I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane, in between Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980. Stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.
These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. If I haven’t offended anyone – yet – it’s not for lack of trying . .
Hastily-scribbled, these posts could do with help. They’re usually based on remembered conversations, not written notes. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.
I’ve always been a bit confused about the hartebeest and the tsessebe, which I thought must be closely related.
weekend we saw a nice herd of hartebeest on the slopes of Platberg in
the pine forest, so I thought I must look into this.
its quite complicated!
As always with classification you get ‘lumpers’ who say ‘They’re the same,’ and ‘splitters’ who say ‘No! Look, it’s a different colour.’ I’ve been a lumper by nature meself, needing real DNA differences before I’d want to say something was a completely different species, no matter how different they look. Hunters are often splitters, wanting to say they shot a red bushbuck and a grey bushbuck and a brown bushbuck; or a brindled wildebeest and a Cookson’s wildebeest; or a Burchell’s zebra and a Crawshay’s zebra; and if you have the money they’ll even sell you a ‘Blue,’ a ‘Golden’ and a ‘King’s’ wildebeests – all on the same farm!
DNA has helped a lot – it’s harder for people to ‘invent’ species now. But even now, debate continues and not everyone agrees on all sub-species vs separate species!
So let’s start with a family of big well-known mammals – the Bovidae, which evolved 20 million years ago, in the early Miocene. Cloven-hoofed, ruminant mammals, including domestic cattle, sheep and goats. A member of this family is called a bovid; the family Bovidae consists of eight major subfamilies with about 143 species.
The subfamily I’m interested in here, where the hartebeest fits, is called Alcelaphinae, which has four genera:
Hirola, Beatragus hunteri – very rare, found in Kenya and Ethiopia.
Tsessebe, Damaliscus lunatus
Bontebok, Damaliscus pygargus
Hartebeest, Alcephalus buselaphus
Black wildebeest, Connochaetes gnou
Blue wildebeest, Connochaetes taurinus
Things that fascinated me in looking this up:
The hartebeest has only one species, with eight sub-species (although some splitters will dispute this; some like two species, some like three – adding a Liechtenstein’s and a Bangweulu Hartebeest).
The tsessebe is closer to the blesbok than the hartebeest. Except there’s no blesbok! Those buck we saw on top of Platberg? They’re sub-species of the bontebok.
The kudu, nyala, sitatunga, bongo and bushbuck spiral-horned antelope are closer to the cattle, bison and buffalo than they are to other antelope.
The impala is all on its own. Its closest relative being the rare and shy suni.
Not easy, and this with only 143 species. Imagine how hard it is to classify the small mammals: like mice – there are about 2200 species of rodents; and 1200 bats. Never mind plants!
The northernmost hartebeest – the bubal hartebeest – was found in Morocco and Algeria, north of the Atlas Mountains. The subspecies declined sharply during the course of the 19th century, especially after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by the colonial military. By 1867 it could only be found in the mountain ranges of north-western Africa that are near or within the Sahara desert. In Morocco the last known herd, numbering only 15 animals, was located by a hunter near Outat El Haj in 1917; He shot twelve of them. The last specimen was ‘collected’ in 1920. The bubal hartebeest was finally ‘protected’ under the London Convention of 1933. Too late . . .
A well-drilled, orderly troop of Queen and Empire Poms marched up Platberg. And when they were up they were up.
They reconnoitered the surrounding area looking for Boer commandos, ready to report any sightings to some grand old Duke, or Lord, or someone. Ridiculously dressed in anti-camouflage they stuck out like sore thumbs, but at least they were together and obeying the orders of Field Marshall Lello RSVP. This would not last very long.
Once on top the cohesion started to wobble and soon a small breakaway happened. Some of the troops began behaving like Boers, thinking they could just go home when they felt like it. Five of them headed off down One Man’s Pass, misled by a trooper who said he had local knowledge and ‘it wasn’t far.’
It was far and it was steep and soon more than just cohesion was wobbling.
The remains of the patrol, now only nineteen strong, headed East back to Flat Rock Pass – or Donkey Pass – where a further split took place with trooper Soutar suddenly developing a deep longing for his ancestral home, Howick. I know, who would want to go to Howick?
