A Woman in a Man’s World
2014 Clem van Vliet
by Clem van Vliet at Smashwords
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this author Clem van Vliet.
A Woman in a Man’s
is the amazing autobiography of a South African woman who grew up
between the tumultuous events of two world wars. The epic story of a
young woman who, finding herself alone with her two small children
after the tragic death of her husband, sets out on a voyage into the
unknown. A journey that will take her from the dizzy heights of
entrepreneurial success in a male dominated world to life’s
devastating blows that that lurk unseen in her future.
a human level which readily commands empathy, the author describes
the growing pains, triumphs and tribulations of her formative and
into an upper middle class bilingual Afrikaans family, Clem’s
mother holds austere pre-Victorian values and actively cultivates an
aura of Calvinistic Puritanism. Relationships with boys are taboo.
Her father, a veteran of the Anglo-Boer War, is a gentler, loving
parent who Clem adores. Both parents encourage her to take an active
role in the world of music and poetry, a factor, ironically, which
will lead to Clem’s marriage to Sydney; also to a lifelong love
affair with music.
falling in love with a dashing young fighter pilot, Clem’s first
serious romance is shattered by the chance discovery that her beau
has secretly become engaged to another girl. Stunned, Clem withdraws
previously relinquished a hard earned high school scholarship to
support her family after the economic devastation of the Great
Recession, Clem is now more than ever motivated to succeed. She
throws herself into her studies, working days to support her family,
attending classes at night.
after an unexpected and fleeting romance with Sydney, Clem agrees to
marry him on her eighteenth birthday, just weeks before his return to
war in the western desert.
Syd’s homecoming more than two years later the
couple discovers that they have become strangers. Electing to
“head north” to seek better fortune in Rhodesia (current day
Zimbabwe), they emigrate with their baby daughter. Just when all
seems to be going well at last, Syd, aged just 39, unexpectedly
suffers a fatal heart attack, leaving Clem alone with their daughter
and six month old son.
utterly shattered, Clem refuses to stay on the mat. She is determined
to make a better lifestyle for herself and her children.
Notwithstanding a disastrous second marriage to a man who failed to
disclose a sexual preference for his own gender, Clem finds her feet
in the complex and sometimes murky world of commerce.
spite of seemingly insuperable odds in a domain in which she is told
by male peers that a woman’s place is in the kitchen, Clem clears
all the hurdles: Not the least of which an attempt to bring her to
her knees by a contemporary industry giant. Going on to forge a
small empire from her newly founded garage, car hire and tour
business, Clem becomes the first female Fellow of the Institute of
of course, is never simple. In spite of Clem’s boardroom prowess
and eventual marital bliss to one of South Africa’s former wartime
fighter aces -with whom she carves out of the bush one of the most
beautiful small estates in southern Africa- a new war raises its ugly
head. The surge of nationalism with communist backed terrorists finds
Clem along with many others living in continual fear of attack, a
revolver strapped almost permanently to her waist.
is the story of a woman’s courage and determination against the
odds. A tale of tragedy and triumph: of laughter and
humour, danger and disaster; of decades of community service
and the narrow survival of a nursing home for the aged; of deadly
snakes adroitly dispatched with the author’s shotgun; of beloved
people and animals that come and go, leaving inconsolable voids in
a story of an attack by armed thugs in which, though severely pistol
whipped and injured, Clem escapes death by feigning it.
then there is the “night of the elephants”.
Clem van Vliet
Table of Contents
This book is dedicated to my two children, Jill and Grant Stewart,
and to the memory of my late husband Corrie and Father Odilo, who was
my walking companion in the Matobo Hills.
It is said that when we face death we have a vision of our past life
flitting through our brains in a jiffy. That was not the case with me
that night of the elephants. Rather, it came afterwards, when all my
adrenalin had pumped out, my mouth still dry and my leg muscles
five hours we had been repeatedly charged by more than one hundred
angry elephants in Wankie Game Reserve. That we survived is nothing
short of a miracle and I limply reflected on some of the other
miracles that happened in the course of my life.
When I was
five I survived the break-neck experience of a runaway Maxwell on a
dangerous mountain road and a few years later I was spared again
when, in the act of mounting my first horse, it took off as if it
were a determined contender in the Grand National, leaving me to hang
onto its mane and anything else I could find.
was the first time I fell in love. When things went wrong I thought
it was the end of the world and life would never be the same again.
