursery, and he is a hiking and fly fishing guide and a very, very good artist － mainly landscapes which evoke the surrounding veld in a variety of media.
Tony drew quite a crowd of rose enthusiasts to his rose pruning demonstration in the Rhodes community rose garden between Muller and Sauer Streets. For both the Saturday and Sunday demonstrations, the rain held off and visitors enjoyed the rose garden in full sunshine. All roses are Ludwig Taschner roses and were donated to the community by the renowned rose supplier.
Then there’s the relatively new resident Nohline Geyer, who, with partner Lukas, has owned the Rhodes Studio House for the last two years. Their beautiful home houses a restaurant serving Mediterranean-inspired cuisine prepared by Nohline and her team, together with a gallery which showcases the work of local artists. Tables are spread out on the wrap-around stoep, with a few stationed in a spacious voorkamer/gallery for inclement weather.
During the Stoepsit, Nohline juggled holding two very popular pesto-making demonstrations on the Saturday and Sunday, both within an hour of serving 30-40 people who had booked for lunch! Both demos were in demand and were sold out, as she merrily conjured up a delicious flat-leaf (Italian) parsley pesto with fresh parsley straight from her garden, using the simple ingredients of parsley, olive oil, lemon juice, walnuts, Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper.
The word “conjure” is apt in Nohline’s case. Having grown up on a farm in the Free State, she has a passion for food prepared with super-fresh ingredients from her own vegetable garden.
“It’s still a work in progress,” she sighed, adding, “but it’s coming along.” With the demonstrations entitled “From the garden to the table”, not only were attendees able to taste the delectable pesto, but there was also time to ask many questions. This self-taught foodie happily shared both her passion and her prodigious knowledge about food and growing vegetables in a cold climate with harsh winters.
The next special once-off event was about the geology of the beautiful southern Drakensberg in which Rhodes is situated, giving attendees valuable insights into how the landscape formed 180-190 million years ago. Geologically, the landscape is relatively young, explained Professor Goonie Marsh of Rhodes University in Makhanda, who has been visiting Rhodes Village for years and who has conducted geological research in the area.
Millions of years ago, Marsh explained, the area was a wet desert filled with reptiles, small dinosaurs and very early mammals. Lava flows were pushed upwards through cracks or fissures in the earth’s surface before spreading out laterally. This activity was not explosive from volcanoes, but was a natural process of lava being pushed upwards due to normal movement beneath the earth’s surface. These flat lava flows turned into the basalt lines or ridges from which the Drakensberg was built over time. The characteristic flat-topped ridges and mountains one sees in the area today are a result of this uplift and erosion over 20 million years. Marsh’s talk was very well attended, with a fairly large group attached to the Departments of Tourism and Arts and Culture in Sterkspruit having travelled to Rhodes for the evening talk.
Of interest, a large bed of fossil bones was found near Sterkspruit in September 2018. In fact, the man credited with discovering the dinosaur graveyard, Shepherd Dumangwe Tyhobela, attended Marsh’s talk in Rhodes on Friday evening, asking most of the questions. The site of the discovery has attracted a lot of interest from scientists at Wits, and from Oxford and Birmingham Universities in the UK. Marsh’s presentation was followed by some live music from Charles Webster and Kath McClelland at the Walkabouts Inn.
Other live demonstrations
Stoepsit also featured a variety of other live demonstrations, such as spinning and felting with merino wool by local felting expert Mavis Masilo, who is based in Rhodes’s Zakhele township. She has been working with wool for many years and does felting for a number of clients in and around the area. For one local Rhodes client, she makes felt slippers, which sell very well.
Other demos included pottery classes at the Clay Cafe, macro/micro photography at Rhodes Cottage and basic quilting at the Hobbit House in Muller Street.
Let’s turn to how Stoepfees works and where the funds raised go.
How Stoepfees works
The festival is organised by a three-person committee, two of whom are based in Rhodes – Margie Murray, who runs the Rhodes Info Centre, and local resident Sharlene Sankey. The other member is Makhanda-based Brigitte Harrison, whose family have a house in Rhodes.
The team work very hard, giving of their time freely, be it organising, making uniforms and costumes or doing quirky little installations around the village. Some installations which were much admired by visitors included the Rhodes computer, which computed to the nearest decimal point. It consisted of an old metal trunk with a home-made abacus inside. Another was the three eye-catching scarecrows in jeans and pretty blouses dotted around the village.
The concept is that residents who open their stoeps and sell produce, items and other goods keep the money they make from stoep sales. Visitors obtain passports at the Rhodes Info Office at R150, which give them access to all events.
Demonstrations require booking and additional fees, such as for pottery classes, quilting and macro/micro photography. The funds raised by individual stoep holders is theirs, and the funds from passports go towards the annual Stoepfees kitty.
Relishes, chutneys, crafts, tea, second-hand books, coffee and cakes are available in the pastorie adjoining the NG Kerk. Funds raised here go to the individual crafters and foodstuff producers.
At every participating venue, wool and knitting needles are on hand for locals and visitors to knit a few rows for the Community Blanket Project. The knitted squares are sewn together into blankets and auctioned off at the annual Dirt Road Traders Wild Trout Association Fly-Fishing Festival. The money raised goes towards the Rhodes Animal Care project, which ensures regular visits by state veterinarians to sterilise animals or tend to any local animal in need of care.
But visitors soon found out that their knitting prowess was to be inspected by none other than local resident Roger Brown in his Inspector Purl police uniform. His quaint uniform was fashioned by his wife and Sharlene Sankey, and includes a little ball of wool and toothpick needles on each epaulette.
Inspector Purl sported a truncheon and handcuffs, together with a blue light made from a plastic blue bottle with twinkling fairy lights on his bicycle. Inspector Purl also had a fine book, from which he issued fines for appropriate misdemeanours.
All in all, close to 100 passports were issued by the Rhodes Info Office, with large groups coming from as far afield as Barkly East, Wartail, New England, Molteno, Burgersdorp, East London and Makhanda.
For more information
Look for the hashtags: #rhodesstoepsitfees on Facebook and @rhodesstoepsitfees on Instagram.