Monthly Archives: July 2020

Happy Wind #8

Riemvasmaak Accommodation, Business & Tourism Portal‘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.

***

of BechuanalandFor 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…

 

 

Happy Wind #7

Free Images : black and white, track, bridge, train, season, black ...‘…But what about little CJ, the poor kid?’

‘He was 10 years old in 1943. A robust, strong child with bright blue eyes and a lively mind. He loved stories. He excelled at school. He had all the potential. But then his father disappeared, believed dead, and his mother got to be jailed for sabotage.

‘Now, you guys know Africa. News travels fast and before you know it, something you thought was a secret, gets to be common knowledge.’ Gertruida, who knows everything, shrugs. ‘I still need somebody to explain it to me. Africa is way ahead of the Western world in that regard: somehow people – with no radios or newspapers – in the most remote areas will know stuff at the same time as the people in front of a radio in a city.’

***

Little CJ woke up to a persistent, soft knock on the door. He glanced around in the room he shared with his mother. Her bed was unruffled – did she not sleep at home last night? He was a strong boy and not prone to either anger or being frightened, but this unexplained absence of his mother was…strange. He got up to open the door.

The face greeting him at the door was a relief and a worry at the same time. What? Geel? Here? Now? Why…?

‘You have to come, quickly. Get dressed, put on some good shoes and take a hat. Bring shoe polish. Don’t ask questions, they’ll be here any minute now.’

Geel was a young man at that stage. His English was just about faultless although he still had quite an accent. Because CJ Snr also had very limited schooling, he had arranged a tutor to teach both Geel and him the art of writing and basic maths. Lessons in history and literature followed. The net result of this education (mainly in the evenings and over weekends), a rather generous income and growing up, was that of a well-dressed young man with happy smile and trusting eyes. People liked Geel the moment they laid eyes on him. The bond between Geel and the Bothma family was healthy and strong and CJ Jnr trusted his ‘older brother’ (he called him so) implicitly.

***

‘The interrogation of Francina had gone on right through the night. At first, she didn’t even divulge her name, but the ruthless cunning of the interrogator trapped her again and again. Francina, the kind and gentle soul, could not match the guile of the man asking the questions. By the time Geel knocked on the door of the Bothma home, Francina had finally broken down and sobbed out her entire life story. Her confession served two purposes n the end: it helped to convict her, but it also contributed to a lighter sentence. The widow of a  South African soldier surely deserved some clemency.’

Still, the police alerted the social services and they agreed that the boy should be placed in a place of safety – an euphemism for a  juvenile detention center; a jail for children.

‘Geel and CJ Jnr got away just in time. Geel hustled CJ through the early morning crowds to get him on to a train.’ Gertruida smiles at the relief on her audience’s faces. ‘They boarded and headed straight for a toilet – where the blond CJ received alight coating of shoe polish over his whole body. His hair was hidden under the hat he had brought along. It wasn’t a perfect disguise, but one designed for the situation. A white policeman would be looking for a white boy. A black policeman would see right through the disguise – but would also see Geel accompanying the boy. Such a policeman would have two choices: ask questions or turn a blind eye. The latter was more propable.’

Geel had judged the situation correctly. A few faces turned their way, but in the 3rd class compartment nobody asked questions. They changed trains at Germiston station, waited for and boarded the train to De Aar. This time, Geel managed to get them a compartment. He also bought some cooldrinks, a bread and some cookies.

‘We’re going home, little brother,’ Geel said. ‘Back to the Kalahari, where we have no wars and policemen and soldiers.’ By this time he had explained the disappearance of Francina, but he also had some words of comfort. ‘I know people, broertjie, some good people. They are the ones who told me about Francina. They will also get a message through to her about you and me and our little escape to my village. We’ll be safe there, you’ll see.’

Geel and CJ Jnr changed trains at De Aar, traveled to Upington and was met on the station by old Oupa, the man who saved so many lives during the Flu epidemic.  With Francina in jail and his father in hospital in England, little CJ was the only one of the Bothma family in safe hands.

Oupa was reassuring. ‘Look, little CJ, it will be alright. You see, not worry.’

And CJ, the robust little boy of ten, nodded quietly. Maybe Oupa was right. Still, in the small room the family had prepared for him that night, he cried himself to sleep.

Happy Wind #6

OssewaBrandwagWapen.png ‘Nobody, especially the colonial power of England, ever managed to subdue the Afrikaners, you know.’ Gertruida – who knows everything – frowns. ‘Not the English, especially, after the way they treated women and children during the Anglo-Boer War. South Africans have a very long memory, understand – all of us – and we nourish and care for our personal grudges with great compassion.

‘So, during WW II, many Afrikaners objected to fighting for England. They formed the Ossewabrandwag and a paramilitary force called the Stormjaers and made their objections very clear.

‘Well, initially, Francina didn’t care much for these groups. She concentrated on her work at the hospital and cared for CJ Jnr. But then CJ, the father of her son, disappeared in the Sahara conflict. The last she had heard of him, was a postcard from a place she never had heard of – El-Alemein. And then she heard about the big fight there on the radio…and CJ disappeared. Now,  if you really, really wanted to upset an Afrikaner woman, you disrupt the harmony in her house. You want trouble, you do that. It was bad enough that CJ was sent to North Africa, but fearing him to be dead made her mad.’

