Category Archives: History

Happy Wind #21

Vintage Map - Nautical Miles of Africa Photograph by Camryn Zee ... ‘While the whole Riemvasmaak community was forced to comply with the defense force’s demands to move, Geel escaped back to civilisation. He was an articulate, educated man in his sixties, respected for his entrepreneurial skills and the easy way he had with strangers. Mr Gibson, the manager CJ had appointed many years before, welcomed his friend from the Kalahari with open arms. Together they set about expanding BCS – Bothma Courtier Services – to satisfy the international demand for the secure transfer of documents, packages and even money.’ Gertruida brightens at the thought. ‘The two of them were really a remarkable team.’

***

It took many months for the Riemvasmakers to settle in remote Damaraland; in the area they were supposed to stay there was no real infrastructure. Susan insisted that she and Herman remain with the people she loved and very soon it became abundantly clear that Herman would have his hands full, taking care of everybody. Babies were born, stomach and lung problems were common and malnutrition took its toll.

Soon, however, Herman’s services were in demand on a far greater scale. There were no doctors for many hundreds of miles around the new settlement. Farmers and their families, their workers, policemen, missionaries and travelling salesmen soon queued up in front of the tent they stayed in. Within six months Herman had to build a small building to house a clinic. Medicines were brought in (later via BCS!) from Windhoek. And before he could build a house for them, the first of several rooms were added to the clinic, to house much needed beds for the sick and infirm.

***

‘Yes,’ Gertruida says, ‘they did get married. Right there, in front of their tent, by one of the German missionaries who had come for treatment of his gout. It was a simple service, but the entire community turned out to witness the start of an amazing marriage. Their meal on the day? A barbecued chicken, donated by the ululating crowd around their tent. At least, the missionary paid for his treatment with some sherry. As far as honeymoon nights go, it must rank as one of the most strange, ever. True to their nature, the newly-weds smiled and took it in their stride.

‘Some time later Herman suggested that they hand over the reins of their businesses to Geel and Mr Gibson. Susan had been the only heir to CJ’s estate and it was impossible to manage the growing little empire from the wilderness of Damaraland. Susan immediately agreed and so Geel became the owner/CEO of CJ’s legacy. He did send a portion of their profit to the people in exile every month, and it did a lot to make their lives easier.

‘Susan, in the meantime, studied Herman’s books and became a rather efficient pharmacist and assistant in the busy practice. She also assumed the role of mother to the Riemvasmakers, listening to complaints and helping out where she could.

Solitaire Namibia Special. Custom Namibian Packages. Explore ...‘Griet Loper springs to mind when I tell you about that time in Damaraland. The Riemvasmakers were a determined, hard-headed bunch. No government was going to force them into being second-rate citizens. Griet was a restless soul and eventually made off with a small bundle of clothing. Just took to the road and kept on walking. Eventually, she came to a little cluster of buildings next to the dusty road with the name of Solitaire. The kindly owner, a Scot by the name of Moose McGregor took pity on her and employed her in the kitchen. In those days Moose sold petrol along this long and corrugated road to the coast and he thought it a good idea to make an extra buck by selling refreshments.’

Much to Moose’s surprise, Griet produced a real German apfelstrudel one day, using some left-over apples a broke traveler had exchanged for a cold Coke. Griet used a recipe handed down by her great-grandmother, who had been a cook to a German garrison stationed at Numatoni, in the Etosha region. Of course, that was before the horror of the war against the Herero’s, which almost wiped out that entire nation. Incidentally, that war was the reason why Griet’s family fled South West Africa to settle in Riemvasmaak, in the beginning of the 1900’s .

Namibia, Fort Namutoni (ehem. Deutsch-Südwestafrika), gel. 1939 ...

Numatoni Fort, 1939

‘Well, that apple pie was something else! Moose McGregor became famous for his delicious apfelstrudel, a reputation that is alive and well today, even after his death. Needless to say, Griet’s future turned out to be a happy and content one in the many years she spent at Solitaire.

