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Twyfelfontein - the Fountain of Doubt

Avatar of inke inke - 30. June 2017 - Discover Namibia

Twyfelfontein - the eye of the spring beneath a rock.

Long before the Twyfelfontein engravings became a popular tourist destination and received recognition as a world heritage site, the land was visited sporadically by Damara people watering their animals at the trickling spring (or "fontein" as it is called in Afrikaans). It was named Twyfelfontein (doubtful spring) by farmer David Levin who settled on the arid land in the late 1940s in the hope that he could farm sustainably utilising the spring water. 

When he first approached the Land Bank to enquire about the piece of land in northwestern Namibia, south of the Aba-Huab River, the clerk told him that no farmer could survive there in the desert. The Land Board clerk explained that it was his duty to ensure that people did not settle at places where they couldn't make a living. David argued that although the piece of land with the spring was small, the entire Namib Desert around it lay uninhabited. 

The spring's Damara name was Uiais (spring) and it drew him like a moth to a flame. The year was 1946 and David was passing through Windhoek with his pregnant wife Ella, his two children and his father-in-law, Dirk de Beer. They had travelled from Nuichas in southern Namibia and were enroute to Dirk's new home at Dobbelsberg. The Levins joined the trek north with their animals, hoping to make their home in the Kaokoveld. The South West Africa Administration had been issuing grazing licences in the Kaokoveld since 1942 but David did not have the means to apply at the time and when he did there were only remnants left that could not be allocated until the land had been surveyed. He was disappointed but made sure that he had permission to visit the spring to ascertain if it was indeed possible to farm there. 

It was two months before David and Dirk managed to extricate themselves from the demands of Dobbelsberg and travel the 300 km to Twyvelfontein. They investigated the small spring that seemed to be blocked by rock, debated its source and the possibility of increasing its flow, and camped out in the mopane bush listening to the sounds of the Kaokoveld, the jackals and barking geckoes. On their return they visited farms along the route, organising watering points and overnight stops for the long trek out. 

The Levin family made the journey northwest at the beginning of 1947. They waited at the farm Blaauwpoort while David and his worker went ahead to the spring to prepare for the arrival of the animals. They dug under the rocks to increase the flow and excavated a furrow to make hollows for watering the animals. With their meagre possessions the family then made their way to their new home on the bleached grass plains edged by huge red table-top mountains. They had 230 sheep and goats, six chickens, two horses, four donkeys, a horse cart, a donkey wagon, a square tent and some household items. 

The battle for water began. It took careful planning to ensure that animals and humans would survive. Each animal could only drink every second day, grazing in between. The watering process was time-consuming. When neighbours visited, Ella would inform them that David was at the spring and every time Andries Blaauw from Blaauwpoort stopped by, he would find David on his knees digging. When Andries asked after David's health, he would invariably be told that he was well but that he doubted the spring would last until October and the first rains. Andries soon began referring to him as David Twyfelfontein, David "Doubtful Spring". By the time David finally convinced the Land Board to grant him a grazing licence and had to register a name for the land, "Twyvelfontein" had stuck. 

For the first few years all household water had to be carried from the spring, and later from the well to the house, until David was able to connect a metal pipeline. When the family arrived at Twyfelfontein after the war, goods were in short supply and the road to the nearest town at Omaruru was impassable by horse cart. In difficult times the family learnt how to dig up ant nests and harvest their grass seed stocks. Ella made her own soap from animal fat, baked bread in a clay oven and cooked on an open fire. She continually suffered with health problems. 

The Levins' main source of income was from karakul pelts sold to farmers' cooperatives that would then sell them on at auctions. Goats were occasionally sold and animal bones and skins were often bartered for flour, sugar, maizemeal and household necessities. When David bought a truck at the end of 1947 and struck water on the farm in 1948, he was slowly able to increase his flock. The stifling tent was replaced by a reed hut and eventually a house, as he made clay bricks and extended the dwelling, room by room. The farm was surveyed in 1952 and in the same year Ella gave birth to twins. 

The late 1950s brought years of drought and the family took to the road trekking to surrounding areas to graze the animals, moving on when the land was depleted. The Levins' days at Twyfelfontein came to an end in the 1960s. Ella passed away in 1962 at the tender age of 42. The Odendaal Commission was investigating creating a homeland for the Damara people in the Kaokoveld and David and the farmers in the area were required to sell their land. He objected initially but finally relented when it seemed that fate had conspired against him. He moved to Outjo in 1965 and later to Piketberg in South Africa. Throughout the rest of his days, however, he yearned for his country, his people and his farm south of the Aba-Huab River - Twyfelfontein.

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