***

For a while – the first two months after CJ’s disappearance – Francina went about her daily tasks in a fog of automated actions. She nursed without passion. At night she put little CJ Jnr to bed without a bedtime story or a prayer. She hardly slept, fearing somebody would come with news and she’s miss the knock on the door. The matron at the hospital called her in, sympathised, but told her to stay at home. Patients were complaining she said. Francina just nodded, and like the automation she had become, went home to sit in front of the radio.

It is there she heard the news bulletin.

‘Prime Minister Smuts once again urged the Ossewabrandwag and their leader, Mister Johannes van Rensburg, the erstwhile Secretary of Justice, to refrain from any anti-government actions. He called on the movement to stop dividing the country along pro- and anti-colonial lines. Smuts also reiterated that the full force of the state would be directed against the Stormjaers, which again cut the telephone lines between Johannesburg and Cape Town last night.’

Joining these forces would not bring CJ  back, that much Francina knew. The objective in her mind then was to hurt the hand that snatched her husband from her side.

***

‘It was quite easy to slot in with the Ossewabrandwag. The secret organisation wasn’t such a big secret amongst the Afrikaners. Somebody knew somebody else who had a contact and soon Francina was visited by a man and a woman. They talked. They listened. And they approved her joining the fight against the English. Francina’s anger suited the Ossewabrandwag well. They needed trustworthy footsoldiers. After the top echelons were consulted, Francina was inducted in the Stormjaers with the oath: ‘If I retreat, shoot me. If I die, avenge me. If I advance, follow me’.

‘Her first mission was to observe the blowing up of a power line outside Boksburg. This was to have been her initiation and the start of more serious missions. To dynamite a pylon in the middle of the veld, under the cover of complete darkness, should have been an easy mission.’ Gertruida snorts. ‘But, the best laid plans of mice and men…’

The police were waiting for them they were all caught. The next day a very brief appearance in court resulted in a verdict of guilty. Francina and her comrades were sentenced to six months in prison, with hard labour. It could have been worse. Had they blown up that pylon, they might have been hanged for treason.

‘But what about the boy, little CJ?’ Precilla wipes away a tear. “What about the poor little boy?”

To be continued…

Happy Wind #5

Ten stately homes which became hospitals during the First World ... ‘The war nearly destroyed the little Bothma family. Francina – the kindly woman with the big heart – returned to nursing at the Johannesburg Hospital. She had left the profession to take care of CJ junior and later, little Fransie, the sickly brother who died at the age of six. By this time CJ senior began to realise the potential of his errand network and started building his courier empire. The need for a fast, reliable service between Johannesburg, the East –  and the West Rand, Pretoria and later, the Vaal Triangle just kept on growing. CJ appointed a manager, secretaries and drivers. He established a fleet of vehicles to make regular trips between businesses and towns. For a while the courier business kept him so busy that he could not spend time with the natural remedies people needed so much.

‘And then he got called up to the army. He had to leave everything to his business

Rommel at El Alamein

associates and manager. After a short stint at Voortrekkerhoogte to do his basic course, CJ was sent to North Africa to join the 1st Infantry Division near El Alamein. There, on day 4 of the infamous battle of El Alamein, near Tel el Aqqaqir, CJ stepped on a mine.’

 

‘While the battle raged on to result in more than 13,000 Allied as well as approximately 35,000 Axis casualties. CJ was just another khaki-clad soldier covered in sand, blood and bits of bone on the dunes of the Sahara. It was a nightmarish scene of death, destruction and horror. The cries of the wounded were drowned out by the roaring or cannon and the crash of bombs. The continuous stutter of machine guns filled the air. 

‘CJ was barely alive. A soldier – we’d never know his name – improvised a tourniquet on the stump of the right leg. CJ’s foot was missing and his right arm sustained quite massive trauma due to shrapnel. He should have died, but he didn’t. A strange set of coincidences followed.

Battlefield medicine - Wikipedia‘A field ambulance on its way to the hospital area happened to pass by with a load of O-negative blood to be used for the wounded soldiers. That load landed that very morning, barely two hours earlier, directly from London. The ambulance also carried a surgeon,  a certain Frank Miller, who accompanied the freight, which included bandages, sulfur powder, and basic surgical instruments, stitches and swabs.

‘According to family legend, the doctor amputated to shredded leg right there, in the ambulance, while CJ was unconscious. When they reached the field hospital, what was left of the leg was bandaged, CJ had been transfused and the worst of the shock had worn off.’

***

CJ regained consciousness the next day and was flown out to England, where he was treated in the  74th General Hospital  near Bristol. At first he had an almost complete amnesia, but it memory restored itself in bits and pieces over the next three months. By this time, Francina had given up hope, believing that her husband had been killed in action.

At last the telegram arrived. CJ was alive and recovering in England. Poor Francina wept with joy. Poor thing: she thought their troubles were over…

To be continued…

Happy Wind #4

Tsung – with the click in the beginning (!Kung), which the Western tongue finds so difficult – turned out to be a fountain of knowledge. When CJ asked him about his flu remedy, the old man (he was only 40, but seemed far older than that) was reluctant to speak about it.