‘Oh,and there’s Lena, Mama Namibia herself. Came from Riemvasmaak as a young girl, but, wow, did she turn out to be a gem! Today she runs Wilderness Safari’s luxury Damara Camp in the remote Damara desert landscape, a woman of importance! And what about Petros Sand, the man who started farming with vegetables in the fertile Swakop River bed, near Swakopmund?

‘But I digress,’ Gertruida sighs, ‘the most important part is still to come. And it involves all of us…’

To be continued…

 

 

 

Happy Wind #17

Pretty Young Woman from Finland in Beautiful Dress 1910 1920s ...

Susan Bothma

‘When Susan was twenty-one, she and Francina were sitting on their porch one sunny spring morning. Life was sweet. CJ Jnr wrote home every week, telling them about his happy life as game ranger. Because he had grown up among the mix of cultures in the Kalahari, he found working with Zulus quite easy. The two women were talking about his latest letter when Francina felt a twitch of pain on the left side of her neck. Her hand went up to examine the area. And then she felt the lump.’

Gertruida says – because she knows – that Life is never a straight line. Just when you think you’re winning the game, the winger drops the ball five yards short of the tryline. Or the guy at silly point drops a sitter. Or somebody says something about expropriation of land without compensation. She says these mishaps are important, otherwise we’d never know when to be happy.

‘The nearest doctor was in Upington, a certain young man who’d just started practicing there. Geel used the pickup they normally utilised for the natural remedy herbs, to transport the two women to see the man. What they imagined would be a short consultation, turned into a week-long’s worth of agony.’

***

Francina had an extremely malignant form of breast cancer. Because it had spread, there was no sense in trying to operate on the tumour. Some journals contained articles on a new field of medicine, but chemotherapy was not widely available – maybe at teaching hospitals for selected cases, but definitely not for a terminal patient in the faraway Kalahari. The young doctor, Herman Viljee, sympathised – but he was also honest in the most kindly manner.

‘It is a matter of time, Mrs Bothma, I’m sorry. I can help you with pain and support you and the family in any way I can, but the outcome of this is predictable.’ And then he spent two precious hours, explaining again and again the results of the biopsy he had done, the pathologists report, and the prognosis.

***

‘Men are such predictable animals,’ Gertruida says in her knowing way. ‘No matter what the circumstances are, they are always aware of gender. These days the world is trying to rid itself from sexism, but that is a lost cause. The day a man does not respect the beauty of a woman; or doesn’t step back at a door, or doesn’t compliment elegance – why, that’s the day we all deny who and what we are. The key, of course, is the word ‘respect’.

‘Be that as it may, Doctor Viljee could not but help noticing the innocent beauty of Susan Bothma at his patient’s side. In those days doctors were very much aware of ethics and what was considered to be proper. Viljee took note, that’s all. But deep inside (if he were completely honest with himself) he promised himself that he’d like to see her again in the future, when the time for such advances was appropriate.’

***

Geel took the women back to the village. A paper bag full of morphine drops and aspirin tablets sat on the seat between Francina and Susan. There wasn’t much to say. To discuss such matters was to try to avoid the ultimate outcome. It was time to absorb, reflect, rebel and accept – and that is exactly what the corrugated road to the village afforded them.

However, when they arrived back home, the aged old Andries was waiting on the steps of the stoep of their house.

‘I know, Miss Fransie. I had a dream. And I’m sorry.’ He held both Francina’s hands in his as the tears streaked down his dust-coloured cheeks. ‘But life comes and life goes. Seasons. Once we are young and once we are old – if we are lucky to live through the years. We should never be afraid of the journey, Miss Fransie. Every step is a blessing, even the hard ones.’

And, oh! He said, he’d already spoken to Mister CJ. There was no need to hide anything – they were in this together. The journey wasn’t for just one person. They’d see: the journey would bless them all.

***

‘And so it was,’ Gertruida says. ‘Viljee’s medication helped, but it was Andries’s remedies – especially his root-cure – which relieved the pain and anxiety Francina lived through in the next three months or so. She took solace in what she saw: how everybody took care of CJ and how the villagers showered them with love and affection. The morning before she died, she called everybody together, blessed them and bid them goodbye. Then she called Andries and told him it was time. The old medicine man simply nodded. He knew what to do.