Down to fifteen, the remainder headed for the Akkerbos for lunch and booze, where another defection saw four more wander off the beaten track and puncture the one wheel of their Ford Platberg Cape Cart. Field Marshall Lello RSVP set off to rescue them, dispatching sergeant Garth, corporal Nigel and Generaal Leon to rescue the original five deserters. Who of course, didn’t need rescuing as they had the whole thing under control and knew exactly where they were as they had a knowledgeable local guide with them. (Right!)
Back at the Oak Forest – where the princesses Elizabeth and Margaret had been kerfuffling in the bushes with equerry Group Captain Peter Townsend back in 1947 when most of us were busy being born – a laager had been formed and tables laden with provisions, especially booze.
A re-grouping took place and the size of the force stabilised at fifteen, with no wounds or injuries other than some grazes and some wobbly legs and some mild miffedness. (Justified, BTW). The disorderly conduct and the booze, together with the coating of dust and black soot on all the troops made the patrol look less and less like a plundering invading force from a small island, and more and more like good, patriotic, camouflaged local defenders.
Back down at the bottom of the mountain, the numbers swelled to nineteen and confidence grew to such an extent that a decision was made by the now almost completely Boer commando, to attack the blerrie Breetish in their blockhouse situated on the banks of that sparkling brook called the Kak Spruit. A clever encircling movement was made and we attacked the crows nest from above, putting the occupants to flight.
So ended another successful campaign by us Boer guerillas. Generaal Leon could heave a sigh of relief and return to his farm after successfully converting a motley band of misled ‘joiners’ and getting them to support the right side at last.
PS: I forgot to mention – During the whole campaign there was a westerly breeze.
We were doing Engels and had to read ‘ode to a something’ and so I wrote my Ode to a Commode, which was way better than John Keats’ effort. Hey, I was an immature, scatological teenager easily amused. In some ways . . . .
I searched for which ode it was and it was ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’ – ode ON an urn! Now I remember: That’s what set me off giggling. I imagined him sitting on the ‘urn’ see? No? Well, ask a teenager.
I was thinking about my telescopes and how much joy I’ve had from them; and decided to write an ode to my ‘scope, which reminded me of the above ancient memory.
top two: Mfolosi wilderness walk; above: Tsavo East, Kenya –
With a scope you can delight novices; With binocs it’s often, ‘Where? Which tree? Oh hell, it flucked! It flocked off!’ with a scope you can say ‘Look’ and they say ‘Wow!’ I love that.
The Comrades Marathon’s Quadruple Green Number is awarded only to people who are certifiably crazy. The award – and membership of that exclusive club – means you have run the 89km Comrades ultra-marathon at least forty times! Holy shit!!
Wietsche Van Der Westhuizen
– – – – – David Williams – – – – –
Johann Van Eeden
Boysie Van Staden
Dave ‘Jesus’ Williams is a Kingfisher Canoe Club stalwart who has helped run the Umkomaas canoe marathon for about the same number of years he’s been shuffling the Comrades. He’s done it all: Driving trucks, pitching tents, digging toilets, rigging toilets on trucks, buying food, preparing food, serving in the pub, listening to paddlers gaaning aan about how scary THEIR race was; you name it, Jesus has done it. And with aplomb and with a smile. He was there 36ys ago when I did my only Umko and patiently served us rowdy hooligans with beer after beer at the overnight stop until there were only two okes left drinking – me and Chris Greeff. Eventually we got tired of people rudely shouting at us to ‘Shut Up, They Were Trying To Sleep,’ so we staggered off to our sleeping bags on the grass under the big marquee. There was a small difference between me and the man I’d been matching beer for beer till late that night: He was actually leading the race and duly went on to win the singles the next day. I finished in eventually-th place.
I last saw Dave Jesus at the 2016 Umko – he was driving the beer truck and selling beer at the prize-giving. We had a good chat. He had given me good stories for the Umko 50yrs book, but now I mainly wanted to know about the Comrades. About HOW MANY? about WHY!? and about ARE YOU MAD?!