‘Look, Oupa,’ CJ sat down with a sigh, ‘you can spend your life here on Market Square. If you like chopping up chickens and sheep, that’s fine with me. But there is an alternative, you know?’

He talked. Tsung (now called Oupa) listened. Geel sat nearby and helped to translate the bits his father didn’t understand. They looked around. There were several people browsing around in the market and quite a number of them sniffed or sneezed or coughed. One or two of these shoppers seemed feverish.

‘I hear people in Natal are suffering from some sort of cold or flu. Obviously it’s coming here. If we sold them your remedy, we can make some money. How about it?’

And so, without knowing how severe the impact of the 1918 flu would be, an agreement was reached. It was the start. African Natural Chemicals would only be formalised a few years later, but in the beginning it was merely an effort by Oupa, Geel and CJ to make ends meet. It was a spectacular success. Initially, Oupa managed to get the willow bark, buchu, thyme, and some tubers and roots from local sources (friends, ‘smouse’ – pedlers of wares – and other African herbalists) ; but soon the demand was so high that he had to send Geel back home to act as a procurement agent. His recipe for ‘sickness medicine’ (as he called it) had been in his family since they ‘came from the north’ – at term he was unable to explain.

The network of street urchins continued the errand business, but now they also acted as agents. They sold the powder at a shilling a pouch, of which they earned a penny commission each time.

When the big wave of Spanish Flu hit Johannesburg, Oupa’s Powder (as it became known) was sold on every street corner. The shillings rolled in. The street boys made a packet! Back home, Geel and his village were amazed at the amount of money they were making. It was the worst of times. It was the best of times.

***

‘That was the start of CJ’s second little empire – African Natural Chemicals and the courier business. With Oupa as an equal partner, the ANC became famous for not only the flu remedy back then, but today their profit is driven by another two remedies.’ When Gertruida tells a story, she’ll sometimes stop – almost at mid-sentence – to frustrate her audience. She says that’s the most effective way of emphasising a point. Once she is sure everybody is anxious to hear what the remedies are, she continues. ‘The one mixture of herbs is an excellent appetite suppressant. People simply stop eating – it’s really amazing.

‘But it’s the other remedy which brought them fame. It’s a laxative. Oh boy, does it work!! They use it for colon prep in hospitals, but if it’s available, you can be sure nobody is constipated. A single sachet is enough for an entire household. Yep, the African Natural Colon Exerciser – sold as ANC-exec – has no equal in the production of faecal matter anywhere in the world.’

Nobody laughed. It was just too near the truth to be funny. Gertruida seemed a bit disappointed, but soldiered on.

The first general hospital in Johannesburg ‘The other good thing that happened during the flu epidemic, was Francina Malan, a young nurse who had heard of Oupa’s Powders. Unlike most of the Johannesburg Hospital staff, she wasn’t a nun. If I have to guess, she might not even have been a qualified nurse, and maybe just a sort-of helper, a nursing assistant of sorts. All we know today, is that she worked in the Barney Bernato wing of the hospital, where a lot of flu patients died.

Barney Barnato Ward ‘Anyway,  most probably out of sheer desperation, she bought some of Oupa’s Powders from one of the street vendors and mixed it into a patient’s soup. The patient made a wonderful recovery. She then wanted to know more about the remedy and, following the trail back to Oupa, she met CJ.’

‘It wasn’t love at first sight. Francina wasn’t beautiful. She wasn’t slim and trim and didn’t look sexy in her starched nurse’s uniform. Her teeth were skew. The most beautifully alluring aspect of Francina was her generous and caring heart. Once CJ noticed that, their fairy tale started. He, too, had grown up with a distaste for the effects of wealth, He. too, knew happiness was impossible if you didn’t care about people- and things.’

Gertruida says it works like that sometimes. If you don’t want something, it’ll sniff you out and and grace you with its presence. And, depending on what was that you avoided.  this life-tendency could be a curse or a blessing. She often urges the Rolbossers to face their demons, telling them that ignorance is never bliss – it always comes at a price.

‘One would wish they lived happily after, but it wasn’t to be. CJ and his little troupe of streetchildren, Oupa and the village in the Kalahari became comfortably independent through the sale of Oupa’s remedies. Despite her looks, the photographs of Francina and CJ’s wedding remains as a testimony that beauty is rarely a physical thing. Francina became the mother of two beautiful boys, the boisterous CJ Junior and little Frans, the boy born with a weak heart. I suppose he had a congenital defect which would have been operated if they had lived today. Poor little Frans only lived for six years. He died at the beginning of the Great Depression, which wiped out wealth faster than the Spanish Flu.

‘CJ and his businesses made it through the depression – just. Because money was never a big thing in their lives, they could scale down their standard of living easily. And they had their savings, of course. CJ didn’t trust banks – or maybe it was because he was so ashamed at being illiterate – so his money was stored in the form of Kruger pounds. Gold was the thing, you see. After all, they lived in Johannesburg, on top of the worlds riches gold deposits.

‘Well, they managed the hardships of the Great Depression – and then the world war broke out. 1939 saw their fortunes change – radically. It was such a pity…at first the war seemed like a great adventure. It surely wasn’t, was it?’

