Waterval Boven (Mpumalanga)


Waterval Boven, meaning “above the waterfall”, is in Mpumalanga (eastern Transvaal pre 1994), 262 km north east of Pretoria. The name refers to the waterfall at the head of the valley into which the Elands River flows. The village developed from a railway supply depot that was established on the farm Doornhoek in 1895. It remains a depot on the main railway line from Pretoria to Lourenco Marques (Mozambique) but is more important today as a stopover for tourists on their way to Mpumalanga destinations.

Waterval Onder, meaning “below the waterfall” is situated below the waterfall of the Elands River and is a popular trout-fishing resort.

The earliest reference to a Jewish presence in this district is that of a young man (Louis Heilbron) who died of malaria in 1896 at the age of 23. Andrew Gay, a Christian friend who had attended to him during his illness, contacted the Pretoria Jewish Burial Society since there were no Jews in Waterval Onder and he wanted to give his friend a Jewish burial. The minister and two assistants traveled from Pretoria and Mr Heilbron was laid to rest near the house of another old friend. A low wall was constructed around the single grave, the only Jewish grave in Waterval Onder. There is no other record of a Jewish presence in Waterval Onder.

In the 1930s there were 3 Jewish families in Waterval Boven, the Tobias family, who ran a shop; the Schwartz family, a railway doctor; and the Gabbie family who ran the hotel. In later years the Cohens (a general dealer/owner of supermarket) and the Goodmans (a pharmacist) also lived here.

Jews of Waterval Boven became members of the Lowveld Jewish Country Community when it came into being in 1981. It was established to serve the needs of Jews in the towns and villages spread throughout the eastern Transvaal, with Nelspruit as the main centre. Family Day gatherings were reintroduced in 1981 and were held regularly over the next few years. They served as a valuable link for Jews scattered throughout the district. By 1986, however, the activities of the Lowveld Jewish Country Community appear to have ceased.

The Jewish population of Waterval Boven was always very small. In 1939, there were 5 people. This rose to 13 in 1943. The numbers dropped to 8 in 1971 and by 1981, there were only 2 Jews left in the village the Cohens – who were killed in 1982.