Arts & Crafts

Piet van Niekerk


is a fine craft, and today it is a rare craft. 

There are only a few people alive in South-Africa who can still make a real leather whip.

Oom Piet is an expert in the art of whipmaking, 


I dare say Oom Piet is one of the best, if not the best!


Piet van Niekerk making a whip

A National Heritage ...

This designation would not be amiss in the case of oom Piet van Niekerk of Groot-Marico. He is most probably the only person in South-Africa (if not in the world) who occupies himself on a daily basis with the plaiting of whips, much like his ancestors of yesteryear.

According to Oom Piet, Dr. Johan van Niekerk of Kroonstad, who recently investigated the status of the craft in South-Africa, told him that it is only a matter of a year or five before this tradition will have disappeared. As with most future projections, this may be a questionable assumption; after all, there are many people in rural South-Africa who still depend on animal traction to get around, and for them the whip will always be an indispensable implement.

Just a short while ago, a young girl from New Zeeland, who visited Oom Piet, demonstrated her skill by awakening great echoes with one of his whips in the Draaifontein ravines. She told him she came from a sheepfarm where whips are still regularly used. In the kloofs of the Marico cattle and sheep have always been accustomed to the familiar crack of the whip at sunset, reminding them to return to the kraal.

Whipmaking with 8 thongs

On the other hand, it must be conceded that there are probably not many people left who can produce a whip of the same high quality as Oom Piet. It is perfectly balanced complete with stick, hinge (hingsel), core around which the whip component is plaited with eight thongs; the core continues as agterslag and ends in a replaceable whip-lash (voorslag).


One of the reasons why whip plaiting may seem a dying craft is because the raw materials from which a whip is assembled are not readily available over a shop counter or even the internet for that matter. It has to be painstakingly prepared by the whipmaker himself, once more demanding know-how and considerable skill. This includes the selection of appropriate skins e.g. kudu and eland for the core, rooihartbees for the plaited thongs and bushbuck for the whip-lash; followed by the preparation of skins e.g. removing the hair and softening the material by means of braying and the addition of animal fats. Oom Piet process the whole skins and cuts his thongs afterwards with a sharp pen-knife.

Those objects made of tanned leather and sold at fleamarkets pretending to be whips are at the best bad imitations of the real thing, and totally impractical for use as a farm implement.


It may well be that the crack of a whip (when its thin whip-lash breaks through the sound barrier) is on its way out. But in the mean time Oom Piet cannot produce whips fast enough to supply the demand. And when visitors turn up at the farm he removes the large ox-driving whip (made of the hide of a black wildebeest) from the wagon and dextrously cracks it to reverberate along the krantzes and kloofs of Draaifontein. 

This old ox-wagon on the farm is still in a very good condition.
Oom Piet, plaiting a whip. 

Afterwards he may nostalgically recall these lines of a long-ago poet (is it A.G. Visser?):

Once more before I die

I'd like to hear the large ox-whip resound

Across the fallow land."


Article written by Egbert van Bart

A Row of pebbles

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