‘It was during a prayer at the funeral service, led by Oudoom in Upington, that Susan felt her hand being taken by somebody sitting down next to her. She peeked. And that’s when she knew: it was going to be alright.’

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Wind #16

White Bushman Paperback ‘To describe the mindset of the Bothma family back then, you only have to consider what the average farmer feels like today.’ Gertruida makes a vague gesture with her free hand (the other holding a cold one, despite Tannie Zuma’s decrees). ‘Abandoned. Forlorn. Angry. Depressed. Like today’s farmers, they were realists. The war was drawing to a close after more than 11,000 South Africans  –  Black, White and Coloureds – died in battle. We simply do not know how many casualties our forces suffered, nor how many struggled with mental illness afterwards. What is known, is that the Afrikaners were fed up with the Smuts government.

‘Of course CJ and his family didn’t want to return to their previous lives. CJ Snr was incapacitated in the worst possible way, Francina was afraid that the Smuts people would jail her again and little CJ Jnr did not want to leave the village-life they had become accustomed to. When the legendary Peter Stark – the famous White Bushman of South West Africa  – was 15, CJ, too, was learning the intricate culture of the Damaras, the San and the Hereros. He stood with his two feet planted in two cultural kraals – Western and the heady mix of African ways and histories. Lastly, CJ Snr felt embarrassed and guilty about his war wounds – appearing in public would have been just too painful.

‘Still the nightmares continued. One night, after a particularly violent nightmare-storm – this one ending in blood welling up from the ground – Francina soothed her husband like she usually did. What was unusual that night, was CJ’s response. He often complained that the dreams were frightfully terrible, making his feelings of guilt and incapacity even worse. A man should weather these storms, not so? A real man doesn’t sob himself awake in the middle of the night and then expect his wife to comfort him? A real hero has two legs and a string of medals.

‘Francina understood all these things. And then, on  that wonderfully fateful night, she proceeded to prove to her husband that he was still the same man that left for Egypt in uniform.’ Gertruida sighs dramatically. ‘You men are all the same. Primitive, simple-minded creatures. Once your ego get stroked, you plop over in a blissful slumber. And that, gentlemen, is exactly what happened that night. Little Susan Bothma was born in that same hut, nine months later.’

Servaas raised an eyebrow. So this is the Susan that would have a relationship with Herman Viljee…interesting!

***

The years that followed, were as peaceful as one could wish for. The Bothmas adapted to life in the Kalahari and the Riemvasmakers adapted to them. A house was built next to the huts – the first of many to follow. The natural remedy and CJ’s courier business continued to thrive under the care of Geel and Mister Gibson. A healthy trickle of cash flowed into the village’s coffers, where CJ saw to it that there was a fair distribution among the villagers. CJ Jnr grew into a strapping young man and little Susan was the darling of everybody.

While South Africa drifted sideways and backward on the tide of inappropriate legislation, Jan Smuts lost the 1948 election and the Nationalists eyed the prospect of a republic. Unfortunately, that is not all they did. History would judge the leaders of that time harshly, and rightly so.

EX UNITATE VIRES | Union of south africa, Africa, Botanical drawings Malan and Strijdom used the churches, the newspapers and the radios to re-educate an entire nation. Blatant propaganda focused on the danger of communism and the deterioration of independent African states. The progressive destruction of the country’s motto – ‘Ex Unitate Vires’, In unity lies our Strength –  created an unbridgeable divide between the peoples who live in this beautiful country.

***

Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela

Ian Player, Magqubu Ntombela    Photo: Trevor Barrett

‘CJ Jnr wanted to see the world, but he had no formal education. Francina and Geel had taught him to read and write, and he had a natural aptitude for numbers. His father knew the boy could not spend his life in the village. Life in the city was not an option. In the end he wrote – without much hope – a letter to Ian Player, a war veteran like himself, who at that time worked in the Natal Parks Board, one of the early South African efforts to conserve game, nature and the environment.