 

Happy Wind #3

images (2).jpg

Geel

‘CJ was one of the first to start coughing in September 1918. At first he thought it was the usual cold or flu he was prone to, running around in the wind and rain while doing his errands like he did. But then he got sick. Really, really sick. It was the best thing that ever happened to him.’

When Gertruida tells a story like this, Boggel always arranges with Precilla to bring in snacks – meat pies, sandwiches and biltong. It is good for business. The whole town is there to listen and they like to drink something while eating and listening. Gertruida – who knows everything – knows she will be served free of charge. Boggel says it’s her commission.

Anyway, the Rolbossers had nowhere to go. Upington and Grootdrink were still in lockdown, so there was no sense in leaving the town. Boggel has a well-stocked store-room. Why leave? Especially when there is such a good story to share.

***

CJ never considered going to hospital. When he got sick, the big wave of Spanish Flu cases hadn’t hit South Africa yet. In fact, very few people knew anything at that stage about the flu that would terminate the lives of half-a-million South Africans. He was also fortunate that he got the earlier, milder form of the disease. It was the later mutation that was so lethal. With so many mouths to feed and so many street children to look after, his errand business – a primitive courier service – did not allow for any luxuries. If you got sick, you got in to bed and waited for the fever to go.

But this flu was different. It didn’t want to go. CJ got sicker by the day and started coughing up green phlegm. That’s when the little yellow child, the one they called Geel, offered to help. He was one of the fasted runners CJ had, a reliable young teenager with lively eyes and a ready smile.

Johannesburg Market Square. Martin Plaut collection | South ...

Market Square, early 1900

Geel could speak enough English to get by, but his first choice was the language of the Khomani people. His father was from the Kalahari from where he had traveled, much like Loser, first to Kimberley and then to Johannesburg. Geel never mentioned his mother, who apparently stayed behind. His father, Tsung (actually !Kung), worked as a helper for a butcher on Market Square.

‘You need father’s help. He know sickness.’

CJ scoffed. ‘Your father? The meat-man? What – is he a doctor now?’

‘No. No doc-ter. Father will help.’

CJ remained skeptical. The discussion went nowhere. Geel did not understand why CJ was speaking about a white man’s shaman. Why, was he not offering the wisdom of his very own father? Why would CJ be so disrespectful to his family?

‘Forget I speak of father. You go doc-ter. I don’t see you no more.’ Geel left CJ lying in a pool of sweat and left in a huff. Two days later CJ sent a message, pleading with Geel to fetch his father.

Tsung was maybe 40 years old, but looked to be 80. He was shrivelled, wrinkled, bent and arthritic. He arrived at CJ’s shanty after work, just as the sun was setting in the west. He did not introduce himself as he sat down – on the floor – next to the bed. He sat there for a long time, just looking at the sick white man and listening to his breathing. He never touched him at all, nor did he say anything. After what seemed an eternity, he got up quietly and left. CJ would have laughed if he wasn’t so ill.

The next morning Geel arrived with a small pouch filled with a rather pungent powder. He was so short of breath and weak that he only managed a weak ‘What?

‘Father sent, He say you may die. Maybe. Perhaps. This is help. You make so.’ Geel imitated the action of somebody taking snuff, taking an imaginary pinch and sniffing the powder. CJ tried it. He almost passed out coughing.

***

‘The story goes that he first almost died coughing before he coughed himself back to health.’ Gertruida is obviously enjoying the story as much as her audience. ‘But, two days later the fever broke and the next day he started feeling better. There was no doubt about it, the powder did magic. He sent Geel to fetch his father, thinking to thank him. Geel would have none of it. He said if you wanted to thank somebody, you went to him. It was rude to summon somebody who helped you.

‘Well, CJ got up, walked to market square and apologised to Tsung. He said he was doing things the white man’s way, which may certainly seem rude. But, more than just saying sorry, he also expressed his thanks. Tsung smiled and nodded. Yes, he said that’s allright.

‘Then CJ did the smartest thing in all his life. He asked Tsung what was in that powder. That one question changed his life. Forever.’

To be continued…

 

Happy Wind #2

Best Devil's Street Stock Photos, Pictures & Royalty-Free Images ...Gertruida gets up, walks to the window and stares out at the veld. It been another dry year. A lazy dust devil does a desultory little dance in the distance before dying quietly. There is nothing green growing in the red sands of the Kalahari right now, but she knows it’ll change as soon as Nature blesses them with a bit of rain.

‘So what happened, Gertruida? With the Bothmas and the wind and all that?’ Vetfaan gets frustrated when Gertruida doesn’t tell the whole story. She, of course, understands the art of telling stories – it’s much like all else in Life: it involves a balance of patience, curiosity, a bit of prodding and a lot of imagination.

‘Oh, the Bothmas?’ Gertruida smiles. ‘Yes. They did make an interesting bit of history, didn’t they?’

***

Loser was 52 years old and immensely rich by 1800’s standards. Worth more than   £10,000 when the cards were turned, was way beyond anything he could have dreamed of. But just about right for the barmaid who served the table that night. The Randlords invited Loser to play on, knowing they could fleece him if they had enough time, but the barmaid put a stop to that.