He couldn’t really explain, but all he talked about was beating other ous. So even though his finishing time was stretching out compared to his best days, he always had goals and people to beat. Then his “battle” was against Tilda Tearle (she who actually won the damn thing one year). He beats her, then she beats him; how and when, Dave describes in great detail – “I was leading for 30km and then my knee started to hurt and I heard she was catching up to me” etc etc. He remembers every yard, every pace, every change of fortune, good or bad. In Comrades as well as all the other races he does, he always has some or other bet or goal or competition going on with his comrades in running. That’s what keeps him going. That, and the insanity.
A lovely modest oke. But quite mad – he has also run 100km around a 400m athletics track and has run 100 MILES, too. He also runs a cross country race from Royal Natal National Park up to Witsieshoek, along the road to the car park then up to the foot of the chain ladder, up the ladder onto the Amphitheatre, down the gulley and back to National Park campsite. About 50 rugged cross-country kilometres with a huge altitude gain that makes the Harrismith mountain race look like a short flat stroll.
Me and Stephen Charles Reed, First Son of Clarens Vrystaat, were talking V8’s back in 2012 when he delivered that spot-on description of the sound they make as they roar off, windgat, into the distance.
I replied: Oh, I DO like that description! That’s GOOD! When you hear that at a traffic light you delay your take-off to hear that grumble-rumble-roar . .
Remember the ole man’s V8 bus? Did you drive with me in Hillbrow? Floored it at a few robos. More like a Doories hobo clearing his Old Brown sherry-phlegm throat, but still impressive . . and neat for penniless students to windgat in. We blew a few okes’ doors off in the sprint to the next lights. ca1975.
Steve: I had forgotten but it comes back to me. Imported van, was it not? Is it still around? I can quite imagine you driving it around Doories and quietly being a bit of a wind gat. Aah, those halcyon days! Now it’s all about boring things like reliability, economy and resale value. Where has all the fun gone? Back to the van. Did your folks do a bit of touring in it? Or a lot? I am sure half the fun with them is kitting it out.
Me: Ja, a 1972-ish Ford Econoline with 302cubic inch V8. White. Automatic 3-speed. Imported direct from Detroit. They toured a bit, but the vehicle itself was the ole man’s interest. We had old faded-denim blue VW kombis before it and a big Toyota 22-seater after it. All with the seats removed and beds, stove and fridge fitted . . Now he has an ancient Jurgen camper VW kombi with the tortoise-on-the-back look. And tortoise-on-the-back speed.
When he was about eighty he took the ole lady off to Oranjemund on the Atlantic Ocean on the border with Namibia; then followed the coast southwards down to Cape Town; up the Garden route, into the old Transkei, into Natal up to Kosi Bay on the Indian Ocean on the border of Mocambique = the whole blerrie South African coastline. Mom found out on the way that that had been his goal all along! They broke down at night in the Transkei between the coast and Umtata. Luckily Sheila had a friend in Umtata and luckily he roared off in the night to tow them in to his home. Now at 89 he wants to buy another one. In an understatement he says, ‘This one is too rusty, but the 1800 Jetta engine is still FINE.’ He has his eye on a newer one, only 400 000 kms on the clock; Planning vaguely to head off into the wild blue yonder again. Heaven help the ole lady. She gets panic attacks at the thought, but soldiers on, providing the calm, rational common sense to the union as she always has. (They had been married about 52 years when they toured the coastline).
If only he was reasonable, like his son. Aitch and I hired a later-model Ford Econoline camper in San Francisco, California on honeymoon in 1988. We went to Yosemite, Big Sur, Golden Gate bridge and a bit north of that to some redwood trees. Fun way to go. Ideal for Oz, I’d think
Stephen: Wow – fantastic that he has that passion at 89. Of course I imagined your folks much younger. My ole man would have been turning 100 in September 2012!He would have loved all that. My guess is that they kept up too much of a social lifestyle to have money left over for exciting things like camper vans. To be buggering around tinkering with cars and vans at 89 your dad must be blerrie fit. Well done to him. Takes me two days to build up the momentum to clean my car!
