Boer, Brit, Black or Khoi, there is one thing that our pioneering forefathers all wore at some stage; the ubiquitous veldskoen. Easy to make, without the use of tacks or nails, these lightweight and extremely tough walking shoes could withstand the harsh conditions of the Southern African frontiers and became a legend in their own right. Ever since I started doing re-enactment hunts my hand-made Voortrekker-style pair has always gone with me and is probably the one item that most surprised me and many of my more experienced hunting friends.
Originally veldskoene were of all leather construction made from tanned leather or soft rawhide uppers, stitched onto a thick leather sole. Today, it is often referred to as the vellie (and often made with an additional rubber sole and heel). The Afrikaans name veldskoen (veld shoe) and later velskoen (skin shoe) come from the original Dutch “veldtschoen”. Back then, most shoes were made of leather and since these were developed to wear in the veld, they were named veldskoene. It was only later when some shoes were made of more synthetic materials that they became known as the velskoen (pointing to the fact that they are made of skin/leather). They were first made by the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century and their design is believed to be based on a combination of early Dutch settler and traditional Khoisan footwear. The veldskoen soon became the preferred shoe of the Colony and would later be forged into the Afrikaans psyche when it was used as the footwear of the Great Trek.
When the first British arrived in the Cape they sometimes laughed at the Dutch shoes, but soon learned that their own fancy shoes were intended more for the pavements of London than the South African veld. Soon they were also wearing the same veldskoene. The veldskoen walked the trails of southern Africa and wherever the Trekboere, frontiersmen and hunters went, the veldskoen became part of their lives and part of history. Even foreign hunters equipped themselves with these die-hard shoes. Adulphe Delegorgue, a French naturalist, artist and hunter wore a pair while hunting in Natal in 1839. By 1843 the British were taking out patents for this type of shoe construction and Queen Victoria’s soldiers serving in the Eastern Cape, Natal and Trans-Orange often found themselves – replacing their issue boots with locally made veldskoene. During the urbanisation of South Arica in the late 1800s factory shoes and wooden pegged shoes became more fashionable, but during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) the British scorched earth tactics forced many Boers to again revert to the trusted veldskoen, which could be made with few tools and from locally obtainable materials.
Read the full article in the September 2016 issue of Magnum.