TABLE OF CONTENTS
Heading Page No.
Labuschagne, - the Surname of “Red Lennard”
Izak Labuschagne I
Len Labuschagne and George Kolbe
KWB - Surety during the depression years
Boer War and politics
Cotton in Swaziland
Herman Labuschagne and Matie Joubert
On the Transvaal highveld, to this day, those farmers who rise to outstanding achievements in wool farming are referred to, sometimes more in jest than anything else, as 'Wool Barons'. This term was perhaps never so deeply entrenched as in a certain dynasty of wool farmers with the surname Labuschagne who resided on farms around the town of Wakkerstroom in the Transvaal Province of South Africa.
When Leonardus Johannes Labuschagne alias 'Rooi Lennard' (Red Lennard) was born on the 17th of May 1826, the country was still wild. Wild enough for Rooi Lennard to one day find himself up a tree watching a lion devour his favorite horse, which was aptly named Bonaparte. Well one might ask, why the name Bonaparte, which obviously refers to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, was apt. The answer to that question in all probability lies in Rooi Lennard's surname:-
The surname Labuschagne, I was once told by Frenchman who claimed to be an expert in these things, is derived from the words La Buchagne which means 'The Buccaneers' when translated from French. However, these were 'Royal' Buccaneers as the word 'La' in this instance denotes royalty or a position under royalty. Their job was to be the King's personal bodyguard, especially as the Cardinal of France at the time, had designs to overthrow the King. The Labuschagne crest certainly sports all the elements of this heritage in that it features a knights helmet, crossed swords and the royal Fluer de Lys.
The 's' which was eventually inserted before the 'c' of Buchagne, was apparently added by the Germans in jest because to them these Buccaneers spent most of their time sidetracked into the surrounding forests by the Cardinal's men, thus leaving their king exposed. In the 1600's when their King was beheaded these 'La Buschagne's' fled to the Cape of Storms with the Huguenots. It seems that around that time the 'La' was apparently joined to the rest of the surname making Labuschagne. By the time intermarriage with the Dutch of the Cape resulted in the total neglect of French being spoken in these families, the surname was being mispronounced (once again, it seems, in jest) in the most bizarre ways. Today a Labuschagne will answer to 'Labberskagnie' in the city of Bloemfontein in the predominantly Afrikaans province of the Orange Free State, 'Labushane' in the city of Durban in the predominantly English Province of Natal and 'Laberskaaing' in certain parts of the Cape Province. In France he would have to learn to answer to 'Messeur Labukanyee' or simply 'Busha' or 'Busshanyee' uttered by some socialist Frenchman who still religiously refuses to pronounce the royal 'La'.
Rooi Lennard, originally from Somerset East had his son Izak Hermanus Labuschagne (born on the 22nd of June 1856) baptised in the Potchefstroom 'Voortrekker' Church. So it was then, that Izak Labuschagne was more Dutch than French, at least when he spoke, for he spoke a mixture of high Dutch and Afrikaans. When Izak Labuschagne worshipped in the Dutch Reformed Church it was solely in High Dutch as were his evening devotions with his family.
Izak came to live in the Wakkerstroom district on a farm called Boschbank which when translated from Dutch to English means 'Bush Bank'. It certainly seems that by then the only thing apart from the surname which Izak had in common with the original La Buschagne's, was the bush - and at that a very fertile and beautiful part of it, as Boschbank is well known for having some of the best sheep grazing in those parts.
Many years later Izak’s great grand son was quite coincidentally nicknamed ‘Bush’ by a community of coloured people in the far Northern Cape, after a Television personality called Bush who was also, involved in exposing police corruption, but more of that in the sequel to this.
Izak Labuschagne then, was a sheep farmer and an extraordinarily talented one at that. He was a man that simply put, had a natural instinct and acute sense in classing wool and selecting stock for breeding super fine wool sheep. For many years bales of his wool stood in 'South Africa House' in London, in proud display of the utmost excellence and finesse that the British Empire had aspired to in the production of superfine wool. Izak Labuschagne then, became one of the founding fathers of an entire family of 'Wool Barons' which made up quite a dynasty in the area.
