While clearing out my stuff I found a 1965 African Wildlife magazine we used to subscribe to. It contained Willem van Riet‘s tale of his and Gordie Rowe’s trip down the Cunene river – blind (unscouted) trip down the Cunene! Shades of Powell’s first trip down the Colorado! I took photos to quickly save it here. Small difference between the two rivers: No Crocs in the Colorado!
Sheila sent me a surprise postcard. So I have re-posted this blogpost from 2015 about a magic 1969 tour, and attached the postcard at the end. Enjoy!
The Kestell bus was like a half-loaf, but still the metropolis of Kestell – which we regarded as a densely-populated Afrikaans suburb of Harrismith – couldn’t roust enough boys to fill it, so we Harrismithians had been invited along. Johan Steyl announced in the hall one assembly that Kestell was inviting Harrismith boys to join their ‘seunstoer’ to South West Africa. It would be for fifteen days in the July holidays, and the cost would be twenty five South African 1969 Ronts. Leon ‘Fluffy’ Crawley, Harry ‘Pikkie’ Loots, Pierre du Plessis, Tuffy Joubert and I said YES! and then our parents said yes and forked over the cash, so we were off! (The new postcard tells me Jan van Wyk – who would be 1970 head boy in matric the next year – also went along).
It was boys-only, a seunstoer, but Mnr Braam Venter of Kestell took his daughter along. She was about Std 4 we were Std 7 to 9. She was very popular and soon became like the tour mascot, second only to Wagter the tour dog – who was actually a found holey corobrick with a dog collar through one of its three holes and string for a leash.
The short bus had a longitudinal seating arrangement. Long rows running the length of the bus so you sat facing each other, sideways to your direction of travel.
We all bundled in and set off. After a few hours we had the first roadside stop. Mnr Venter lined us all up outside the bus and said ‘Right, introduce yourselves,’ as the Kestell ous didn’t know us – and we didn’t know them. Down the row came the names, van Tonder, van Wyk, van Niekerk, van Staden, van Aswegen, vanne Merwe, van Dit, van WhatWhat, Aasvoel, Kleine Asenvogel, Marble Hol. Fluffy standing next to me murmured ‘Steve McQueen’ but when his turn came he let out with a clear ‘Leon Crawley’ so I said ‘Steve McQueen’ out loud. Without a blink the naming continued before I could say ‘Uh, just kidding’, so I became ‘Ou Steve‘ for the duration.
Our first stop was Kimberley, where we camped in the caravan park and had some fun; then on to the Augrabies Falls on the Gariep (Orange) River, stopping at the roaring dunes near Hotazel in the Kalahari. On from there to the borderpost at Onseepkans.
When we entered SWA we headed straight for a pub. The first pub we found. Us fourteen to sixteen year-olds. Read about that here.
We went to the Fish River Canyon. Like all canyons, it is billed as the biggest, longest, deepest, whatever in the (insert your province, your country, or ‘world’ here). We stood on the rim and gazed down. Then Pikkie Loots and I couldn’t stand it; so – against orders – we zipped down the pathway, slipping and sliding down as fast as we could. Before we got to the bottom we decided we’d get into big kak if we took too long, so we reluctantly stopped and returned to the top, slowly.
We camped next to the Vingerklip, or Mukorob (or Finger of God) near Karasburg, a sandstone rock formation in the Namib desert, while it still stood (it fell down nineteen years later on 8 December 1988, so its obviously it wasn’t our fault, nê). About 30m high from the vlaktes at the base, the little neck it balanced on was only about 3m by 1,5m, making it rather precarious.
Later we camped near Windhoek where my Dad had arranged that I got fetched by some of his relatives I had never met. Third or fourth cousins, I suppose. In the car on the way to their home they had lots of questions, but before I had finished my second sentence the younger son blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. All of my short life I had laboured under the mistaken and vain impression that I was completely fluent in Afrikaans. Hey! No-one had told me otherwise.
On to the Brandberg, where a long walk would take you to some rock paintings. I chose not to make the walk. Pikkie did, and remembered: ‘the terrain was barren, hot as hell, and rock strewn. The rocks had a rich red-brown colour, and I thought it was amazing that the local indigenous people had painted a white lady, which according to legend was the Queen of Sheba, who they would probably never have seen! Some people wanted to pour water on the paintings but I think Braam stopped them and of course today I realise that he was a hundred per cent right in not letting us do it. If we all poured water on it it would have been washed away by now!’
