‘Imagine the scene, guys.’ Gertruida closes her eyes to see the picture in her mind. ‘Oupa’s village was situated near a fountain, not too far from where Riemvasmaak is today. That area, like you know, had been home to the Khomani people for as long as they can remember. Of course, they preferred to be called Riemvasmakers, because of the history. Originally the group moved there from South West Africa, so in reality they weren’t necessarily San people, but more like the Damara lineage.’
Way back, in the early 1900’s, some of the people living near the fountain lived through a period of drought. The only way to feed the group, was to steal some cattle – which was exactly what they did. Unfortunately they were caught and, well, severely reprimanded. In the end they were tied to some rocks with rieme – strips of animal hide, like thongs. The next day, when the rest of the group came looking for the thieves, they only found the thongs. Ever since then, the group was known as the ‘people that were tied by thongs’ – Riemvasmakers.
For once, Gertruida wasn’t one hundred percent right. The Riemvasmakers were a diverse group – a minor rainbow nation, comprised of Khomani, Nama, Xhosa, Coloured and Herero people, as well as the Damaras. Although they called themselves Riemvasmakers as a collective term, the individual groups retained their cultures and oral histories. Oupa’s group was a minority. The Khomani once lived in scattered groups in the Northern Cape, South West Africa and Bechuanaland Protectorate. Quite a number of them settled in the Mier area, where their culture was preserved to some degree.
Oupa knew all this, of course. During little CJ’s sojourn amongst Oupa’s people, he heard the stories of the hardships the tribe had lived through. Their escape from German oppression in South West Africa to the Northern Cape was followed by more disruption when the Kalahari Gemsbokpark was established in 1935.
‘It’s the story of Africa,’ Geel translated. ‘People moved, settled, were displaced. Maybe it’s the story of the world, as well. The Vikings and the Romans and the Israelites – I cannot think of a single nation that wasn’t – at some stage or other – involved in a territorial dispute. My father says it was hard to move this way and that. For a while he was angry. But then he had to make a very important decision: was his life in the hands of the past, or of the future? If he chose to allow the past to dominate his future, his future was doomed. Because nobody can change the past, the past is cast in stone. The future, however, is yours to change at will – be it for good or evil’
CJ Jnr listened and learned. The village took good care of him and took time to teach the boy about nature. Trips to a nearby waterhole became classrooms of the veld. Reading spoor, understanding the habits of birds and other animals and learning about the very delicate balance between nature and human behavior were only a few things CJ gained in the months he spent in the Kalahari.
It changed his life forever.
Meanwhile, Francina was forced to work as a gardener in the prison grounds. While her sentence included the dreaded term of ‘hard labour‘ then head of the prison, Konrad Geldenhuys, took pity on the kind-hearted prisoner. It was also known that CJ Snr was MIA in North Africa.
Francina also knew what had happened to her son. The bush telegraph of messengers, delivery men, cleaners and other workers associated with the prison and the warders, brought weekly updates about the boy in the Kalahari. Francina’s anger still burned white-hot, though. She would never forgive the government for the death of her husband.
When at last she received news that CJ Snr was alive and being treated in England, she was overcome by emotion. A few days later, a letter arrived at the prison. It broke her heart.
To be continued…