‘Mr Rhodes, my father is not a young man any more. He needs his rest. Allow me to take him home and then maybe, if he wants to, you can have a return match sometime in the future.’

‘Your father?’ Rhodes polished his monocle, put it back, and peered at the two. Yes, she just might be young enough to be Loser’s daughter. And yes, she was looking fondly at the old man. ‘Well. Haarrumph! I suppose that would be in order. Go on, shoo! We still have to get going with our game. Don’t just stand there – off with you!’

Loser stood transfixed for a while. What? This girl was certainly not his daughter and they had no ‘home’. And the invite to play on, was so tempting. But then he looked at her again. Looked, and really saw her for the first time. Her bright blue eyes were searching his face, pleading him to go. And she was very, very beautiful. Loser nodded. Winning a poker game and going ‘home’ with this young lady was almost impossible to imagine. The money in his pocket, the share certificate and the woman – these were all real, after all, and left nothing to the imagination. And, just like he reacted when he found the blue diamond, he did the right thing.

‘Thank you, gentlemen. Good night.’

***

Mounts Bay Hotel Pritchard Street in 1909 #landscapephotography #african #landscape #photography In those days the Mounts Bay ranked amongst the top hotels in Johannesburg and that is where the pretty barmaid steered the euphoric old man. Along the way, she introduced herself.

‘I am Molly. Molly Richards. From Dartmoore, but currently staying in Braamfontein. A rented room. For one.’ It was dark already, but he saw her looking up to him, checking to see if he understood her message. ‘I came out with me father. He is…was a blacksmith, but he died last year. Dysentery. It happened so quickly. One week he was hammering horse shoes, the next, we buried him. I had to find work…’ She put a small hand on his arm. ‘I’m sorry about lying that you are me dad, but I’ve seen them empty many a pocket with that poker of theirs. I didn’t want that to happen to you.’

She knew about the Mount Bay. Some of the rich people who had their racehorses shod by her father, had lived there. She went there once or twice with invoices that needed settling. ‘You go there, Mister. Get a bath and a good nights sleep. And don’t even think about gambling your stuff away, understand? Don’t be a fool.’ She hesitated. ‘If you want, I’ll come back tomorrow. Help you buy some decent clothes and get a shave and haircut… But only if you want, see? I’m a decent girl. Me father taught me manners.’

***

Gertruida sits down with a sigh, winks at Boggel for another beer. ‘The family does not know whether Molly went home that night. What is known, is that the two of them got married and that she had a baby a year later. 1895, that would be, or early 1896. It was a boy, Cecil John Bothma. He  was born to sorrow and hardship for the first twenty-one years of his life. Oh, how he suffered!’

Molly Richards died shortly after the birth. ‘Puerperal sepsis was a huge threat back then. That left Loser with a helpless infant he had no idea how to care for. In desperation, he got hold of a wet nurse, one Grace Newman, who did not take after her first name. She managed to feed the infant, but she also had a keen eye on Loser’s fortune. Over the next ten years she slowly – and with great cunning – managed to spend most of the money Loser had won from Beit. Only the share certificate remained untouched, simply because she did not know what it was. She and Loser was in some sort of love-hate relationship. He drank heavily and in his drunken state he’d seduce her. Or her, him. Who knows. But when he was sober he hated the very sight of her.

‘He came home one night, drunk as a lord, and ordered her to bed. At the time he was almost broke and they lived in a shanty out near where Roodepoort is today. Grace refused. Loser got angry. They fought. He hit her with a cooking pot.’

At the inquest, it was found that Grace died as a result of blunt trauma to the left temple, which caused a skull fracture and bleeding on the brain. Loser was found guilty of murder and sentenced to ‘hang by his neck until he was dead’.

CJ Bothma, the boy, was twelve years old when his father was hanged. All he had was some clothes, a battered suitcase, a pack of cards and the certificate.

‘He had no idea what that paper meant, see? Couldn’t really read at that stage, either. Due to the abusive situation in the family, he had learnt quite early in his life to mind his own business. Don’t ask questions, don’t get involved. He spent his days on the street. At first he played with friends, later he sold cigarettes – single ones – to passers-by. When Loser was taken away, he made ends meet by running errands. Simple jobs. Take this here, take that there. That’s how it started. Today’s Bothma Couriert Services – BCS- the international company, started with a twelve-year-old delivering letters, groceries and goods in Braamfontein.’

His business took off slowly. After a few months he had to buy a wheelbarrow. A year later he had three street urchins working for him.

‘By the time he was twenty-one, he had quite a network of boys – black and white – working for him. It wasn’t a lucrative business at all, but it did provide simple lodging and food. CJ understood the hardship a child on the street endures and he had a good heart. He also saw what money did to his father and to Grace. Money was not to be his key to happiness. Caring for others was the answer. It was 1917, and the Big War was drawing to a close. Just before the Spanish Flu. His luck was about to change.’

To be continued…

 

Happy Wind #1

 

Kate's skirt has a mind of its own as she speaks to soldiers as she arrives at Calgary Airport on July 7, 2011. Chris Jackson, Getty Images.