It was the same when I lost my first beloved dog and I resolved not
to replace him as no-one could ever take his place. Fortunately we
heal quickly, mentally and physically, when we are young.
resorted to fortune tellers, clairvoyants or spiritualists in my
eagerness to see into the future but when I was nineteen I was lured
into participating in a game played on an ouija board with
distressing results. It was a costly lesson to learn and a pity that
my fingers were not scorched on the bottom of that tumbler that was
self-propelling its way across the ouija board. Maybe that way the
events that followed could have been avoided. Just as well that we
cannot see into the future which for most of us is nothing but hard
slog, study and learning from experience. Not to mention the aches
and pains, and the things that go wump – not only in the night.
also flitted through my tired mind was the miracle of new life, the
birth of my two children and the sudden, untimely death of their
father, his life snuffed out by something so small compared to an
elephant, let alone dozens of them. Why was I spared?
was the odd association with a man who was totally wrong for me but
drew me like a candlelight draws a bewitched moth. It turned out it
may have been ordained as it resulted in my becoming a career woman,
a very risky thing to do in a man’s world at that time. To have
become the first woman ‘Fellow’ of the Institute of Directors of
Rhodesia was something of an achievement, but it came at a price; not
only the price of presumption but the price of pain. For years the
pain that niggled and nagged in my left side established itself on a
full-time basis and the major surgery that followed left the surgeons
somewhat bewildered as to how I had survived for so long.
miracle is that I managed to rear my two children at the same time as
directing my companies and they have turned out trumps. The one in
the field of music and the other in the field of law
daughter has always been terrified of elephants and I couldn’t help
wondering how she would have reacted if she had been in my place that
night, as she could easily have been because she had been invited.
Thank goodness, she declined the invitation to overnight in Wankie,
near-death experience that drifted through my numbed mind was being
in a B.O.A.C. Comet when it developed trouble over the Mediterranean
Sea. It wasn’t long after that when the first Comet went down over
the Med with the loss of all lives, followed a little while later by
the second one
height of the elephant attack, I kept thinking of my beloved Corry
and his cool, calm fearlessness in the face of great danger and how
he miraculously survived so many near-death experiences in the
Western Desert, the Island of Cos and elsewhere during World War Two.
he was awarded the DFC.
for elephant bravery.
great admiration for elephants. The most intelligent of all animals,
and probably the most poached, they have managed to survive this far.
I wonder for how much longer? I have always been an anti-cullist and
always will be. If you listen to those who want to cull, you wonder
why we are not swamped by elephants. How the world has survived
millions of years without the elephant population exploding the rest
of us into extinction is seemingly a thought they are incapable of
conceiving.. It is well known that elephants control their birth
rate. If there is too big a population for their particular area of
habitat, they breed less, bringing their numbers down to sustainable
levels. The fact that man is continually encroaching on their habitat
is tragic for the elephants and will eventually lead to there being
only a few of them left in conservancies.
we saved that night?
was the Rinkhals snake that my dogs tossed over my feet. That was one
very angry snake. Just as well I was rooted to the spot, having
inherited an exaggerated fear of snakes. I don’t think it even
realised it was in touch with a human being, it was so terrified of
the dogs.; justifiably so, as they killed it within minutes. And then
there was the ten-foot black mamba. Better not think about that.
flitting through my weary mind. How would he have reacted to the
elephant charge? He would probably have revelled in it, shooing them
off with a little hat, just like Roy had done. He certainly invited
trouble with the ellies when we were
honeymoon. And then just a few years later he was confronted by a
much more dangerous enemy; one that struck from within. Again,
miraculously, he retained his sense of humour and his courage to the
remembered going to a concert at Sibson Hall one night and running
into an old friend during the interval. He had just married his
second wife and proudly introduced her to me, saying to her, “I
want you to meet my friend, Clem. She has been married fourteen
times…”. Knowing his wicked sense of humour, I smiled at his
Why did I
have to lose all my husbands? I didn’t want to lose any of them and
fought so hard to keep each one alive. Why do I get spared?
the death of a close friend, I went walking in a small game
conservancy where, unbeknownst to me, five lions had broken out of
their enclosure the night before. Amazingly, they either did not find
me or considered me unappetizing. Another miraculous escape. The ones
I could not escape were the human predators.
that not always the case?
day I can see the two guns pointing at me, the one grey and the other
black. The Interiors of the barrels looked so smooth and evil, only
inches away; the nervousness of the one in police uniform and the
aggressiveness of the other two well-dressed thugs who knew their
evil jobs only too well. I knew I was looking death in the face but
words issued from my mouth that were not in my conscious thoughts.
