It takes a rather unusual person who — to support the launch of a friend’s new book — will undertake an epic 31-day walk from Inhambe in Mozambique to Schoemansdal near Louis Trichardt in the foothills of the Soutpansberg mountains.
And that’s what Louis Changuion did in 2002. He retraced the 900km journey of 19th century Pastor Montagne, a Roman Catholic priest, on foot, wearing a cassock. (And Montagne certainly did not do it all on foot. He would have been carried in a hammock by porters for much of the way.)
Schoemansdal was the main centre of the Boers in the north and they had contacted the Portuguese seeking a seaport they could use. Pastor Montagne in Inhambane, then Mozambique’s capital, volunteered to to visit Schoemansdal to see what the Boers needed. Apparently, he’d had an affair which resulted in a child, and he welcomed the chance for an extended absence from Inhambane.
It wasn’t long after that Schoemansdal was evacuated on instructions from Pretoria. The war between Boer and Venda was not going well and, since the safety of Boers in Schoemansdal was risky, Pietersburg (Polokwane) was established as the main town for the north.
But Changuion, then professor of history at the University of the North (now University of Limpopo) and a very fit and keen hiker, had prepared a schedule and stuck to it. He arrived in Schoemansdal in August 2002 on the day the book was launched.
Changuion moved to Haenertsburg in 1971 when he accepted a teaching post at the University of the North. He didn’t like Pietersburg and… well, who wouldn’t want to live in nearby Haenertsburg?
One of the attractions of Haenertsburg and Magoebaskloof was the opportunities for hiking and it was this that led to Changuion’s first book — on hikes — which, he says, is the first hiking book published in South Africa. One of the hiking trails around Haenertsburg has been named the Louis Changuion Trail and starts at the village hall.
And so he started celebrating the area that had become his new home. His literary output continued with works such as Silence of the Guns : the history of the Long Toms of the Anglo-Boer War; Uncle Sam, Oom Paul en John Bull : Amerika en die Anglo-Boereoorlog; and Pietersburg 1886 – 1986.
His imprint on Haenertsburg is the Long Tom Monument — the open-air museum in the village which commemorates all the wars which involved local inhabitants — the Makgoba War, the Anglo-Boer War, the World Wars and the Border Wars.
He also influenced the aesthetics and character of The Pennefather complex in the centre of the village — self-catering accommodation and a few shops — which celebrate Haenertsburg’s gold-prospecting past.
It’s largely because of Changuion that Haenertsburg is arguably the only town in the whole of Limpopo that really celebrates its heritage.