The first-hand stories of those who survived the devastating and rare earthquake that struck three Western Cape towns in 1969 have been collated and published in a book titled Ons Onthou, 29 September 1969, which was officially released on December 5 2018.
The earthquake was one of the most destructive ones documented in South African history, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale, which was stronger than that of the 1809 Cape Town earthquake that destroyed a Milnerton farm.
The book is a collection of the personal accounts of 91 people of varying ages who lived in the Ceres, Wolseley and Tulbagh, the towns where the disaster struck, and who experienced the earthquake and its aftermath.
Ons Onthou was produced by the Ceres Transport Riders Museum and is the brainchild of Marthinus de Villiers, a member of the museum’s board of trustees.
“The idea for the book came about because the people who experienced the earthquake are slowly all passing away. So we wanted to record what they experienced that night and in the days after. We wanted people to tell their story about the earthquake in their own words,” he said.
De Villiers, who was ten and living in Ceres when the natural disaster struck, added that the earthquake damaged or completely destroyed several buildings and changed the towns’ infrastructures.
“I can’t remember exactly what happened that night, but I can remember the aftereffects. For instance, we weren’t able to go to the church and had our services in a hall on Sundays, because it was quite damaged and we were afraid that another earthquake could happen,” De Villiers said.
Minister Anroux Marais of the Department of Cultural Affairs & Sports (DCAS) was present at the launch of Ons Onthou and stated that the book was significant for several reasons.
“Through Oral History projects and written discourse of this nature, personal histories and community experiences become shared heritage while promoting social inclusivity and community development through sharing and understanding,” Minister Marais said.
“This very significant book allows locals to not only remember the destruction caused by the natural disaster, or to relive the trauma of the devastation, but also allows us to be mindful of the continuous resilience personified by all those who call Ceres and its surroundings home.
“Ons Onthou reminds us that in the face of great adversity and destruction, which many felt was the end of the world as they knew it, it was the sense of community that … overcame the many challenges abruptly brought by the horrific incident of 1969.”
Much of the Western Cape’s history is held in the memory of storytellers through generations and Ons Onthou is an invaluable chance for people to tell the stories few get to hear.