Cradock: Life in a Small Town

Cradock church

By Julienne du Toit

Pix by Chris Marais

We received a Christmas card a month late the first year we arrived in Cradock, brought to us by our neighbour across the road.

We weren’t disappointed in the crap postal service, and I didn’t curse anyone’s ineptitude. In fact, my husband Chris and I stood staring at the envelope in silent awe.

It had come from my Uncle Peter and Aunt Cathy in Germany.

There was no street address, no postal code, no province. My uncle had found an email where I’d told him about our new life (and neighbours) in this small Karoo town, but couldn’t get hold of us to find out our postal details in time.

Yet the ladies at the local post office simply popped it into our neighbour’s post box, because they know everyone. Would this ever have happened in Joburg? I think not.

Cradock, moving
The card arrived, as if by magic.

Turning Heads

Here’s something else that would never happen in Joburg. In the big city, a visit to the hairdresser for highlights, a cut and a blow-wave cost around R700. The price alone made every haircut an ordeal for me, let alone the faint air of disdain emanating from the super-trendy customers and staff.

Carozel Ferreira and Rosie van Jaarsveld of Turning Heads, with Veruschka and TC.

In Cradock, I go to Turning Heads, which is right next to owner Carozel Page’s house. While she and Rosie wrap my hair in foil, Lily the cat hops on my lap. Her young boy Daniel dashes in, gives me big hug and heads out to play again. Dogs Ruby, Rex and Bella flop down at my feet.

Carozel and I have a comfortable chat about the latest books we’ve read and the current town gossip. At the end of it, she charges less than half the Jo’burg rates and my hair looks better than it ever did in the city. When Chris goes in for his “Number Two Special” it’s a five-minute job for a meagre thirty bucks – and looks every bit as well-barbered as a city cut.

The Anti-Hagglers

And another thing. People here also have the charming habit of haggling themselves down before you can even say a word. Like the time we went to a national courier company with a branch in Cradock.

We had heavy laminated documents, plenty of them, that HAD to be in Johannesburg the next day. We knew it was going to cost us a bomb.

The courier man loaded the stuff onto the scale and gave a small gasp of horror.

“Are you sure it has to be there tomorrow? If it doesn’t, I can charge you less,” he began.

But there was no choice. The stuff was urgent. Reluctantly he showed us how much it would cost: nearly R600. We shrugged in acceptance – it was a price we’d pretty much expected.

“No, no,” he muttered to himself. “That’s too much money. How about this?” He wrote down another price – R150 – on a piece of paper, and looked at us enquiringly.

“How about we make it an even R200?” offered Chris.

Done deal.

Lunch party, Cradock
Sunday lunches only end for naps.

Closed for lunch

Of course, it’s not always idyllic. Unlike life in a big city, where you where you wear anonymity like an invisibility cloak, you are painfully exposed in a small town. People you’ve never met know who you are, and will wave at you in passing.

For the first few months, we became quite paranoid. “Who was that?” we’d hiss at each other. Even worse, people you don’t know will happily tell you they saw you the previous day at such and such a shop, and even what you were wearing or buying. It’s unnerving.

But eventually you get used to it. In fact, you feel sorry for people from the city who daren’t even look a stranger in the eye for fear of an unwanted encounter. Here we look at each other. We nod or smile in greeting. Everyone is acknowledged. We know the names of the informal car guards at the shops.

And so what if a ten minute visit to the shops takes an hour because you’ve met so many friends? It’s not like you have to race home to beat the traffic.

The only deadline you have to beat is the one that dictates that most shops in the platteland close for lunch – a very civilised way to break the working day.

If you would like a first edition, author-signed copy of Moving to the Platteland – Life in Small Town South Africa, either click on the title, or email co-author Julienne du Toit at


13 thoughts on “Cradock: Life in a Small Town

  1. Pingback: Karoo Keepsakes II: Rock ‘n Roll Across the Northern Cape! | Karoo SpaceKaroo Space

  2. Fern says:

    just done the Great Karoo Cycle, ending in Cradock. Absolutely fantastic. Been in love with the karoo since I was 8! Would love to relocate. I’m a passionate cyclist, historian, schreiner aficionado : I think Cradock’s the place for me!

  3. Les Pamensky says:

    Lived in Cookhouse some 50 miles away. My friend Arthur lived in Cradock. We became friends playing cricket, he was at Boys High and I was at Gill College in Somerset East. We both landed up at Rhodes Uni in Grahastown. Went on holiday together where I was introduced by him to my wife, who I will be married to this month for a half century and still not out, My mate lives in Israel and I live inAustralia how very sad.Dit was die dae, ons sal Dit nooit vergeet

    • Les Pamensky says:

      Thanks for these memories. My son in Australia found the details, sent on what’s alas I am on holiday with my daughter in Hong Kong, how small is our world.

  4. Neil Gordon Pyoos says:

    Awesome!! Cradock sounds like a lovely place. Can anyone perhaps help. An Olympic athletes and his dad needs accommodation in Cradock from the 5 th to 9 th. Tristan Trican is taking part in a Canoe Marathon there. It would be great if someone could offer accommodation as hotels seem to be fully booked. If sponsored they would wear your logo and as the race will be televised you could get great tv coverage of your name or company name
    Tristan and Mark’s number is 0824538526. Thanks in advance

    • Julienne du Toit says:

      Hi there Neil. I’ve forwarded your query to Visit Cradock. They said there was a place at a lovely guesthouse where there was a cancellation and that someone would call the guys. Thanks!

        • Neil Gordon Pyoos says:

          If anyone could help?mark and his son Tristan would be grateful if anyone could perhaps even sponsor accommodation for the dates 5 to 9 October as his son is an unsponsored Olympic athlete and needs as much assistance as possible.In turn they would wear your logo or use your sponsored tops or flags to do advertising for you on the race days and slo on the canoe which would give great TV coverage .Thanks in advance. much appreciated to all interested parties. They are doing the Fish River canoe race which will be on International and local TV.Thanks

  5. Daleen Pieters (nee van Zyl) says:

    Hi Julienne!

    Your article made me want to re-locate! My husband and I have been craving such a dorp lifestyle for the longest time.

    The link was forwarded to me by my father, Pieter van Zyl, in a manner of pride, and I can see why.

    I enjoy your comfortable writing style and will certainly now be reading your work on a regular basis.

    Kind Regards

  6. Patricia Becker Stapleton says:

    My early years were spent in Cradock and your articles bring tears to my eyes. In what must have been about 1945 (I was about four), I had been taken by friends to Sunday school at the little Anglican St Peter’s, and something had happened there that upset me so I decided to walk home. Home was diagonally across from the Boys High in Frere Street (a long way for a small kid). Unfortunately I turned right outside the gate and ended up in very unfamiliar territory. But a kind Mrs Adami found me and, putting up her sunshade, walked me home.
    I remember Badgers little haberdashery shop where the same little ladies worked for years and years, the Maatskappy, the ice creams at the Cradock Cafe opposite the church served in glass bowls with a wafer, Watersons Chemist, double features at the Metro and Odeon, the CAT Bazaar, swimming at the Warm Baths, and many more lovely things. Two of my great great aunts lived at Mulberry Shade in Bree Street. Fascinating old house. So, please keep up the articles. We love them.

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