As you approach Hartbeespoort Dam on the R511, the road rises steeply over Saartjie’s Nek to reveal a spectacular view of the dam with the cliffs of the Magaliesberg behind. On a koppie to the right, a massive granite cross commemorates General Hendrik Schoeman and overlooks the grand panorama that he envisioned but never lived to see. Hendrik Schoeman was the son of Commandant General Stephanus Schoeman, who had led the pro-Potgieter Volksleger against the pro-Pretorius Staatsleger in the Boer Civil War of 1864. Hendrik fought alongside his father, but it was during the British annexation of the Transvaal from 1877 to 1880 that he really gained prominence.
War hero 1880-1881
When the Boers declared the re-independence of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek at Paardekraal on 16 December 1880, it was Schoeman who carried the declaration to the British Governor, Sir Owen Lanyon, in Pretoria. Lanyon immediately sought ‘to restore the authority of Her Majesty’s Government and put down the insurrection wherever it may exist’. Thus began the First Anglo-Boer War.
The Boers routed a British column at Bronkhorstspruit and besieged British garrisons in seven Transvaal towns, including Pretoria. After the Boers lost a minor battle on the outskirts of Pretoria, Hendrik Schoeman was given command of the siege. He improved the efficiency of the blockade using a system of signals and mobile commandos that prevented the British garrison from another victory. When the Boers ultimately won the war at the Battle of Majuba the following February, Schoeman became one of the heroes of the war and was elected to the Volksraad and the Executive Council.
Schoeman’s priorities, however, lay with his agricultural and business interests. He owned several farms including Hartebeestpoort in the fertile Crocodile River valley. He called it Schoemansrus and where the river winds through the Witwatersberg hills (now Meerhof), he built the largest dam in the country at the time, impounding a lake about 3km long. But he visualised something even bigger – a colossal irrigation scheme that would bring prosperity to the entire region. This grand scheme was thwarted by the outbreak of the South African War in October 1899 and only materialised 20 years after his death when the Union Government built the Hartbeespoort Dam on his farm.