‘Much to CJ’s surprise and Francina’s joy, Player not only answered the letter, but also invited CJ Jnr to come and see him. The rest, you guys know, is history. CJ Jnr was a fierce fighter for RR – the NPO he started. Rhino Rescue remains testimony to his singleminded goal in life to protect those huge pachyderms from extintion. He died in his eighties, peaceful and content with his contribution to Life on Earth.’

Gertruida wipes away a tear. ‘At least he had that, didn’t he? His father died in the sixties, a rather fortunate situation, for he was spared the hardship and anguish of the forced removal of the Riemvasmakers from their ancestral grounds. He did, however, witness the wonderful relationship between little Susan Bothma and Herman Viljee. I suppose one may think that he died in peace, despite the loss of Francina, the poor man.’

The group at the bar sits up. ‘Francina died? Why?’

To be continued…

Giuseppe Verdi: Va pensiero

Some of the words:

Arpa d’or dei fatidici vati, Golden harp of our prophets,
perché muta dal salice pendi? why do you hang silently on the willow?
Le memorie nel petto raccendi, Rekindle the memories of our hearts,
ci favella del tempo che fu! and speak of the times gone by!

 

Happy Wind #14

The San & The Eland | Dreamflesh

Eland Hunt

‘When Francina woke up that morning, she felt strangely detached from the scene in front of her. Drugged, is the word that comes to mind. CJ, her husband, was still prone on the Eland skin, but she immediately saw that he was better. The flush and rivulets of sweat of fever were gone. His head was resting on a rolled-up karos, facing her, his expression one of calm, relaxed sleeping.’ Gertruida sips her beer, collecting her thoughts. ‘What she didn’t immediately realise, was that Andries had lanced the abscess in the stump the previous night, and had washed out the wound with salted water.’

Because she knew, and the others didn’t, Gertruida explained that there were some areas in the Kalahari where large pans collected water during the infrequent rains they get there. Some areas go without rain for years and get an excess of 4000 hours of sun per year. These pans may form in a matter of hours, disappearing just as fast again in some cases. The sand is mineral-rich, of course. So, in these little depressions, deposits may form during the evaporation of the water, leaving behind salts of various compositions and colours. And some of these salts are not the type you use at the restaurant table to season  your steak. The salt Andries used, for example, was bitter and purple.

***

Andries addressed – at length – the Eland in a most respectful way, apologising for the hunt and for taking its life. He explained that they had no choice, as only an Eland would save the sick man in the hut. He also promised the antelope that it’d be remembered for the sacrifice and that some people will be eternally thankful  for its kindness. Then, nodding to the older apprentice, he held out his cupped hands to receive a nondescript piece of flesh.

‘It’s the neck gland, white people call it a sweetbread or something,’ Geel whispered.

Even in her semi-lucid state, Francina nodded, recognising the thymus from her nursing days.

Buchu Leaf Andries cut the gland up in long, thin strips. When he turned to view CJ’s wound, Francina saw the stump for the first time that morning. Some of the swelling was gone, but the original incision had parted to reveal the rotting bone that used to be the femur of his upper leg. She also became aware of the scent filling the hut – it reminded her of a buchu-ointment – one of the natural medications Oupa had formulated  for CJ’s company before the war.

Francina was not worried; the root extract was still working its magic. Her mind was at peace, her spirit tranquil and calm. Her husband was being treated in a dirty hut by a wrinkled old man with no formal education, using bits of a dead Eland. This was all good, the way it should be. Nothing to be upset about….

‘Now they’re cutting out the stomach,’ Geel explained softly. ‘It contains the cure.’

Digestion and Nutrition - ppt video online download Andries removed a bulbous sac from the abdominal cavity. The upper end was tied with a thong. Then in deft, easy movements, Andries placed the strips of thymus in the gaping wound. What followed, did make her sit up straight, despite her sedation.

Andries slit open the bottom part of the stomach, slid the organ over the stump like a glove, and applied several strips of hide over the arrangement to keep it in place. Then he glanced over at Francina and clicked a few sentences in her direction.