Wakkerstroom, to this day still a small little town, is the second oldest town in the Transvaal after Potchefstroom, followed by the Capital Pretoria. The treks from the great trek arrived there soon after their tempestuous trek through Natal only to find the 'highveld' uninhabited due to the expansionist military exploits of two famous Zulu Kings, namely the legendary Kings Chukka and Dingaan. It is therefore not surprising that at its founding in 1859 it was first called Martinus Wessel Stroom after the famous Voortrekker of the same name.
On the 17th of December 1912 Izak’s son, Leonardus Johannes Labuschagne (Len), born on the 17th of May 1880, thus having the same birthday as his grandfather Rooi Lennard, married Elizabeth (Bessie) Johanna Kolbe, daughter of George Augustus Kolbe (29/7/1863 - 28/9/1954), another wool baron. George's grandfather and namesake came to South Africa as a missionary in 1820 with the British settlers. His father Frederick Fortunas Kolbe however, became a well known and respected sheep farmer,
who is remembered for being the winner of a medal at the 1889 International Wool Show in Paris. In 1914 George Kolbe became a member of the 'Volksraad' for the Wakkerstroom constituency. In 1918 he became the first Chairman of the 'Transvaalse Skaap en Bokboere Vereniging' (TSV) and as such, the first chairman of a provincial wool producers organization in South Africa. With that marriage then, two leading families of wool barons merged. In 1927 George and his son in law Len were both instrumental in setting up the 'Kooperatiewe Wolmaatskappy Beperk' (Cooperative Wool Mart) (KWB), which effectively superseded the TSV. George became their first Chairman with Len on the board of directors.
During the depression years of the 1930's George and Len together with two others (E P Hoogenhout and H P Hancke), staked their entire fortunes by standing surety for the KWB in their personal capacities. Despite ridicule by wool brokers and the like, these men acted selflessly and in the interest of all wool farmers. Moreover, they succeeded, as an article in the 'Natal
Advertiser' of the 22nd of May 1928 bears evidence. It states the following:-
"The rapid growth of the co-operative movements among wool farmer and of the popularity of Durban as a centre of trade is exemplified by the decision of the Co-operative Wool Mart (Kooperatieve Wolmaatskappy Beperk) to increase the capacity of their existing premises at the corner of Kitchener Street and the Esplanade, by construction of additional capacious warehouses and bond stores, to cost Lb 25,000. The Plans for this building were approved this morning by the council committee. The firm in question established its headquarters in Queen Street two years ago (The Natal Land and Colonization Co. Ltd, ”se gebou is gehuur met opsie om te koop”), but it was stated this morning, business increased so rapidly that after one season the firm acquired the Kitchener Street site and built premises to the value of Lb 30,000. Further inflow of business necessitated the extension now contemplated, which will comprise a three-storied structure adjacent to the existing warehouse and offices."
Len Labuschagne was a remarkable man. After matriculating at Maritzburg College in 1897, he left The Victoria College (today Stellenbosch University) where he was studying law, to fight in the Second Boer war (1899 - 1901). Many years later he would still relate the details of the 'Battle of Majuba' near Newcastle with a sense of wonderment at the persistence and ultimate folly of that British onslaught. After the war he worked as an article clerk for a while but then received a bursary to continue studying, in Pretoria. After his studies he taught whilst building up his own sheep stud.
Len was chairman of various local political organizations in the Wakkerstroom area such as the 'Het Volk' Party, 'Die Suid Afrikaanse Party' and later the 'United South African Nationalist Party' right up to 1947. He was a personal friend of General Jan Smuts. Issues such as those in Smut's book 'A League of Nations' were among the topics of discussion between them.
After becoming a legendary sheep farmer and leader in that industry, he then also became one of the biggest cattle farmers in Natal and Swaziland.
Len and his only son, Herman Labuschagne, (named Izak Hermanus Labuschagne after his grandfather), started the cotton industry in Swaziland. Years later the British Government indicated that they wanted to bestow knighthoods on then for this, but the South African politics at the time was such that the acceptance of such an honour was all but out of the question.
