Putsonderwater, Northern Cape

A small band of travel journalists and photographers have begun a strange custom of late: Putsonderwater Rail Surfing.

Whenever these scribes and photographers pass the derelict Northern Cape settlement of Putsonderwater, they stop at the station, straddle the rails, adopt a surfer’s pose and have their photo taken.

Why? You might ask.

They probably do that because for many years few people – except for those who live around here – really believed Putsonderwater actually existed. Like Timbuktu or Brigadoon, it has always been a term bandied about to indicate a far-off, never-never place. Narnia in the scrub desert, if you will.

Putsonderwater is also part of the grand Afrikaans tradition of hardship names for towns and farms. The celebrated writer Etienne van Heerden says it best in his book Kikoejoe, when he lists “Soebatsfontein … Moordenaarskaroo … Allesverloor … Genadebrood … Wurgdroogte … Godverlaat … Moedverloor … Knersberg … Verneukpan … Putsonderwater … Genadeloosrand … Pynlikheid … Perdvreklaagte … Allesverby.”

You roll those words slowly around on your tongue, conjure up the images they speak of and it’s all flat, bleak and generally in dire need of 30mm of hard rain, a plate of koeksusters and a raucous mampoer party on the stoep.

The back story of Putsonderwater is that a man called David Ockhuis and his two sons found water here and dug a well. And when a trekboer and his vast, thirsty herds came to look for a drink, they would say:

Ja meneer, ek het ‘n put, maar dit is ‘n put sonder water.” (Yes, sir, I have a well, but it is a well without water.) So the place became Putzonderwater. In later years, the ‘z’ was dropped in favour of the modern spelling.

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20 thoughts on “Putsonderwater, Northern Cape

  1. Pingback: Marydale | Karoo Space

  2. Brian says:

    It would actually seem that “puts” or “putz” is Nederlands for “bucket!” Seems someone once dropped a full bucket directly over the water, which bucket hasn’t been seen since!

    • @kalahariB says:

      Brian, that’s interesting. I have a story which goes along the lines that it was in fact a successful well that once dug, the water came flowing up and over-flowed. Thus, Die “Put’ (i)s onder water.

      Using either of these, the farmer could not be caught out in a lie.

  3. Pingback: Water Stories of the Drylands - Karoo Space

    • Garraelius says:

      Absolutely no one stays there any more, the buildings are all abandoned and slowly being reclaimed by Nature. A train to or from Uppington still passes by on the mainline every few days but never stops, the sidings are overgrown and no longer maintained

  4. Willem Claassen says:

    Hi there. I also whant to know to whom does Putsonderwater belongs too ?
    Same as what Eugene asked..
    Can i puchase a stand there ?

  5. Peter S Jordaan says:

    Hi Lizahne,
    No, have not yet managed to get any further information on Putsonderwater ,but have just bought a house in Victoria West; will be moving there at the end of May.
    Once settled we will be making a trip to that area and will chat to locals in the surrounding area and towns.

    regards Peter

  6. gert fouche says:

    Ek stel ook belang om een van die ou geboue te koop en te restoureer.Ek sal ook self probeer om uit tevind aan wie dit behoort
    Groete Gert

  7. Suzzy says:

    Hi I’m also interested in property …to build it up again. There is so many places that’s been abandoned and there is people that love to rebuild it ….why should it be abandoned ? Why ….please if anyone has a contact number

  8. Benjamin Calitz says:

    Good day guys. I’m following this post and would like to see if you would at all be interested in a joint effort to restore this beautiful town. Anyone keen feel free to mail me at befcal@gmail.com

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