‘Andries says you may wake up now, thank you.’ Geel hesitates. ‘He says we’ll see tomorrow. CJ will be better but the road to full health is long. He says patience will cure him. If we hurry, CJ will die.’

Francina did wake up from her hypnotic-like trance at once. She wanted to thank Andries, but burst into tears instead.

A bearded man, apparently about 30 years old

Paul Kruger, in 1852

***

 Gertruida smiles her superior smile. ‘That treatment was not new, of course. When Paul Kruger, later the president of the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, was hunting in 1845, he almost blew his left thumb off completely when his four-pounder exploded in his hands. When the wound became gangrenous, he consulted a local medicine man who applied the stomach of a goat in the same manner. It took six months, but he recovered’

Boggel gets on his box to peer over the counter. ‘That’s a wonderful lesson on the history of the old Transvaal Republic, Gertruida. But what happened then? To CJ and his son, the stump, poor Francina. I know something about the sad, later history of Riemvasmaak, so how did they all survive? Or didn’t they?’

Gertruida sighs. ‘Patience, dear Boggel, patience. Patience is a virgin, remember? Just wait and I’ll tell you all.’

To be continued…

Happy Wind #13

Wound healing complications associated with lower limb amputation ‘The journey to the Northern Cape  was long and painful. CJ’s leg stump throbbed and the glands in his groin were swollen and tender. Near Upington he started sweating – when Francina placed a hand on his brow she glanced over at Geel. They both knew…’

Gertruida doesn’t have to tell them about the dangers. Molly (Loser’s wife) died of puerperal sepsis, didn’t she? ‘Blood poisoning’, the old folks called it – rather aptly, when one considers the pathology. ‘Geel reached over to the driver – another member of the Kruiper clan – and told him to step on it.’

***

Pure Cast Iron 3 legged Potjie size #2 Dutch Oven, Cauldron ... By the time they got to Oupa’s village, it was dark. Despite this, Oupa was waiting with a huge fire in the clearing in the middle of the circle of huts. A three-legged pot was steaming over some coals next to it. And next to Oupa, a grizzled old man – more wrinkles than anything else – was sitting on a magnificent Eland skin.

CJ Jnr stood behind Oupa. He had been prepared as well as Oupa could, but still the sight of his critically sick father was almost too much to bear. He fought to keep his emotions under control, straightened up and hugged his parents. Francina wept with joy – and with grief. How big her son had grown in just the few months! How tanned and healthy he seemed! And now, in the light of the fire, how terrible the sight of her husband; the deterioration over the last few hours had been dramatic and frightful.

Once a semblance of order had descended over the reunited family (Geel hadn’t seen Oupa for many months, as well) Oupa cleared his throat.

‘This here is !Garuksab, but we call him Andries. He is from the Original People, the parents of the Kruiper family.’ Geel translated smoothly. Oupa nodded his approval. ‘He had a dream, so he came here. He knew he’d be needed.’

***

‘Nobody knows how the San-people do this. Some call these clairvoyant members of the tribe shamans or witch doctors, but that is not correct.’ Gertruida, who likes to think she knows everything, tries to explain. ‘These people live near nature. In fact, if there is anybody on earth who understands the way of Time, of the seasons and of human nature, it will be found in the San culture. These ‘wise men’ as they are called, are able to imagine (or travel) different times – future or past. They are the keepers of oral history and the prophets of the future.

‘Westerners are skeptical of this, of course. It is because we’ve confused the term ‘modern’. We think smart cellphones and Space-X are modern. But…to really come to an understanding of Life and Nature and Time – now that is really modern. I’m afraid we, the Western civilisation, have lost the desire to explore the most important aspect of the Universe: the reason for time, for humans  – and for our relationship with Nature. Exploration shouldn’t be out there,’ she says, pointing, ‘but in here, where you feel the regular pulse of your heart.’  She places a hand on her chest, smiling sadly.

***

!Garuksab, also known as Andries, had ordered his two apprentices (nameless young men who have been with Andries for a few seasons) to lay CJ down in one of the huts. He lit a precious candle and told the older apprentice to remove the bandage on the stump. As layer after layer of bandage was removed, the cause of CJ’s deterioration became clear. Green pus stained the bandages. The remainder of the leg was grossly swollen and red. The stench made the younger apprentice gag – something which drew a hiss of disapproval from old Andries. He said a few words in a rapid sequence of clicks.

