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Turning 50

The Monument.
Johan Greeff at the Monument on his 50th birthday. (Photos: Johan Greeff)

This is the story of a family whose members celebrate their 50th birthdays in the same way, at the same place, in a tradition that was started a century and a half ago. They all celebrate their own Half Century as their father, grandfather, great grandfather, and their great great grandfather did.
The earliest known photo of a 50th at the tree. Jan Greeff, son of Hendrik Adriaan, on 13 September 1920.It all began with Hendrik Adriaan Greeff, back in 1862. At the time Hendrik was a big game hunter who later became a very wealthy man and founded the town of Lichtenburg in what is now known as the North-West province of South Africa.
In 1862 Hendrik and his wife and their three small daughters were returning from a successful hunting expedition. He had two ox wagons that were heavily laden with ivory, preserved meat, skins and ostrich feathers. He never followed the same route twice, because he wanted to get to know the area well. It was extremely dry and they had run out of water along the route that he had chosen on that occasion. All efforts to find water had been unsuccessful. 
A closer examination of the area where he ran out of water, reveals that in spite of the dry season, it is difficult to understand how he could have reached that locality without traversing one of the many water courses that criss-cross the area. The place of the miracle tree is surrounded by no less than 18 springs within a radius of 25 kilometres, from where water flows to the sources of the Harts and the Molopo rivers and tributaries of the Marico river. These perennial streams literally surround the site.
Hendrik Greeff was an experienced hunter and campaigner who had survived many a hunting expedition into the barren, wintry regions of what is today known as Botswana, Namibia and Angola. The only logical conclusion is that the very act of running out of water at that spot was a miracle, ordained by God. If this did not happen, none of the wonderful history and testimony of the grace of God would have been recorded and it is unlikely that any of the Lichtenburg descendants recorded in the “Lichtenburgstam” web page would have been in existence to-day.
Hendrik outspanned the oxen and set up camp near a natural hollow containing a grove of trees. In desperation, he walked among the trees, fell to his knees and prayed to God, pleading for water. He heard a voice which said: “You will find water in that tree.” He did not think that it was possible, but once more he heard the voice: “Did you not ask Me for water? Have a look, there is water in that tree.”  He stood up, filled with faith, to have a look. Where the trunk split into two about four feet above the ground, a hollow was visible between the two trunks. The hollow extended deep into the base of the tree and it was full of water. The tree contained sufficient water for the entire family, all the servants, and water for all the animals. A miracle! 
Their relief was so great that he promised God that, if he survived, he would return to the tree to give thanks on his 50th birthday. 
On 29th January 1878 Hendrik returned to the tree, accompanied by all his family, relatives and friends, to celebrate his 50th birthday and to give thanks to God, thus honouring the covenant he had made sixteen years previously.
His oldest daughter, Nonnie de la Rey, responded spontaneously by giving honour to God at that place when she turned 50. Many of the other children and grandchildren and their children have followed this example. 
On 9 August 2003 three cousins joined in celebrating their 75th birthdays there, all on one day. They were Andries Petrus (Boet) du Preez (*9 Aug 1928) and Petrus Arnoldus (Piet) de Wet (*3 March 1928) and Lorraine du Plessis (*15 April 1928).

Here is a list of people who are known to have celebrated their 50th  or other major birthdays at the place of the miracle tree or have honoured God for His grace elsewhere:


Hendrik Adriaan Greeff, founder of Lichtenburg

29 Jan 1878

Our ancestor, blessed by the Lord in a special way


Jacoba Elizabeth (Nonnie) de la Rey, nee Greeff

28 May 1906

The eldest child, who was the first to follow by also celebrating her 50th at the tree   


Gabriel Johannes (Jan) Greeff

13 Sept 1920

Attendance approximately 75


Jacoba Elizabeth Aletta (Pollie) de la Rey

13 Feb 1937



Hendrik Adriaan de Wet

25 Feb 1940



Margaretha W (Grieta) du Preez (Greeff)

10 Nov 1942



Pieter Francois Steyn (Piet) Greeff

2 Oct 1950

Attendance approximately 80  


Jacoba Elizabeth (Kowie) van Niekerk (Greeff)

18 Jun 1955



Totie Joubert (du Preez)

22 May 1967



Ellarensie Human (du Preez)

24 Sept 1970

A small, private occasion


Gabriël Johannes (Sonny) Greeff

3 Nov 1976



Stephen (Steve) Jackson

22 Oct 1977



Jan Greeff (Jannie) van Niekerk

26 May 1978



Marietjie Jackson (Schoeman)

15 Jul 1979



Pieter du Preez

14 Mar 1982



Hendrina (Rina) du Preez (Snyman)

22 Jul 1983

A small, private occasion


Thomas Hibernia Carroll

27 Okt 1991

On his 80th birthday. He donated the portion of land where the tree had been to the family 


Gabriel Johannes (Johan) Greeff, Stellenbosch

16 Nov 1992

Attendance 32


Gabriel Johannes (Jan) Greeff, Empangeni

1 Apr 1993

Attendance approximately 80


Willex Daniel Greeff

1 Jun 1995



E. L. (Elouie) du Preez (van Niekerk)

5 Aug 1997



Santa Snyman (Human)

28 Sept 1998



Hendrik Adriaan (Hennie) Schoeman

9 May 2002

Celebrated at Faith Outreach Center in Tampa Florida, attendance approximately 80