Sorry to hear about
That trip round California including the big sur (now Keith Ballin country) sounds amazing. A lot of old-timers (i.e about my age) over here go and ‘do the lap’ round Australia. Would smaak to do it some day but in the meantime need to keep the nose to the grindstone. Which I know is the wrong attitude. Do it now!
Me: You are absolutely right: Go now. Work again later. One thing okes agonise over is what vehicle to choose, and I think the actual answer is always ‘The One You Have.’ Just get into it and start driving. As for ‘What to take?’ – very little. Weight is the enemy. There’s very little you might pack that you can’t find along the way. Take less luggage and more money than you think.
A thought for both of us: Contact every little dorp optometrist en route and ask them if they need a locum. Tell them you’ll work a day or a week for them and house-sit while they have a holiday. Also always seek out the local birding fundi and ask him or her to take you to the local spots. Save time and see more.
The story started earlier when I told a tragic tale:
On Wednesday, July 18, 2012, pete swanepoel wrote: My fine VW kombi T5 bus went clunk after I dropped Jess off at school this morning, and suddenly no clutch, no gears, fokol. Absolutely no problem, sir, said Alpine Motors when the AA tow truck dropped me off there, just give us twenty four grand and we’ll have it as good as old. I picked up a lil Suzuki to keep me going meantime. R200 a day while I ponder whether to fix or sell.
Later: The ole kombi lay down with its wheels in the air, and the quote to fix it went up to forty four grand, so I got me a Fraud Ranger last week. 2007 model, a mere 89 000km on the clock. So far I’ve only dinged it the one time. Smashed the rear lights against a pillar in a parking garage.
Steve reed wrote:A three liettah turbot diesel! Now you can pull out tree stumps. Anyway, he said (I paraphrase), dirty VW no longer deserves your patronage, the lying thieves.
Me: Exactly. Just don’t tell anyone the Ford’s front wheels just trundle along for the ride . . . it’s a high-rider, so it masquerades as a Four Four Four as Jessie used to call them.
Steve: It’s when the BACK wheels freewheel that it’s more shameful. Like my corolla. At the local Toyota dealer they had a genuine Glen Barker Toyota circa 1975-ish, mint condition; belonged to a little old dear living locally. Now that was a back wheel driver, I am almost sure. They had it in the showroom as an object of curiosity.
Anyway that noo car: You gonna be pulling something with that – other than chicks? Or putting some sort of enclosure on the back? Forgot what they call it.
Me: Canopy. Maybe I’ll install a double bed mattress and dark curtains. You never know . . . it does exhibit strong chick-pulling tendencies.
Yeah, Glen’s Toyota! Green, it was. A Corona, I think. Definitely rear wheel drive. NX 106. His Dad still has NX 21 from when it was first nailed to their oxwagon when they arrived fresh in Natal to steal it from the Zooloos in the name of the Lawd.
postscript: Steve did buy a bus! And he did convert it into a camper van! Proud of ya! He and Evil Voomin did a really neat job:
That car? A 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass 442. 455 cubic-inch V8. That’s 7.5-liters in today’s money.
Harrismith had the biggest influx of people in its history recently. Well, that would be my guess. I don’t think even the Rhino Rally ever brought in THIS amount of people! I mean those rowwe hard-drinking okes fit a maximum of two people on their vehicles . .
. . . whereas I would guess the teetotal Shembes are unlikely to put less than sixty people in a sixty-seater bus? And there were LOTS of those buses in town. The view is the eastern side of town with the mountain behind you.
In a way they were coming home: The founder of the Shembe church, Isaiah Mloyiswa Mdliwamafa Shembe, was born in 1865 at Ntabamhlophe outside Estcourt in the Drakensberg region of Natal. When he was very young his family fled from Shaka during the Mfecane period to the Harrismith district of the Orange Free State, ending up there as tenants on a farm of ‘an Afrikaner family named the Graabes.’