”Andries says there is bad blood under the skin. It needs to come out, he says. And tomorrow they will hunt for an Eland. It is a holy animal, but it is necessary to save a life.’

The Eland in San Rock Art PaintingsBy this time, little CJ Jnr had learnt not to question the older members of the tribe, but Francina had not. ‘How will an Eland save my husband? We need to get to a hospital. Can’t you see he’s dying?’

Andries smiled. He put a withered hand in to the pouch the younger apprentice carried. Took out what looked like a piece of root. He held this out to Francine. Clicked a few words.

‘Andries, he say, you must chew.’

Francina only woke up the next day, when the men were slaughtering the huge bull Eland.

To be continued…

 

 

Happy Wind #12

Travel | Chopstix & the City‘Of course you can guess what had happened.’ Gertruida smiles broadly. ‘First of all: the Bothma couple realised that they were being used as puppets. The government had welcomed them back as if CJ had won El-Alamein all by himself  – which was very obviously devoid any truth. And Francina’s release from prison, the new dress and the hordes of newspapermen were all just window-dressing, a sham, a vulgar piece of propaganda to make the government look good. At the same time, the major thrust behind the reception CJ got, was to make it very difficult for the injured soldier to critisise the government in future. It was to keep him away from the opposition, see? You can’t bask in the government’s sun of glory the one day and then join the resistance movement the next.

‘So, once that was established, the two were trying to figure out what to do when the door to their suite opened quietly…’

***

Geel, the man with the soft eyes and the gentle demeanor, held a finger to his lips. Francina was overjoyed to see him, as she knew how Geel and Oupa’s family had been looking after their son. It was CJ’s reaction to Geel’s appearance in the doorway, that would be a warning of things to come.

CJ pulled up the sheets to cover most of his face. His fear-filled eyes darted this way and that, while his left hand gripped Francina’s arm. A low moan escaped from his lips, sounding ever so much as a long, drwan-out ‘Noooooo!’ 

Francina reached over to hold her man to her chest. ‘It’s OK, CJ, it’s Geel, remember? He’s a friend.’

***

‘The war, his injuries and the long, slow recovery ad taken its toll on the once-strong CJ. Imagine the horror of losing a leg and the function of an arm. And remember the letter from the ship’s captain, mentioning the frightful nightmares? CJ was most probably suffering from a condition which was poorly understood back then – Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Today we know it can present in many ways and that it may burden a patient for the rest of his life – but back then doctors simply accepted it as a form of psychological incompetence or madness. Amongst soldiers, it was seen as a weakness. Real men stepped up to the line, got a grip on things and soldiered on – such a stupid approach.

‘Francina’s presence calmed CJ down soon enough and then Geel explained his presence.’

***

It was the staff of CJ’s courier business – the boys on the bicycles and the men driving the vehicles – who had an ear on the ground. The manager CJ had appointed, a certain Mister Gibson, had been very successful in expanding the business in CJ’s absence. They now had daily deliveries in Johannesburg and Pretoria, with weekly visits to Kimberley, Cape Town and Durban. Gibson had regular interviews with the staff, collecting news and gossip. It helped him anticipate the need for the business to adapt to circumstances, but it also supplied him with information most people were unaware of.

Simon Kruiper was the courier who delivered the dress to the prison after it was altered to fit Francina. He chatted to a warder, who told him about her imminent release and CJ’s return. Kruiper reported it to Gibson. Gibson told Geel, who informed Oupa.

An that was the reason for Geel’s late-night visit to the Mount Nelson.

***

‘Come, come quickly. I have a van parked outside. We have a bed for Mister CJ and some food and water. If we leave now, nobody will know.’

Geel helped to get CJ in the wheelchair. The stench emanating from the bandaged stump of the amputated leg was almost overwhelming.