Wind and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge

Gertruida will tell you – because she knows everything – that all winds are not necessarily sad. There are, for instance, Happy Winds which are completely different to the Dismal variety. Happy Winds are frivolous and naughty. They get into papers and hair and skirts. You’d recognise a Happy Wind instantly, she says, simply because its effect will make you smile.

Happy Winds also bring relief and joy as it fulfills promises (like rain), which Dismal winds never do. When you get Gertruida talking about these winds, she always tells the story of Herman Viljee and little Susan Bothma. She says it describes exactly what a Happy Wind is capable of.

 

***

History – De Beers Group Susan Bothma was a petite young lady with an athletic body and a strong mind. Born to an older couple – after years of trying to fall pregnant – she was spoiled from day one. Her room was spacious and overflowed with Teddies, soft toys, lights of various colours and soft music. The Bothma’s were an extremely rich and clever family. Their fortune was built up over many generations, starting with some shares Great-great Grandfather Loser Bothma won in a poker game in Kimberley.

***

Loser Bothma lived up to his name all his life. Nothing he tried ever worked or turned out to be even moderately successful. Maybe because he had nothing to lose and maybe because he was an eternal optimist, he was also a habitual gambler. The only certain thing about his gambling, was the inevitable outcome.

In 1891 he was 52 years old, digging for diamonds as a humble labourer in somebody else’s claim. (It is still unsure who owned that claim, although the family believes it was Cecil Rhodes himself). Top Spots For Gem Hunting In The US | Gem hunt, Diamond state park ...Loser knew he was way past his prime and that his later years would be spent in abject poverty. And then, one day, as he shoveled one dejected spadeful of dusty gravel after the other on to the sieve, a little gust of wind changed his fortune in the blink of an eye. He noticed the spark of reflected sunlight first and when he forced his aching back to bend a bit further, he picked up a pure blue diamond the size of his thumb. It was perfect in every way.

Of course, the diamond didn’t belong to him. But… the claim had delivered only a few, inferior quality, diamonds in the past. He was working alone. And nobody saw him pocket the stone. He went home to his dilapidated tent that night to sit down beneath the torn canvas and to consider what to do. There was no way he could claim the diamond as his own to sell; people knew him and who he worked for. A diamond that pure of that size would be impossible to sell without divulging its true origin.

For once in his life, Loser made the right decision. He buried the diamond under his mattress and continued working on the claim. He did find two or three small, insignificant diamonds, which he duly delivered to (the family believes) Mr Rhodes. And then, when his time was up, he folded his tent, stuffed the diamond in his pocket and left for the Witwatersrand, where gold fever was at its height.

Rand Club in 1888

The Rand Club in 1894

Loser was careful. He had a few pounds and the clothes on his back, as well as a donkey to carry the tent, his mattress and a few pots and pans. He reached Johannesburg, pitched his tent and started looking around. At last, he heard about the gentlemen at the Rand Club. They were rich, he heard, and had a penchant for gambling – especially poker. This was, as his name indicated, a game he was most familiar with.

And so, on the evening of a warm day in December, 1894, Loser presented himself at the club and asked if he could join the game.

***

Cecil rhodes & alfred beit00.jpg

Cecil Rhodes and Alfred Beit

‘One must bear in mind,’ Gertruida says – because she knows everything, ‘that Loser was dressed in the only clothes he had. He was dirty and dusty and his hair was all over the place. The doorman threatened to throw him out. Loser showed his diamond. At that precise moment Alfred Beit arrived at the door. He, Rhodes, Wernher and Herman Ecksteen was planning on a leisurely evening of friendly poker. He saw the diamond, the scruffy, down-and-out miner and immediately invited Loser in.

 

One game and one game only, was offered to Loser. ‘The highest hand wins. No comebacks, no second chances.’ Beit smiled the way a hyena would. Easy game, easy prey and easy winnings. And the buy-in, Beit said, would be £ 5000, just about the price for the diamond – quite incidentally. Loser was to hand over his diamond, but Beit said everybody else was good for the credit. When Loser objected, Rhodes sent the barmaid downstairs to fetch his valise from the safe, guarded by an armed employee. The man came back to check. Rhodes raised his voice. The valise was on the table a minute later.

‘There,’ Rhodes said. selecting a document from the briefcase, ‘satisfied now?” It was a share certificate was worth just over £ 5000.

Loser swallowed hard and nodded.

How to play Texas Holdem Poker? - 1mhowto.com

They sat down in plush chairs on the first floor of the building with a beautiful view of Marshall’s Township, Loser’s opponent was selected by drawing lots. Beit won and sat down opposite to Loser.

The cards were shuffled, Loser was offered the cut and the cards were dealt in a way Loser had never seen before – five open cards in the middle with two face down in front of both players.

‘Make up the best hand of five cards and decide if you’re in. Once both players are prepared to play, the highest hand will win.’  Ecksteen, the dealer, smiled so his gold tooth showed. ‘Mister Bothma?”

Loser checked his two cards, careful not to show them to the others. He had two Kings. It was a good hand. He nodded. Beit smiled.

Beit nodded and carefully replaced his cards on the table. Just then, a Happy Wind breezed through the open window, ruffling the cards on the table. Loser saw the two aces in Beit’s hand.

‘Gentlemen, show your cards.’