Then the stories start: Like many other people of Harrismith he absorbed the local spirits; and like many ‘prophets’ before him, young Shembe ‘died and was resurrected at the age of three when relatives sacrificed a bull before his body could be interred’; He was ‘visited by God on many occasions’; He was ‘taught how to pray by God himself’;
The call of Isaiah Shembe to his life’s vocation can be traced back to an experience at Ntabazwe Mountain in Harrismith. The mountain is also called Platberg in Afrikaans, meaning ‘Flat Mountain;’ and Thabantsho in seSotho, Black Mountain. Earlier he was on a farm (near) Witzieshoek in the Harrismith district; and then he moved to the land on the outskirts of Harrismith, (near) the mountain of Ntabazwe. Here Shembe experienced several revelations as a young boy, and it was through the means of lightning that he received his call.
When he was told to ‘find a place to pray to God’, he tried the Wesleyan Church that was nearby. However they were not right for him: they didn’t know how to baptise properly. Then came the Boer War and, abandoning his wives, he spent some time on the Rand. He joined a Baptist church there. After he returned to Harrismith the leader of his new church came to his place in 1906 to baptise Shembe. Proper baptism under water, not just a drop of water on your forehead, Methodists!
Shembe went to Natal and started accumulating followers. He would send them ahead to new areas to pronounce him as a ‘Man of Heaven.’ As his success and number of followers grew, so did his power. What you ate, what you thought, what you wore, what you did, how men were to rule over their women, was all prescribed by the great man. A lot of what you had to do happened to make him rich. Hey! Coincidence! The legend grew. Shembe must have been highly intelligent and astute, as he told vivid parables, and showed uncanny insights into people’s thoughts. He also did the dramatic healing trick. He composed music, writing many moving hymns; he had his sermons reduced to writing and they became scripture, and he provided his followers with a rich liturgical tradition based on modified forms of traditional Zulu dancing. In 1913 Shembe visited Nhlangakazi Mountain which became the movement’s holy mountain. At Nhlangakazi he was told by the Holy Spirit to form his own church. This place later became his place of annual pilgrimage every first Sunday of the year.
The Shembe Bible is known as the Book of the Birth of the Prophet Shembe. Their writings say ‘On March 10, 1910; It was the arrival of the Prophet Isaiah Shembe at KwaZulu Natal (Durban) from Ntabazwe (Harrismith), as he was instructed by the Word of God to do so. The Word of God told Shembe that they will meet at KwaZulu (Natal).
In the 1930s Shembe commissioned his friend and neighbour, the renowned John Dube, to write his biography. The book uShembe, appeared shortly after his death, and contains much of the essential Shembe lore and hagiography, but Dube was an ordained minister and not a Nazarite, so he does not only present Shembe in flattering terms. Shembe’s bona fides as a prophet are questioned, and his undoubted skill at extracting money from his membership is highlighted. Dube alleged that Shembe was overtaxing rentals; that he was conducting baptism for payment – part of his fundraising for the church; that he was extorting money from members as he paid lobola for young girls whom he married; and that he was corrupt and exploitative. – Tch! Just what an ambitious prophet / saviour / manifestation of God doesn’t need: an honest biographer! Shembe’s son and heir, Shembe II, Galilee Shembe forbade his followers to read the book. Hey! You know that book my father asked his friend, uMfundisi Dube to write? Don’t Read It!
A factor of the huge success of African Independent Churches like the amaNazaretha has been their emphasis on ‘Africa for Africans’. Often implicit, but explicitly verbalised by Shembe, this has been the main cause for the break-away from the mainline or mission – or European – churches. They wanted their own identity. However, discontent has continued to plague these church formations, even after self-governance and independence. Money and power corrupts, and they have splintered into many different internal groups and factions. Succession wrangles in the Shembe Nazaretha Baptist Church have given birth to the current seven factions, six of them headed by Shembe family members. Various battles have raged since 1935 when the original Shembe, Isaiah, died. The latest succession struggle started in 2011.
So who decides who is divinely anointed to lead the church? Very modernly, it is not a God . . not a king . . not a council of elders . . nor a new legitimate national democratic government – No! A judge of the courts. They’re like, Step aside, this is not a small matter! I have brought my lawyers! The prize is reportedly worth many millions. As with all human endeavours, greed is always a big factor.