At his sixtieth wedding Anniversary on Friday the 12th of December 1972 at Wakkerstroom, his vow to his wife at their marriage was revealed. 'I shall pay for each farm I buy in cash' he had said. He did not believe in borrowing money, neither did he believe in giving it to the bank. At his death at the age of 99, just two weeks before his one hundredth birthday, this man, who read each and every night from his High-Dutch Bible, and prayed for his 'kinderen en de kleinen' (the children and the small) after the evening meal, left them, his daughter Matie and only son Herman, equal shares in an estate comprising some 60 farms, teeming with livestock. Each farm had been paid for in cash...
The wool dynasty was now in the hands of Herman and Matie each of whom had three sons. Matie's husband Theo Joubert, who was also involved in politics and was on the Executive Committee of ”The National Wool Growers Association”, had died of a heart attach some years previously and the farming was therefore in her hands. With the help of her sons and the advice of her brother she soldiered on in the tradition set by her forefathers. Herman had married Johanna Magdelena Labuschagne, the daughter of Carl Stephanus Vermaak, another sheep farmer from the Dullstroom / Middleburg Region of the Transvaal who was also involved in the Boer war with Len Labuschagne. Interestingly enough, Johanna's family tree actually extends into the family of Napoleon Bonaparte in France, in particular to his second wife, Princess Louise through a Cornelia Minaar who at one time was being sought by French officialdom with regards to an
inheritance from the Princess. In this marriage then, there was a curious union between the offspring of Kings and Emperors, evidence of which could only vaguely be detected in the surnames of people and a horse named 'Bonaparte'.
Herman was very bright indeed. He came first in the whole of the Transvaal in his matric year and was an avid sportsman. Like his father, he was a big Game hunter and extraordinarily good shot and frequently accompanied his father on hunting trips to Mozambique which was first called 'Portuguese East Africa'. He was also an extraordinarily good, fast saloon car driver and
became a member of the “Jaguar Drivers Club” as well as a veteran member of the “Road Safety Association”. During the Second World War he was Captain in the 'Tuis Commando' (Home Commando’s) of Wakkerstroom and toward the end of the war he was to become a Colonel, but as the war drew to close so did that prospect.
Herman and Johanna raised three sons, Leon (named after Len) Carl (named after Johanna's father) and an unexpected 'late lamb' youngest, named Izak Hermanus Labuschagne after his great grandfather, in 1959. This one came to the year, a hundred years after the founding of Wakkerstroom. In support of this wool-based tradition, Herman's eldest son Leonardus (Leon) Johannes Labuschagne (named after his grandfather) was sent to Australia (Gouldburn and Triangie areas) to complete his studies in the
wool industry in 1966. The latest son's name however, created a problem;- his father was called 'Herman' and his parents were not enamored with the name Izak, fearing that he might be nicknamed 'Izzie or Sakkie'. So they gave him an alias - Harry. However, there is far, far more to be said on the real reason for the adoption of the said alias in the sequels hereto.
Herman however, had in the mean time quietly and indisputably carved his own mark on the industry, right in the record books of the K.W.B. which his father was instrumental in founding. He went further than that, and carved it into the world record books. This was by no means surprising as he inherited his grandfather Izak’s talents. Deft, sensitive classing fingers and
a razor sharp eye assured exacting quality and excellent breeding as the cuttings on the next page illustrate. He was an avid opposer of the 'pool system' under the then new Wool Board and he predicted that it would contribute to the destruction of the industry. Several years later the figures told their own story as thousands of farmers had switched from wool to other products.
Herman was a profuse reader and used to enjoy working till the early hours of the morning. He was intensely interested in World affairs, so much so that he always owned the best of radio equipment with which he could pick up almost any radio station in the world. Accordingly he was a member of 'The South African Foundation', and various other informative organizations.