Where did they come from? What unseen force spoke through me? My
attackers did not fire, probably because the noise of gunshots would
have been risky. So they bludgeoned me instead with the sides and
butts of their guns and left me for dead. But I survived.
the night of the elephants.
believe in miracles?
Yes, I do.
BOOK 1|CHAPTER 1
history lesson was about to begin. Quietly I closed the Mark Twain
book I had been surreptitiously reading and slipped it into my
desktop. I had been indulging in this extra-curricular activity
because I had finished my arithmetic lesson earlier than the rest of
the class. Meester (Master) was pacing to and fro between his desk
and the class, the inevitable cigarette between his fingers, his
little half sneer pulling up the left corner of his mouth, not
looking at the class, but pretending to know all that was going on.
that book, Clem, and pay attention,” he said.
book sir?” I asked, feeling smugly satisfied that Meester had now
placed himself in a most unfortunate situation and wondering how he
would get himself out of it.
round in a challenging manner, expecting to catch me with the book
still in evidence and finding this not to be the case, cleared his
throat and tried to hide his embarrassment by walking to his desk,
extinguishing his cigarette and promptly lighting another. There was
the customary twitch in the left corner of his mouth and I knew that
this incident was far from forgotten and that at some stage in the
future, probably near, I would pay a price.
eleven years old and in Standard 5 in a small provincial school on
the high-veldt of the eastern Transvaal province of South Africa. I
was too young to understand the devious subtleties and vengeful
retaliation to which a jealous parent would stoop. Meester Venter was
the headmaster, had a daughter the same age as me, and we had been in
his class since the beginning of the year.
— • • • —
long track of railway line from Johannesburg to Mozambique winds its
way monotonously through the prairie-like, undulating grasslands of
the high-veldt. In summer one travels mile upon mile through
cornfields, the neat rows of which stretch as far as the eye can see.
Between fields are rounded curves of green, un-wooded grassland
except for the banks of streams which, at long intervals, reveal
their winding courses by the belts of emerald green willow trees that
accompany them. Interspersed here and there are the farmsteads. Large
white houses with red roofs and serried ranks of outbuildings,
surrounded by tall, exotic trees and colourful shrubs. Nearby are two
or three windmills, concrete water reservoirs and close to them the
paddocks where can be seen the farm animals, peacefully grazing. A
pastoral scene and pleasant to the eye, in summer, at any rate. The
scene changes dramatically in winter when the grass goes honey beige
after the first severe frosts, the willows lose their leaves and the
corn fields lie brown and fallow waiting for the spring ploughing and
planting. Then it is difficult to find anything to enthuse about in
the high-veldt, especially when the temperature drops to zero. The
cold there can creep right into one’s marrow. Somewhere in the
middle of this high-veldt is where I grew up.
in an unpretentious house a little way out of the centre of the
village. On the opposite side and set well back from the village was
the school. There were only two streets in the village and in these
were to be found the village hotel and pub, the Farmers Co-op, a
grocery store, butchery, bank and post office. Slightly out of the
village, on either side, were an Indian trading store and a small
hardware shop. The pub-cum-hotel was owned and run by a Jewish
couple, named Ginsberg. Bernie Ginsberg was all things to all men and
a really popular fellow. The Farmers Co-op was managed by my father
who also managed the grain silos further down the railway line. The
grocery store was managed by Mr. McDonald who was my very best
friend. He was an elderly bachelor and known to all and sundry as
manager and postmistress were transitory, neither of them staying
long. The brevity of the postmistress’s stay was a source of
chagrin to the young, unmarried farmers in the district, requiring
speedy courting, and more than one postmistress met and married the
man of her dreams in our village. The romantic events which
continually surrounded our post office provided the villagers with
endless speculative gossip and many a cup of tea was drunk over a bit
of saucy information. We had no cinema, or bioscope, as it was called
then, or indeed any other place of recreation. Home tea parties,
bridge parties, much gathering at the pub (males only of course) and
tennis parties, the village boasting two courts, were the popular
store on the outskirts of the village was owned and run by a kindly
old couple, the Esats who stocked sweets in large glass jars lying
sideways on the counter. Clothing, kitchen-ware, leather goods and a
great many other items jam-packed the little store. The most
important reason why the Indian proprietor was popular with the
children, particularly the boys, was because he allowed his secluded
back-yard to be used for the regular fistfights which settled many an
argument. Of course the backyard was known to the teachers and was
out of bounds to all school children but this did not stop the boys
when tempers flared and ordinary words were insufficient to settle an
argument. Then, as if by bush telegraph, the news would be all
through-out the school by the end of break-time that there was going
to be a fight at Esats after school. There would be excited
anticipation on the part of all of us as we surreptitiously made our
way to Esats after the closing bell had rung. It was a bit like going
to a rugby match. Each protagonist had his own set of followers and
on arrival at the forbidden yard opposite camps would be formed and
the fight would begin. Sometimes there were older boys who acted as
referees and other times it was just a simple fight till one or other
gave up, or old
arrived on the scene and put a stop to it. He must have understood
children very well and allowed us to have our bit of sport but only
up to a point. I am sure he watched the proceedings from behind a
curtained window and if the fight was short and not too damaging, he
remained invisible, but when it dragged on and blood was drawn, he
drew the line. Invariably a fight was good for business as most of us
would go into the shop afterwards to spend a few pennies on the
sweets so temptingly displayed.