So who went to Harrismith this year? Which faction? I don’t know . . we’d have to ask an insider. I just hope they didn’t ascend the mountain. Fragile Platberg does not need 6000 humans on it.
hagiography – biography of exaggerated, uncritical praise, usually of a religious person; I had to look that up;
Durban ca 1980 – I’ve been sent here by the army; I know very little about this Last Outpost of the British Empire, but my friend, fellow Free Stater Steve Reed, has been here almost a year so he knows everything. And he knows some girls.
The papers announced that some comet was due to approach Earth and – we extrapolated – threaten our way of life, our partying, our poison of choice – and perhaps even kill us. Or annoy us anyway.
We determined to protect ourselves and our favourite planet from this unwelcome alien intruder. Steve hired a beach cottage at Blythedale Beach on the Natal north coast and, as I know a lot more about warding off comets than I do about girls, I was happy to tag along with Stefaans and a bunch of his female friends and admirers. Supplied with adequate stocks of various powerful potions and elixirs to be taken internally we sallied forth. We also bought tinfoil.
In the self-catering kitchen we found plenty with which to arm and armour ourselves: Colanders, coriander, and pots and pans made good headgear. Braai forks, spatulas, braai tongs and wooden spoons made anti-galactic weapons. We warmed up our IQ’s by imbibing aplenty and so started a rip-roaring single-handed – the other hand was holding cheap and blithe spirits – Defend the Planet Party; which same ended successfully in the wee hours on the beach when a mysterious pale light appeared on the eastern horizon, over the sparkling Indian Ocean.
Was it perhaps Comet Aarseth-Brewington? Well, if it was, we made it saweth its arseth by our brewing and distillington.
Actually, it was more likely Comet Tuttle. There it is, below! It came back in 2007 but it knew better than to approach too close:
Only after recovering from my hangover did I realise another of the planned missions had once again been a complete failure: Snaring any girls. As so often, the booze had won and I’d dipped out. And they were kif . .
A large gathering of the Goor Koor – that assembly of happy inebriates led and accompanied by virtual-teetotaller Mary Methodist, our Mom, gathered together – assembled, amassed – on the occasion of Mom’s 45th birthday. Usually there were far fewer of them gathered at any one time, an occasional Lubricated Quartet perhaps, but this was a special occasion!
And Sheila – thanks goodness! – took pictures. She was in matric at the time, I was in Oklahoma, Barbara in Pietermaritzburg.
. . and here – precious picture! – Mary at the keyboard and Hugo Wessels right there, ready to belt out a number! Two very talented people, 45 years old, who were in matric together in 1945. And this fun gathering happened 45 years ago, as Mom is now 90! I think all my stats are right . . .
Wonderful memories of crawling down the long passage to get nearer to the sound of Mom playing the piano; Also of sundry ‘choir members’ over the years, belting out popular songs with high enthusiasm and various degrees of talent. If spotted by any of the choir it would be ‘Hello Kosie!’ – if spotted by Mom or Dad it would be ‘Get back to bed!’
Also memories of the smell of ash trays! Always plenty of ash trays. Ours were from tyre companies, so they were glass inside miniature Dunlop or Goodyear tyres!
Now we know why, when you have had a few too many, your lumpy laughter can be so spectacular . .
Check out ‘bevshots‘ where some dude had a sudden thought – probly while suitably under the affluence of incohol. BevShots® are photographs of alcohol under a microscope. These high-quality photographs of your favorite beers, wines, cocktails, liquers and mixers were taken after they had been crystallized on a slide and shot under a polarized light microscope. As the light refracts through the beverage crystals, the resulting photos have naturally magnificent colors and composition. Just like we had naturally magnificent colors and composition while it was in our veins on its way to our brains where it belongs. Cheers!
Improve your vocabulary: Don’t just say ‘vomit,’ use descriptive terms and synonyms: sidewalk pizza; burp cubed; spew; lumpy laughter; technicolor yawn; shoot a cat; chunder; upchuck; barf; vomit; hurl; ralph; brauer; purge; puke; hork; honk; buick; regurgitate; throw up; belch your boerewors; toss your cookies; lose your lunch; toss a pavement pizza; perform peristaltic pyrotechnics; paint the town red . . and yellow-green, orange and pink; calling Ralph on the big white telephone; pray to the porcelain god; grocery yodel.