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Electricity came to Calitzdorp in 1937 at the instigation of a churchwarden who wanted electricity to replace the acetylene gas lighting in the Dutch Reformed church.

As early as 1935 D F Stassen, churchwarden, lobbied for electric lights for the church.

Having been built before electricity became available, the church had been illuminated with acetylene gas.

The carbide acetylene gas tank which had provided lights for the church

The old carbide acetylene gas tank which had provided lights for the church

The original specification in a quotation for the gas installation in the church was as follows : “Gas Generator : Duffett’s Patent, carbide on water, automatic generator, complete with chemical cleaner, friction plate, dryer and safety valve. Capacity 100 lights of 25 candle-power”

The old gas system was no longer reliable. Electrification would be considered if enough homes were prepared to pay for the service and the church itself was prepared to pay an amount of between £40 and £50 per year for electricity for the church, hall and parsonage.

Electric lights were fitted to the church for £241 by the British General Electric Company and switched on on 5 June 1937 with a reading by dominee Frans Hendrik Badenhorst who had been the driving force behind the electrification.

It would appear that influential encouragement by the church helped the town council decide to provide lights for the town.

Rolling out electricity went smoothly. The Installation was once again done by the British General Electric Company. Although the total cost was expected to be £3,500, the entire project was actually completed for less.

Certain streets now had lights as did the church bell tower! The carbide acetylene gas tank which had provided lights for the church was no longer required and this old curiosity is now retired to the Calitzdorp museum.

Celebrations for the inauguration were planned for the 16 June 1937, but due to the sudden, unexpected death of Dominee Badenhorst, it was delayed until the 14th July and combined with the launch of the irrigation scheme.

Switching on the electricity in Calitzdorp on 14 July 1937 caused a great sensation. The night before the main celebrations for both the electrification and irrigation schemes – two of the town’s greatest events – Mrs Conradie, the administrator’s wife, switched on coloured lights outside the town hall in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Not being familiar with the expression ‘switch on the lights’, she was encouraged to do so by being asked to “dinges aan te dinges” ! (Thingy on the thingy!)

This installation was not only the smallest installation in the country, but also the cheapest. The tariff of 2 shillings per unit with a minimum of 7s 6d was also the cheapest in the country. In the following month 1,200 units were sold to the 80 users giving the town council a handsome profit of £5 !

Just as an aside – this great local event took place in the same year that the electricity supplier Eskom moved to its new head office building in Johannesburg. At twenty-one storeys high, Eskom House was, at that time, the highest building in the country.