In Vereeniging's early days there were no restrictions on the sale of liquor; every shop had its own canteen; and when the work of collecting customs duties was transferred to Johannesburg on April 1, 1895, the customs house at Viljoensdrift was sold to B. Patlansky for £90. Patlansky opened a liquor store there and he was reputed to have
made a profit of £600 a week during the years that followed.
One of the consequences of having liquor in such free supply was that the labour efficiency on the mines deteriorated. African miners imbibed immoderately from pay-day on Friday through the weekend, and either they failed to report for the first shift on Monday or if they did arrive for duty they were incapable of working underground.
The first erven of township ground had been sold in 1892 and slowly Vereeniging had begun to take shape as a town. Those who had bought stands had begun to build houses on them, but the landscape was bare and uncultivated. Across the river in the Free State at Maccauvlei, there was nothing but a waste of shifting sand and dried grass.
In 1893, Sammy Marks appointed a German horticulturist, Otto Brandmuller, to begin the afforestation of Maccaulvlei. For years before his appointment, Brandmuller had ranged over Africa in pursuit of wild animals which he captured and shipped to the zoos and circuses of Europe. Urged on by Marks, Brandmuller proceeded with plans to clothe the area in forests. The only trees on the horizon were the half-dozen oaks which the Voortrekker, Carel Pistorius, had planted on his farm as acorns brought from Pietermaritzburg in 1850.
In those days Pietermaritzburg was the nearest commercial centre of importance for members of the isolated farming community, and every year the early trekboers left the dry lands of the Northern Free State for farms in the lower bushveld. They undertook the exodus once a year between May and September and at the end of their 360-mile trek to Natal they bartered salted butter, cured skins and biltong' (strips of spiced and air dried venison) for possibly a roll of corduroy, printed cloth and sugar and coffee. The farmer made 'veldschoens' (bush shoes) and his wife the clothing. Game was plentiful and he did not want for meat.
Timber for Pistorius' farmstead was brought up from the
Natal capital by ox-wagon on one such journey. The house he built had two feet thick outer walls, and the thatched roof was supported above the loft by yellow-wood rafters.
When Brandmuller moved into Pistorius' old home, he found inscribed on the massive front door a garbled version