We got to Etosha National Park after dark so the Okakuejo gate was closed. We didn’t pitch our tents that night to save time, simply bedding down outside ready to drive in first thing the next morning. On spotting us the next morning the game ranger said ‘Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek.‘
On our way back, we passed Lake Otjikoto, the ‘bottomless lake’:
The Hoba meteorite next. Weighing about 60 tons, made of iron and nickel, it is still the largest single intact meteorite known, and also the most massive naturally-occurring piece of ferronickel known on Earth’s surface. Estimated to have fallen 80 000 years ago, it was discovered around 1920.
On the way out of SWA we reached the South East corner of the country, heading for the border with the Kalahari Gemsbok Park, when we spotted something tangled up in the roadside fences. Turned out to be a few springbok, some dead, some still alive but badly injured. As we spotted them one of the farm boys yelled out ‘Ek debs die balsak!‘ He cut off the scrotum, pulled it over the base of a glass cooldrink bottle. What? we asked. When it had dried he would break the glass and he’d have an ashtray, he explained. Oh.
The alive ones were dispatched and all were taken to the nearby farmer who gave us one for our trouble. It seems some hunters are indiscriminate and less than accurate and the buck panic before the onslaught and run into the fences.
That night we made a huge bonfire on the dry bed of the Nossob river or one of its tributaries and braai’d the springbok meat. It was freezing in July so we placed our sleeping bags around the fire and moved closer to the bed of coals all night long. Every time we woke we inched closer.
A wonderful star-filled night sky above us.
edit: Updated since Fluffy found his 1969 pictures of SWA. Taken with Ma Polly’s Kodak camera. So now our story has real pics, not just internet pics. – Pikkie says: Even reading it a second time brings back great memories! Fluffy asks: Can you guys remember the freshly baked brown bread we bought from a plaas winkel… Twee Rivieren… On our way back… Pretty expensive if I remember well – 17 cents . .
That was truly an unforgettable fifteen days! We’re so lucky to have enjoyed such an adventure. We still talk about it. Pikkie tried to get us to go again in 2019 – fifty years later! Inertia, work, family and all the usual shit put paid to that great idea. No longer could we just say, “Ag pleez Daddy!” and go without a backward glance, as we did in 1969!
seunstoer – boys tour;
Wagter – Rover; in America, Fido
nê – y’understand?
“Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” – Your Afrikaans Are Atrocious; or Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!
Ek debs die balsak! – ‘Dibs on the ballbag!’ or ‘I lay claim to the antelope scrotum’;
Net hier het ‘n leeu eergistraand ‘n bok neergetrek – Right here where you’re camping a lion killed an antelope the night before last; ‘be nervous’ was the message;
April 2021 and a surprise from Sheila: A postcard I wrote to them on 7 July 1969 while on tour:
Can’t say I remember ‘Sorris Sorris’ at all, but I see it’s just north of the Brandberg, so maybe we camped there?
Original message from Etienne Joubert in 2014 – (translation below)
Good morning all you Harrismith followers!
Who was Paul de Witt . . ?? . . Skande gemaak vir Harrismith se mense.
KAAPSTAD – ’n Predikant en bekende restaurateur in Hentiesbaai is Maandag in die vroeë oggendure deur doeanebeamptes met sowat 11 400 witmossels en 20 kg calamari in sy besit by die Vioolsdrift-grenspos vasgetrek.
Ds. Paul de Witt (63) het die twee spesies, wat albei beskerm word, sonder vervoerpermitte in sy Nissan X-Trail van Kaapstad na Hentiesbaai vervoer.
De Witt is omstreeks 01:30 deur die polisie voorgekeer en sy voertuig is deursoek. Verskeie sakke vol mossels met ’n geskatte waarde van R11 400, en ’n sak met 20 kg calamari is agter in sy voertuig gevind.
De Witt is deur die eenheid teen georganiseerde misdaad in hegtenis geneem en daar is beslag gelê op sy voertuig, sowel as die sakke seekos.
De Witt is ’n boorling van Harrismith.
I immediately contacted my mate Steph de Witt:
Hey Steph – I vaguely remember a Paul de Witt. Who and what was he op Herries? He got caught with his hand in the cookie jar! Cheers – Koos
On 2014/07/08 Steph de Witt replied:
Koos! Dis my bloedfamilie, my own cousin !!
Me:Fokkit I can still live with the witmossel-steel part, but the DOMINEE part? THAT’s the skande!
Eina! and Skande! – ouch! and scandal!
A Harrismith old boy who became a preacherman was caught smuggling protected seafood – mussels and calamari – from South Africa into Namibia.
He was an interesting character: My sister remembers him as one of a gang of ‘naughty / rude’ boys as a teenager. As does happen with some naughty / rude boys, he became a preacher. But as less often happens, a preacher who operated a pub. He sold salvation on Sundays and booze from Mondays to Saturdays! Like, ‘create your own sinners.’
