Fort Beaufort is an attractive little town nestling on the twisting Kat River among semi-arid hills, about 82 km (51 miles) from my hometown.
It was about 9 am on Tuesday 27 June 1972, a crisp winter morning on the farm Braeside. Local farmer Bennie Smit, who also owned the Savoy Hotel in the town, couldn’t find his work team that morning. Seeing a distant puff of smoke he thought they’d gone to the wrong place and started a fire to keep warm.
He found them huddled in a shed, saying there was something in the bush which scared them.
He saw an oval metallic craft not far away among a thick clump of large thorn trees. It kept changing colours like a disco ball. The sight gave him goosebumps.
He ran to the farmhouse to fetch his gun and fired several shots at the unknown object. He’s fortunate, of course, that they didn’t respond like the martially minded Martians in War of The Worlds, and blast him to oblivion with a heat ray.
He called the local police commander. He and a sergeant came out to investigate, arriving about 10 am. The workers plucked up their courage when this backup arrived and welcomed the two cops to the farm. They were inclined to laugh it off at first when they didn’t see anything unusual.
Smit emerged from the bush, sweating profusely with fear. He remarked that the craft must have come from outer space.
The police commander, who knew him well, joked that the Martians had come to steal his sheep.
The police, rather unwisely, also fired at the craft, which was changing colours from green to yellow and now became a dull gunmetal gray. It kept appearing and reappearing amidst the trees. They had the feeling they were being watched. After each shot a sharp bright light flickered on the edge of the craft.
Taking a stick with a handkerchief tied to the end of it, Smit ventured into the thick, almost impenetrable bush and bravely got within 15 metres of the craft, which kept moving about. Suddenly sensing his proximity it changed to greyish white and vanished altogether, puzzling the workers and cops who were watching it closely.
Some witnesses described it as being like a glowing oval ball of fire, the shape of a 44 gallon drum. It had three legs and what resembled a vertical aerial on top.
A delegation from the Grahamstown Army Base arrived at Braeside to take charge of the area for the next two days and discourage prying eyes.
A number of local people armed with picnic baskets and hoping to see some out of this world entertainment were turned away from the farm by the military authorities but took a side road to Fort Fordyce, adjoining the farm, from where they could get a look at the unusual craft from a safe distance.
Perhaps the unknown travellers chose Fort Beaufort as UFO appears in the name (Fort BeaUFOrt…)
I vaguely remember reading some of the local newspaper reports about the sightings, and even then, it piqued my interest. I remember drawing a picture of a UFO standing on little stilts even earlier when I was about 7 or 8.
At the time of these events this young writer and blogger was looking studious but feeling conspicuous and awkward with the newly acquired extra pair of eyes on my face, as I had been unable to determine what gibberish was written on the blackboard.
A few evenings after the initial sighting, the Town Engineer interrupted a council meeting to show the councillors a flashing UFO moving in the direction of Braeside and the Fort Fordyce bush.
During the night of Saturday 8 July Mr Smit was woken by the sound of an explosion. When he checked out his farm dam in the morning it had been shattered and huge concrete shards were scattered over the area up to 25 metres away. The UFO had now left Braeside.
The police found nine holes in the hard clayey soil, each about 10 cm in diameter and about 25-30 mm deep.
Mr Smit was asked to supply some samples from where the craft had been. He duly dug some clay sods and was asked to send it by train to Pretoria. However, these samples mysteriously disappeared en route and never arrived in the capital.
Bar regulars asked Mr Smit to change the name of their favourite watering hole to the UFO Bar. He took some convincing but eventually relented. This proved good for business.
Mr Smit remained open minded about what he’d seen and never discounted the possibility that it could have been of extraterrestrial origin.
On 12 November 1972 the unknown visitors focused their attention on the tiny railway village of Rosmead, about 240 km (149 miles) north of Fort Beaufort. Four soldiers from Rosmead Military Base saw a rotating set of red lights near their duty room at about 20:15 pm but these disappeared before they had a chance to investigate.
Ten minutes later the primary school headmaster arrived at his school after noticing an unusual light hovering silently over a nearby ridge and casting an oblique beam. Then he saw a flickering glow on the nearby school tennis court and went to see what was going on. He found that the tar of the court was melted and cracked, with symmetrically spaced imprints. Later tar fragments were found almost 200 m away on a ridge. Several nearby eucalyptus trees were badly scorched and later died.
Maybe Rosmead was the closest these Southern Hemisphere space visitors could get to the more famous Roswell, NM…
Other sightings in the Eastern Cape and Karoo
NASA dispatched a team to collect samples from the mountainous and isolated Groendal wilderness reserve near Uitenhage where a UFO had been spotted by farmer Hugo Ferreira.
The space tourists visited a few other towns in the area at that time. The eastern Karoo is hilly and sparsely populated, the terrain being similar to the semi-desert areas of New Mexico and Arizona where so many UFOs have been sighted. They could land among rocks or bush without being noticed.
24 May 1978 – A UFO with constantly changing lights is seen by witnesses over Colesberg.
29 September 1978 – A woman reported a disc-shaped object ascending from the Groendal Wilderness Reserve.
2 October 1978 – Four teenage schoolboys from Despatch, hiking in the Groendal Reserve, saw three silvery-clad men. Two came from the direction of a shiny object and joined the third one on a steep slope, which they ascended using what resembled fins, before they all vanished. A month later, nine circular imprints were found in the same area. (note the similarity to the earlier imprints discovered at Fort Beaufort and Rosmead).
January 1979 – It was the turn of Hanover residents to see strange lights changing colour over the small Karoo town, 75 km (47 miles) south-west of Colesberg.
Link to Savoy Hotel below:
Thirsty travellers dropping in at the UFO Bar today, if lucky, can still see the faded newspaper clippings of the incident, and hear the story from grizzled old timers nursing their favourite drink, especially if you buy them a round. They won’t forget what they saw in a hurry.
The heavy concrete chunks from the shattered reservoir on Braeside Farm are still strewn around the thick bush as a silent testimony to that strange day 44 years ago…
A spokesman for the Grahamstown Military base said that all officers from the time had retired and all files on the incident had been consigned to oblivion.
A good many other UFO sightings have been reported from Southern Africa, before and since, but the Fort Beaufort and Rosmead incidents count among the more detailed and authentic ones.