***

Gertruida knows more about Texas Hold’em poker than what Loser did. His two kings were weaker than Beit’s two aces. ‘He stood up to go, so used was he to losing, but in those days gentlemen played like gentlemen. It was Rhodes who pointed out that a third king was laying there, face up, amongst the five open cards. Loser had a triple to Beit’s double. He had not only retained his diamond, but he also had won the share certificate in the De Beer’s Mining Company – doubling his fortune.’

Beit was gracious in defeat. ‘He offered to buy the diamond for £ 5000, which Loser was happy to do. He wanted cash for the diamond and that’s what he got. Plus the shares. However, unbeknownst to him, Beit sold the diamond the next day for double that figure, ensuring everybody ended up winners.’

***

Vetfaan gets up, stretches, and smiles. ‘So that’s how a Happy Wind got its name?

‘No Vetfaan, not at all. That would only come years later. Sit down and I’ll tell you all about it.’

To be continued…

Dismal Wind

Wind - Wolwedans - NamibRand - Namibia Gertruida – who knows everything – will tell you, you get many types of winds. You get sandy winds that drive the Kalahari sand so hard it takes the paint off your vehicle. Sometimes you get a wet wind with a few scattered raindrops between the dust particles. And there is the cold wind that chills the very life out of everything.

But, she says, it is the Dismal Wind that gets her down. That’s the worst, she reckons.

This Self-Filling Water Bottle Mimics a Desert Beetle | WIREDA Dismal Wind blows in from the west, from the Namibian coast where the cold Benguela sea stream courses northward. Here the wind picks up moisture to form a fog that feeds the sparse succulent plants in the desert and the occasional desert beetle collects on its surface. (They stand on their heads to drink, incidentally.)

But that is where the promise in the wind stops. Beyond the Namib, it continues as a disillusioned, empty breeze which – at best – may cool you down on a hot summer’s day. It’s like a sterile relationship of empty promises, she says; it may bring clouds, but it never rains.

Yesterday just such a wind drove dust devils down the aptly named, irony laced and wrongly printed Voortrekkker Weg in Rolbos. It frogmarched a tumbleweed down the rutted road as if to make fun of the weeds on the sidewalk. It skirted around the few buildings lining the street, raising the occasional subdued howl as it found little holes in the rusted roofs and window frames. And it brought with it the mood which gave it a name, so many years ago.

***

Gertruida says that Pottie Visasie used to be a handsome, sought-after bachelor in the district, managing game on the family farm. That’s before he was drafted in to the army. The Rolbossers know the story well: the troop-carrier triggered a landmine and he was the last to be rescued from the flaming wreck. He spent more than a year in various hospitals before returning to the farm. He was the original self-isolator, long before a virus forced the world to close its doors.

Before he left for basic training at Voortrekkerhoogte, everybody expected him to marry Bettie Odendaal, Mooibettie, who’s father was one of the original directors of the Oranje River Cellars. Oubaas Odendaal used to be famous for the columbard grapes he cultivated, pressed and fermented on his huge farm next to the river. Odendaal’s Rus, the sweet dessert wine from the deep alluvial soil of the region, was a favourite in the majestic mansions in Monaco and French Reviera. These two markets alone made him a multimillionaire.

Mooibettie and Pottie had promised each other eternal loyalty and commitment on the evening before the train left for Pretoria. During the tough weeks of basic training, Pottie wrote a letter each day,

And then he was sent to the border, to Caprivi, where, on the second after he landed in Katima Mulilo, his luck ran out and he had to be airlifted back to Voortrekkerhoogte in a critical condition. Three weeks later he regained consciousness. Four weeks later he asked, for the first time, for a mirror.

He never wrote to Mooibettie again.

***

‘Well, he eventually made it back to the farm, and he then steadfastly refused to leave his house. The foreman, Klaas Geel, had looked after the farm while he was gone, and he simply continued doing so after Pottie’s return. Pottie was the shadow behind the curtain, the man who signed papers, the owner who was owned by the farm.’ Gertruida sits back to signal for another round. ‘And that was too much for Mooibettie.’

Mooibettie was, indeed, beautiful. Or, more correctly, she used to be. When all her Ashburton Guardianattempts to contact Pottie failed, she took to writing letters. Long, forgiving love letters, which she wedged between the locked farm gate and the post of the two-spoor road leading to Potties farm. There they remained stuck while she added more and more letters every week – for months.

‘Mooibettie was such a lovely girl – not only in looks, but in spirit as well. She hoped, prayed, remained loyal. Pottie, however, just couldn’t face her – or himself, for that matter. He knew about the letters. Klaas had told him, but Pottie would have none of it.  He ordered Klaas to leave those letters just where they were, hoping Mooibettie would get the message.’ Gertruida sighs – such a waste! ‘And she did … eventually. Married Gerbrand van Wyk, late Tannie Cathy’s old husband.’

Why, nobody knows. Mooibettie Odendaal became Elizabeth van Wyk. The newlyweds settled in the new house Oom Gerrie built on his farm. Her room had a nice view of the Kalahari landscape, with the red sand contrasting with the old Camel-thorn tree next to the farm dam. According to Ai Siena, who takes care of the kitchen on the farm, Elizabeth van Wyk just sits at her window, staring at the tree in the desert.