Edma Hawley (Schoeman)

9 Aug 2003



Andries Petrus (Boet) du Preez
Petrus Arnoldus (Piet) de Wet
Lorraine du Plessis

9 Aug 2003
3 Mar 2003
15 Apr 2003

Three cousins joined forces to celebrate their 75th birthday there on 9 Aug 2003


Lucia Wels (van Niekerk)

14 Jan 2004



Elrika Leighton (Human)

30 Apr 2006



Sheryl Alice Jackson 

30 Apr 2009 

Celebrated in Johannesburg, South Africa  


Louis van Niekerk

14 Jun 2009

Celebrated in Richards Bay, South Africa 


Pieter de Wet

18 Oct 2010

Attendance approximately 20

33 Johan du Preez 2 Jun 2011 Click here to read a pdf about it.


Peter Carroll

2 Dec 2012

Attended by 40 people in a tent on a cold and rainy summer day. Some cancelled due to inclement weather. Service conducted by Peter's father-in-law,  Rev. Piet Groenewald.

T.H. Carroll, owner of Witklip farm, at the monument. 29 January1978.





Photos Below: Top image: Charlotte Lucia Wels *15 Jun 1980, Lucia Charlotte Wels (born van Niekerk) at the monument on her 50th birthday, (*14 Jan 1954), Johannes M (Jan) Wels * 12 Des 1949, Johannes M Wels *4 Jan 1977, Johannes M (Marnu) Wels *Mei 1999, and Jan Greeff Wels *1 Mar 1979. Second image: Pieter Ernst Louis van Niekerk and his mother, Charlotte van Niekerk (born Scholtz) and her husband, Jan Greeff van Niekerk and their daughter, Lucia Charlotte Wels (born van Niekerk) and her husband, Johannes Marthinus Wels with their son, Johannes Marthinus Wels (Johan) in his arms, at the family monument, in 1978. Source: Lucia Wels.

The family monument at the place of the miracle tree.With the discovery of diamonds at Lichtenburg came the last great diamond rush the world ever saw. That was February 1926, and 25 000 runners competed to peg their claims. Approximately 150 000 diggers descended on the area like locusts, and in their quest for firewood, it is suspected that the miracle tree was felled and burnt. Half a century later, in 1978, a monument to commemorate the history and heritage was erected at the place of the tree. The tradition of celebrating a fiftieth birthday at the family monument continues to this day, and will continue into new centuries.
If you want to celebrate your 50th birthday at the family monument, please contact Jan Greeff in Bela-Bela and he will help you to organise the event. Phone (014) 736 6676, e- mail, post: PO Box 3575, Bela-Bela, 0480.
Jan also maintains a family tree of all the descendants of Hendrik Adriaan Greeff, and if your name is not in the tree, please let Jan know and he will remedy the defect. To check if your family has been added to the tree correctly, click on the link and then use the search facility to quickly find your entry:

Lichtenburg Family Tree.


Hendrik Adriaan de Wet celebrating his 50th at the tree on 25 February 1940.

If you can identify more people in this photo, please let Jan Greeff know.

Thomas Hibernia (Tom) Carroll at the monument on his 80th birthday.Tom is in the centre, facing the camera and wearing glasses and a navy blue suit. His brother Mick is directly behind him, his chin touching Tom's head on the photo. On Tom's right, his cousin Manie Schoeman from Tzaneen and on his left his third oldest daughter Magdalena, in a pink dress. Her husband Cor Eckard is alongside her.

Mick's wife is in blue in the back row on Mick's right hand side. The young lady wearing a dress with light blue dots second from cousin Manie to his right is the wife of Tom's oldest son, Carel.


Map of Water around the Miracle Tree, drawn by Jan Greeff in November 2010:

Water Sources in the vicinity of the tree

Earlier Version of Map of Water around the Miracle Tree

Sources of water around the miracle tree

Description of hand-drawn map of the Witklip area, district of Lichtenburg where H A Greeff found water in the miracle tree in 1862
1 Lichtenburg town
2 Witklip monument and site where the tree stood
3 Duikerfontein  (“Fontein” = fountain or spring)
4 Kruidfontein
5 Suurfontein
6 Syferfontein
7 Bokkraal
8 Ribbokfontein
9 Rietfontein
10 Wonderfontein
11 Malmani
12 Molopo Oog (the eye of the Molopo river)
13 Grootfontein
14 Zeerust
15 Klipbankfontein
16 Aslaagte
17 Doornfontein
18 Elandsfontein

3 to 18 are all springs that produced water all year round during those early days, even in times of drought. Some of the rivers may have become dry during difficult times but there was always water to be found in the springs and their immediate surroundings. 

 Approximate distances:

From 2 to 10: 12 Kilometres
From 2 to 9:   15 Kilometres
From 2 to 7:   25 Kilometres
From 2 to 3:   20 Kilometres
From 2 to 17:  6 Kilometres (15 to 18 are known as the strong Lichtenburg springs that produce abundant quantities of water all year round)

Source:  Andries Petrus (Boet) du Preez,  *9 August 1928, a well-known farmer in the district of Lichtenburg to this day (September 2008)   

Is your name in the Greeff Family Tree? Search and check.
Please see: Greeff Saturday Squad if you want to help to build our family tree.