Tag Archives: life


Revelation Bible Religion - Free photo on PixabayNow that the lockdown allows inter-provincial travel and family visits, Gertruida was happy to hear that a distant niece, Mathilda Grove, wanted to pay a visit.

‘Mathilda is the epitome of the classic Old Maid Syndrome. Last time I heard, she was working at an old-age home in Paarl, where she took care of some old and infirm patients. A heart of gold, she has. A real gem.’ When Gertruida told the group in Boggel’s Place about the upcoming visit, old Servaas brightened a bit. It’s been years since Siena died and the dearth of possible replacements contributed to his constant grumpy state. Gertruida says old men get that way due to a chronic psychological massaging deficiency. She says PMD is far worse than PMS.


Rolbos shares some realities with other towns. One of these is the fact that nothing ever turns out exactly the way one anticipates it would be. When the large 4X4 bakkie (in America they call it a ‘truck’) slowed down to a  stop in front of Boggel’s Place, the Rolbossers crowded the small window.

‘Look at that caravan,’ Vetfaan whispered.

‘Shees – look at that bakkie, man! And those tyres!’ Kleinpiet lets out a low whistle.

‘Who, in heaven’s name, is that?’ Gertruida points at the gentleman who scoots around the vehicle to open the passenger side door.


The gentleman turns out to be Albertus Visser, a one-time inhabitant of Sunset House in Paarl.

‘He used to sit beneath the old tree in the corner of the lawn. All by himself, see?’ Mathilda smiles as she strokes Albertus’s back. After all the introductions have been done, they are enjoying a cold beer on Gertruida’s tab. ‘Every day he sat there, morning till night, reading the Bible. We all thought he was a bit strange, you know? But in an old-age home you get all sorts of people and we nursing staff just let them be.’

‘Harrumph!’ Albertus clears his throat. In a voice that is strangely high-pitched, he continues: ‘An old-age home is the last stop. That’s where it all ends. So it makes sense to do a bit of reading in the Book, see? You know where you’ve been; but do you know where you’re going? So I was just familiarising myself…’

‘Yes he was afraid he’d never get through all the books in the Bible, poor man.’ Mathilda interrupts with a wink at her beau. ‘And I didn’t know his problem until he called me Mithald.’ Mathilda lets out a shriek of laughter. ‘Mithald! At first I thought he was stupid.’

‘Most people did. You weren’t the only one,’ Albertus smiled. ‘As far back as I can remember it’s been like that. And oh! The experiences I’ve had with teachers! Can’t even remember how many hidings I got.’

‘You see, Albertus tried to go to church in his younger days, but it just didn’t work out, did it, dear?’ The way she looks at Albertus makes him blush.

‘Thise little pamphlets were horrible. You had to fill in stuff on some of them. Others apparently told you what to expect in the next week. And then the dominee would tell you where to read in the Bible and finally, which songs to look up to sing. I nearly died.’

‘Now, now, dear, don’t get worked up all over again.’ Mathilda pats the old man’s arm. ‘It’s okay now.’

‘The problem was that that dominee once preached about going to heaven. He said nobody can make it without reading the Bible from cover to cover. So I was deep into Matthew when Mithald, er, Ma-thil-da,  got involved.’

‘Ja, shame, the poor thing. When he looked at my name tag and called me Mithald, I realised what his problem was. Can you imagine how hard it is to progress right through the Good Book if you’ve got dyslexia? That’s why he struggled all those years – figuring out one word at a time.

‘Well, I took pity on the poor man. So I started doing the reading for him. Every day a few chapters. Took us four months, it did, but we got through it all in the end. It was our own lockdown blessing! By the time we finished Revelations, we got to know each other rather well..’


Gertruida says Mathilda is no longer the epitome of an old maid. Once Albertus made it to the end of Revelations (with Mathilda’s help), he didn’t have to isolate himself every day to try to make sense of the words.  In fact, he realised that living love was better than reading about it. That, Gertruida says (because she knows so much) is the biggest revelation of all.

Old Servaas is still grumpy. He says Mathilda isn’t his type at all. He’s read the Bible already all by himself, so  what’s the point?



Hapy Wind #18

Cactus Jack Bubblegum Tequila Sours (1 x 750 ml) | Tequila ...Whenever Gertruida gets near the end of one of her lo-o-o-ng stories, she’ll order a round of Cactus Jack, like she does now. That usually serves as a sort of warning for the audience to steel themselves – the climax is near. And that could be happy…or sad. Whichever way it goes, it helps to be prepared.

‘You know, the young doctor simply sat down, took her hand very gently, and shared in her grief. The church was full of people – Francina had been a very much-loved member of the community – but the petite Susan suddenly felt alone – with him. It was a comfortable feeling. They shared one of those moments in which words would have spoiled everything. Just being felt so good.

Page 2 of Daisy pictures | Curated Photography on EyeEm‘And then Susan had the strangest dream. Or vision. Or Imaginary moment. Whatever you call it, doesn’t matter. What matters is that she saw, or felt and heard, her mother. Francina was smiling, waving as she walked away from her. She blew a kiss and whispered goodbye. She was dressed in white and held a twig of Namaqua daisies in her hand. Susan saw her mother disappearing as if in a thin mist, and just before she was completely gone, she dropped the flowers.’


Susan Bothma listened to the last Amen . So, that was the end of her journey with dear Francina, the mother who loved her so much? How sweet and short and cruel the voyage through the stormy waters of Life! Why so fleeting the passage, why so inevitably final the end? But she remembered the words old Andries spoke when they returned from Upington with her terminally ill mother…

‘Look at the animals of our veld, Miss Susan. They are there season after season. Sometimes you see the same animals as last year, sometimes you see the next generation. And, Miss, they continue to feed on the short grass in our desert and they continue to be content – they never move away to places with more water and more grass. When it rains, they rejoice. When it’s dry, they endure, We must learn from them

Oryx photos, royalty-free images, graphics, vectors & videos ... ‘You mother is dying, Miss Susan. Soon, she’ll know the world is on the other side. But we’ll stay behind for a while. We’ll join her when the time comes. But now, in this time, we must endure. Think about it: do we have a choice? Can the Gemsbok wish for more grass when the drought has withered the veld? No, they know how to endure – and that is what we must do now. Yes, we must grieve, but we must grieve with gratitude. Be happy for the past and look forward to the future. The rain will come again. The season will change. And we’ll be together again when the time is right.’

She glanced at the two men next to her:  CJ, the big brother who worked in faraway Natal, and the young doctor – a man she hardly knew but felt strangely comfortable with. Her father was in the aisle, in his wheelchair, stone-faced and grey. Three men. Three pillars.

When they trooped out of the church, sniffing and silent as is customary under such circumstances, she noticed Andries waiting for her next to the steps of the building.

He was holding some flowers in his hands. It wasn’t much. Just a little green branch with some daisies at the end.

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 #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 #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


‘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 #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.