‘Pottie heard about the wedding through Klaas. Telling Pottie about the new Mrs van Wyk was a sort-of revenge for the frustration Klaas endured every time he drove past the bunch of letters stuck to the gate.

‘Pottie’s reaction almost broke Klaas’s heart. He says it looked as if Pottie was back in that burning troop carrier. The livid scar that used to be a handsome face distorted and reddened and looked as if the fragile bits of normal skin would tear apart. He howled like a trapped jackal. Klaas says he was afraid  the man would drop dead, right there, at his feet.’

But he didn’t. He ran out of the house, screaming as he did. And his feet found their way down the two-spoor road to the gate.

‘It was a really windy day. One of those West-winds that threatens to blow everything apart.  The letters were no longer there.’

***

Pottie never returned to the house. Gertruida says he is still out there in the veld, searching and searching for the letters the Dismal Wind had strewn all over the Kalahari. Klaas puts down food and water next to the gate post – it disappears every second or third night.

‘It’s a sad story of missed opportunities, bad luck and grief. When the Dismal Wind blows through the rusted roofs and small holes in the window sills, you can hear them both. Mooibettie and Pottie, yearning for each other, but lost in Life with no way back.’

Gertruida – who knows everything – says most people understand the way of the Dismal Wind. It’s there, inside us, looking for the small holes in our rusted window frames and roofs.

Vrede’s Lump

Boggel is unusually quiet this morning. While the Rolbossers wait for the bar to open, he settles down on his cushion beneath the counter. He needs time to think and sort out his problem.

It all started a few days ago when Vrede, the town’s dog, chased a tumbleweed across the road. In itself, that chase was not unusual. Dogs do crazy stuff all the time. After all, Vrede is known to bed down on smelly things and to chase after the lonely gecko living next to the doorway. The run after the tumbleweed, however,  was different. Vrede seemed slower than usual and when Boggel whistled him back, he limped ever so slightly.

Funny how things sneak up on people. Time has a way of camouflaging details, masking changes and wrinkles and grey hairs…and the suddenly! One day we look and realise how much we haven’t noticed for the longest of times.

CHARLES LAUGHTON in THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME ... And that’s how Boggel recognised  not only the limp, but also the lump on the back of the dog. A tumour? Now, if anybody in Rolbos understands spinal anatomy, it is Boggel, (read about Boggel’s father here; and his own history – in several episodes, here). His severe scoliosis has been a burden since birth, and, not unlike the tragedy surrounding Viktor Hugo’s famous character, has had a profound effect of his life. He simply could not bear thinking about Vrede with a spinal abnormality. People struggle to cope with it – how much more would a dog suffer? If you can’t ex[plain the situation or take regular medications, how does one cope?

Of course, in an old dog, the option of surgery may not be the best solution. What then? Euthanasia? Ask Oudok to send him on his final journey? No! Not that… Boggel feels the tears welling up. Having lost so much in his lifetime, there is no way he can imagine losing Vrede.

The loud banging on the door wakes up Vrede, who has been sleeping quietly at Boggel’s feet. His loud barking tells Vetfaan to stop making such a lot of noise. Boggel sighs: well, it’s time to face the day. Open the door, smile at the usual crowd, serve drinks and beam at his customers. Being a barman is one of the most demanding acting jobs there is.

Vetfaan,  as usual, is first through the door and first with his order.

‘Hi Boggel, a beer for me and a stiff Chivas for Doc.’ Boggel has been so preoccupied with Vrede’s dilemma that he only now notices Vetfaan’s companion. ‘Doc, this is Boggel. Boggel, meet Doc Wiener. He’s here to try to get my cow pregnant. If you serve that beer quickly, I’ll spare you the details.’

It is well known that there is no such thing as a coincidence. There is the dog, lump on his back. Here is the executioner. Add two and two together, and you get a canine funeral.

Boggel shakes his head. ‘Beer, you can have, Vetfaan. Your…friend…can wait outside.’I’m not serving nothing to a dog-killer.’

It takes time, of course. Doc Wiener is a large man with a short temper. Boggel is a short man with (when the planets get  their alignment wrong) a large temper. The shouting match lasted several minutes before Vetfaan slammed his huge fist so hard on the counter that the ice bucket fell over.

‘For goodness’ sakes, stop it you two! Boggel! What in heaven’s name are you upset about?’

Half an hour later, the three of them sat staring at Vrede.

‘It’s a lipoma, Boggel. Harmless and innocent little lump of fat. And look, you can see the little cut in the pad of that hind foot. Lump and limp has nothing to do with each other. Vrede might be getting older, but he’s as fit as can be.’

***

Gertruida – who knows everything – often says we are our own worst enemies. We anticipate the worst even if we say we hope for the best. ‘Have a little faith,’ she says, ‘and plan for the best. Some crazy pessimist may take pleasure in being right, but that’s sort of sick, isn’t it? Optimists do get disappointed at times – that much is true – but at least they smile more often.’

***

Vrede couldn’t care less;  but he has learnt something: whenever he wants a snack, he’ll limp up to Boggel. He’s an optimist, depending of Boggel’s pessimism.