‘They said the doctors will see him tomorrow,’ Francina said. ‘Maybe we must wait. That leg obviously need attention. They even mentioned another operation.’

Geel shook his head. ‘Mister CJ just came from England. They couldn’t fix it, so how can our doctors do anything? No, we’ll take care of it, Miss Francina. There are ways…’

Francina still wasn’t sure. Then she looked down at her husband. She saw the fear in his eyes. His major injury, she grasped, was not the physical damage caused by the landmine. It was much worse. CJ needed rest. He needed a friendly atmosphere. He didn’t need interviews and more of the games the government was p[laying with him.

He needed the Kalahari.

Francina looked up into Geel’s trusting eyes. ‘Lets go,’ she said.

They wheeled CJ out through the almost-deserted reception area. Platvoet Kruiper, taking care of the desk in the small hours of the night, winked at Geel as the little group made for the door.

Once a Kalahari-man, always a Kalahari-man. Platvoet’s borther, Simon, would report the ‘unexplained disappearance of the Bothma couple’ the next day to a delighted Mister Gibson.

Happy Wind #11

upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/b/b8/Jan...

Field Marshal Jan Christian Smuts PC, OM, CH, DTD, ED, KC, FRS Prime Minister of South Africa, 1939 – 1948

 ‘The Smuts government had a problem, see?’ Gertruida, with her vast knowledge of everything, tries to sketch the situation in South Africa when CJ Snr returned. ‘With their pro-British stance, they lost a lot of Afrikaner support. In fact, had they not involved the country in World War II, we might never have had a policy of Apartheid. The Nationalists rallied the common voters behind them to oust Smuts in 1948, but only developed their racial policies in the 50’s and 60’s. 

‘Be that as it may, Smuts was no fool. He could not allow CJ Bothma to return as a martyr. Having lost a leg and the function of his right arm, CJ’s injuries made him the perfect frontman for those opposed to the war. After all, was his wife not in prison for exactly that? If the Ossewabrandwag  got their hands on the injured soldier, it would be another painful thorn in the side of the government.’

***

Smuts was a brilliant tactician. He arranged a hero’s welcome for Rifleman Bothma, the brave soldier who had helped the Allies to be victorious over the evil Germans. Even back in 1943, governments the world over relied on propaganda, twisted news and indoctrination. They hated – just as the politicians of today – to confuse a good piece of fake news with real facts.

NEAR MINT OLD LIFE MAGAZINE NOV 8 1943 WWII JAN SMUTS NEGRO AIR ...  The problem with Francina also received attention. Smuts pardoned her, sent her shopping for a stunning outfit and saw to it that she was waiting on the pier when her husband was wheeled off the Athlone Castle. A battery of photographers from the Argus, Sunday Times, Landstem and Brandwag waited behind a guard of honour to supply more fodder for the propaganda mill. Even the overseas press was present.

The photographs told the story. Francina, standing alone in her new dress. The infantry battalion forming the guard of honour. In the background, the mayor of Cape Town, two beaming generals, a military band and several religious leaders. The canon on Signal Hill boomed seven times, sending up clouds of smoke. And then, arriving in a black limousine: Smuts himself, to deliver a moving welcome speech. All this appeared in print and on the radio. Nobody said anything about Francina’s pale countenance, the twisted white little handkerchief in her hands, or the tears that streaked silently over the sallow cheeks.

Most of the news articles also mentioned the generosity of the government in booking the ‘fortunate couple’ in at the luxurious Mount Nelson Hotel.

***

‘That evening, when at last they were alone, Francina lay down on the bed, holding CJ as if she never wanted to let go. By then, the shock of his appearance had worn off and she no longer avoided looking her husband in the eye.’ Gertruida shakes her head. How brave that woman must have been! First possibility that her husband was dead and then the resistance movement. Then jail. Then this – the remnant of the man she used to know. ‘Of course we don’t know what they said to each other that night. What we do know is this: the next morning when Smuts had planned an interview on radio for them, the officials found no trace of the couple in their luxurious Mount Nelson room. They had disappeared during the night. Poof! Just like that, they were gone!’

To be continued…

 

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 #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 #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…