His pub obviously needed seafood so he ‘fetched’ some from across the border – illegally. And got caught.
Sadly, he died in a car wreck soon after!
Steph: Poor fella died in a motoraccident on Friday afternoon, can you believe it ?!
Me: No!! That's very sad! Dammitall. Jammer ou Steph - do you know his vrou and family?
Steph: Ja, had a sad but interesting innings, will keep you posted.
Subject: Paul de Witt
Hey Et – Steph has just informed me that Paul died in a car accident on Friday.
Dammitall. From sudden fame / notoriety to tragic end.
Yo ....that's sad, my condolences if you make
contact again. But at least we know he's gone
to Paradise, where there's lots of white & black
muscles & of course, calamari .........!!
Cheers - Et
Vraagtekens oor kroegdominee se storie
Tragically, Steph never did keep me posted. Our dear friend Steph also died in a car accident ten months later!
I answered thus: My guess is usually you won’t really know. Native speakers are usually polite and will flatter you with a better assessment than is true. Maybe a better question to ask yourself is “When am I fluent enough?”
My guess? When you’re enjoying using it and not really thinking about it. I am fluent enough in Afrikaans and can happily hold any conversation with someone who only speaks that language. But even though I have spoken it since I was little, no native speaker would mistake me for a native Afrikaans speaker.
Confession: I laboured under the mistaken impression that I was completely fluent. No-one told me otherwise. Then at age fourteen I went to Namibia (South West Africa as it was) and visited third cousins I had never met before. Within two sentences one of them blurted out “Jis! Jy kan hoor jy’s ’n rooinek!” (Boy, You can hear you’re English-speaking!) and my bubble burst. I’m now amazed I was so deluded!
Another case in point: My 94-yr old Dad speaks “fluent Italian” which he learnt in Italy in WW2. I asked an Italian-born schoolfriend a few years ago “How well does the old man actually speak Eyetie?” and he said “Really well. Really”. Somehow I think that’s politeness. I mean, two years in Italy seventy years ago when he was already 22yrs-old – ?? How likely is that? But I have no way of telling, so I’m happy to go with Claudio’s assessment! Thanks, figlio!
Another: I often get complimented for speaking good Zulu. This is definitely not true and is just polite people’s way of saying “Thank you for trying to speak isiZulu to me”.
The rumour on the Kestell bus was that in South West Africa the laws pertaining to grog did not actually, y’know, pertain. Specifically, the drinking age laws. You could order a beer in a pub in South West Africa even if you were only fourteen or fifteen, as we were. In fact, so the rumour went, it wasn’t a rumour, it was a fact.
It was 1969 and we were on tour in the little Kestell bus. Kestell had been unable to fill it so they extended the invite to Harrismith se Hoer School: Who wants to join us on an adventure? R25 for 15 days! Pierre, Pikkie, Tuffy, Fluffy and I jumped at the chance, our folks said yes and we were off on a historic adventure which included a World-First in Kimberley on the way: The world’s first streak, Pierre and Tuffy giving their thighs a slapping as they raced kaalgat from the showers to our campsite in Kimberley’s Big Hole (or their caravan park anyway). Some historians think streaking started in California in 1973. Well, they weren’t in Kimberley in 1969, were they?
We crossed into Nirvana at the Onseepkans border post armed with our newfound legal knowledge and confidently entered the first licenced premise we found: The Karasburg Hotel. It was hot, the beer was cold and we were cool. We sat in the lounge and supped as though we had done this for YEARS.
We decided to order a refill while that friendly man who hadn’t batted an eyelid when we ordered our first round was still around. His relaxed response had confirmed the now well-known fact that South West Africa was a bastion of good sense and sound liberal values. I got up to press the buzzer which would bring him back.
Unfortunately, the buzzer stuck and it buzzed too long, which must have annoyed the owner or manager, as he came stomping into the lounge to see vuddafokgaanhieraan.
He looked at our short stature, our short pants and our tall beers in astonishment and demanded Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? and other seemingly pointless questions which were disrupting our peaceful ambience. He dispatched me to go and fetch our onderwyser forthwith and instructed the others to sit, stay.
But as he turned his back the rest of our gang disappeared after me, taking their beers with them. And like the good mates they were, they brought mine along too!
Early next morning we hightailed it out of the metropolis of Karasburg and headed for the nearby Finger of God. Was it going to wag at us sternly for our little alcoholic misdemeanour?
kaalgat – no clothing; ‘as the day they were born’
vuddafokgaanhieraan – What’s up, gentlemen?
Wie is julle? and Waar’s julle onderwyser? – Time, gentlemen, please!