It was his interest in World affairs and the Illuminati that contributed, to a great extent, to his entry into Freemasonry. His 'mother' lodge was the Mkonto Lodge (No.3624) in Piet Retief. It was in this organization that he truly excelled. He became a Master Mason, entered the Scottish Rite and by the time he was District Grand Master he was completely besotted with
Freemasonry. He became an Officer of the District Grand Lodge of the Transvaal, then he became a member of the Grand Lodge of England, Scotland, and Teloffs. He became a Knight of the White Pelican, a Knight of the Rose Criox, he attained the 33rd and last degree in the Scottish Rite and became the Sovereign Grand Inspector General of the Grand Lodge of South Africa. From there it is unknown whether he entered the Esoteric degrees or the Palladium via the 'Triangle Lodges' and through these, ultimately 'The Illuminati', although he was often away for long periods from home on 'Lodge business to Johannesburg'.
One and a half years after his son Harry left his Theological studies in Grahamstown in favour of military service, just 5 months after his father, Len Labuschagne's death in February of 1979, Herman Labuschagne died of a fast acting brain tumor, in July of the same year, ironically, some three months after a car crash at a mere 70 Kmh. Herman and Johanna were on their way home from the town of Ermelo when one night, they plowed into the back of a tractor that had no reflectors or rear lights, whilst supposedly trying to avoid an oncoming car. From the diagnosis given by doctors of the Eugene Marais Hospital in Pretoria the accident was a result of the tumor interfering with his concentration. Harry was given leave from Military Service
to attend the funeral and together with his two brothers and a nephew he carried his father's coffin to its last resting place in the cemetery of his forefathers in Wakkerstroom.
The Dynasty of the wool barons of Wakkerstroom was now in the hands of Matie and Johanna and their respective children. Little did Harry know that day what was brewing up in the future. He did not have to wait long as almost immediately a ten year long feud brewed up and blazed forth between the three brothers and Johanna. This feud can only be described as a Saga that could rival any soap opera hands down. One could be entirely forgiven
for thinking that the players took their cues from the TV soap opera 'Dallas', that had just spewed forth on the relatively new South African Television at the time. Attorneys, intrigues, threats, manipulation, underhanded deals and family drama of incredible intensity earmarked each and every day ad nauseam. As the feud blazed forth so the money poured into the pockets of
the Masonic lawyers. The Labuschagne family fragmented and split apart viciously. Contact between the families of Matie and Johanna was superficial and had virtually nothing to do with sheep farming.
Today, Leon, who largely concentrated on maize after his studies in Australia, has moved to a farm near Pretoria. Carl turned two adjoining farms from the estate into a successful game farm in the Piet-Retief area. Harry who was excelling at his studies for a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Natal in Durban, had left the country at the height of the feud and because of it in 1981. Today he is embroiled in some of the most historic legal disputes of the country following the loss of his inheritance. Ironically his opponents are mostly members of 'the brotherhood' in which his father so excelled. The wealth of the Wool Lords that went to Harry it seems has been poured out onto the streets of Durban, the very town that attested to their success, a success, against all odds, against the predictions of the brokers of the worlds markets, some 60 years before. But more of this later, much more indeed.
On Matie's side of the family, Desbie, Matie's eldest son continued farming in the Piet Retief area as he had always done. Her youngest son, Phil Joubert, took to farming cattle in Natal on some of his famous grandfather's cattle farms. Len Joubert, Matie's middle son however, after pursuing a successful career as a diplomat in Europe returned to settle on his grandfather Len's headquarters in the Wakkerstroom area as a sheep farmer. By 1990 he was vice chairman of the Transvaal branch of the
National Woolworkers Association (N.W.K.V.) as well as the Highveld Marino Club amongst serving on various other public bodies and further bodies in organized agriculture. In Len Joubert who is named after his grandfather Len, seems to lie vested the only remnant of these wool barons in a time where conditions for farming wool are tough and wool barons few.
Today the 'Wool Barons' can be described as a group of embattled farmers, oppressed by a relentless drought and the economic state of a country undergoing profound change in a world where wool prices are as unpredictable as the climate, whether that climate be physical, economical or political. For more on that, especially the history, one need only to refer to Len's book on the Transvaal Wool farmers, entitled 'Transvaalse Wolboere - n' Historiese Oorsig van die Ontwikkeling van die Wolskaapbedryf in
Transvaal' (ISBN 0-620-15256-7).