There is no written or verbal record of how the Khoi-San people migrated to the Western Cape. There is, however, no doubt that they were here, as it is illustrated in their magnificent art depicting their way of life in many caves. Some of them trekked more along the coast, but others moved inland seeking water, grazing and security for their groups. This happened before and after Jan van Riebeeck landed at the Cape in 1652 and as the needs increased, so did tension over amenities – although trading continued in this important link to the east of the country which ran through the present Suurbraak.
A VOC Outpost lasted between 1734 and 1791 at Riet Valleij, 3km west of Suurbraak during which time (1745) Swellendam was established. Wood for wagon repairs came from Grootvadersbosch 20km east of Suurbraak. One of the Khoisan tribes (the Attaqua of the Hessequa clan) decided to settle in a place along the Langeberg Mountain Range and Buffeljags River in a secluded valley (Zuurebraak, later Zuurbraak and presently Suurbraak on the R324) where they found everything they needed in one spot.
The settlement had positive and negative consequences, but the neat kraals of the tribe had such a lasting impression on passers- by that they called it !Xairu meaning Beautiful or Paradise (Today Suurbraak is still regarded as the Waterfall Capital of the Overberg!). Around 1810 the Attaqua Captain, Hans Moos (Moses), approached the Governor of the Cape, Count Caledon, to send a request through to the London Missionary Society for assistance in the education of his people. In 1812 the first missionary, Johannes Seidenfaden, arrived. The area was then renamed the Caledon Institute.
Today Suurbraak has about 2,500 residents mainly of one colour grouping. It was one of the few towns in South Africa where whites were forced to leave after the segregation laws. Some large dairy farms like Rietvalleij, Lismore and Hoëkraal surround the area, but there are no huge industrial job providers. Some residents survive on Government grants, seasonal work on fruit farms and fruit factories in surrounding towns and a limited amount of backyard farming.
The Swellendam Municipality is building some 38 homes in the southern outskirts of the village. There are also positive signs of more and more owners building homes themselves. The Community Centre is being upgraded and the Library was improved by over R1m. At least 16 accommodation venues are now available in and around Suurbraak to look after the requirements of visitors.
Small shops supply daily needs. Some plots are still prepared for planting with horses and ploughs. Many residents rely on wood stoves for which wood has to be collected “over the river” in the plantations. Drinking water comes from the Mill Dam while irrigation water is supplied from Dan’s Dam filled from the river.
The present VGK Church on Rossouw Square from around 1828 on Rossouw Square is still in daily use and some of the homes date back to 1883. After a rupture in relationships, the St Michaels and All Angels Church in the Mainn Rd came into being in the mid-1880’s. Today there are about 10 churches, some of them accommodated in homes where the sound of the Gospel is very evident especially on Sundays.
Suurbraak is in a transition phase. The so-called Common Land of the village belongs to the Minister of Agriculture. and The Municipality of Swellendam administered these plots and buildings for some years, but in the near future a Transformation Trust will take over the administration with all the financial benefits being ploughed back into Suurbraak.