other side of the village was Mr. Furnberg’s little hardware shop.
It was a small wood and iron construction and had his living quarters
at the back. The shop was too small to contain all the farming
equipment and so one could see a collection of ploughs, disc harrows
and other large machine tools displayed out the front and on either
side of the shop. Mr. Furnberg was short of stature and always
dressed in a shabby suit, striped shirt with a white collar, none too
clean, a narrow knitted tie and an old grey trilby hat perched on the
back of his head. He was generally known as the village newspaper
because of his daily habit of visiting every business in turn,
gathering information and the latest gossip and then going to impart
it to all and sundry in the pub. This did not always endear him to
the locals or the farming community who were his best customers.
railway line ran parallel to the main road running through the
village and when one has traversed the length of the village, almost
as an afterthought, one finds the station, followed by the grain
silos and sheds. The station master, a Scot by name of McCloughlin,
was one of my father’s best friends. He took a great pride in his
station and its surrounds. It was always clean, fresh-looking and
sporting an attractive garden with bright coloured flowers and
well-trimmed shrubs. The platform was gravelled and raked to
perfection and bordered by white-washed bricks. I am sure our little
station was the smartest on the whole route.
We had no
church, only a village hall, and once a month a visiting minister
came to hold a service which nearly everyone attended. One such visit
stands out in my memory. I was about six at the time and the
dominee’s fiery sermon, delivered with much furious fist-shaking
and banging on the make-shift pulpit, making it moan and groan, left
a deep impression on me. It left me with a great fear of hell of
which latter he gave a graphic description as well as an admonition
that most, if not all of us, were heading straight that way. It was
winter and his description of the mighty fire burning there made for
exceptions, the villagers were Afrikaans and the school was an
Afrikaans medium school. At home we had to learn both languages and
these were interchanged on a weekly basis. This rule was strictly
enforced so that by the time we went to school we were completely
bilingual. I had a smattering of Zulu in my repertoire as well,
thanks to my ayah and old Sina, the maid.
— • • • —
had been the owners of a Chevrolet sedan for the past five years, the
pride and joy of my mother and the apple of my father’s eye. I was
five years old when Father bought it. Maroon in colour, with leather
upholstery, it was the first sedan car with roll-up windows in the
village. There were hardly any suitable roads in the district, but I
remember well the day my parents fetched the car from the garage in
Bethal, out of the box so to speak, and drove it all the way back to
the village, a distance of about 30 kilometres over an appalling
gravelled track. That it had roll-up windows did not detract from my
mother’s determination to be fashionable. Both she and my father
were dressed in cream-coloured dust coats and Mother sported a huge
feathered hat which would have done credit to Sarah Bernhardt or Lily
Langtree in their heyday.
in the village, the entire population turned out to see the new car
and gloat over it as if it belonged to each and everyone.
aspect of the new vehicle was examined, from the big round headlights
like the eyes of an owl, to the tail lights and luggage rack, and
finally to the interior.
suppose you know Gerrie,” said Bernie Ginsberg, “that we are all
expecting a ride. After all, we have to be sure that you can drive
the thing, and also we want to find out if it is more comfortable
than Bob Kruger’s barouche.”
Bernie,” my father replied. “I’ll start with you Mr. Mac, and
my two children.” He smiled genially at all the wisecracks and
derogatory remarks made by his admiring friends the while we eagerly
boarded our new acquisition and set off down the road for the first
of many trips.
was quite an experienced driver, having previously owned a Maxwell
Tourer. This Maxwell was an open-air experience not enjoyed when the
weather was bad, and downright draughty and windy at the best of
times. It was prone to punctures of its tyres and was a reluctant
starter, often requiring cranking with a recalcitrant crank-handle,
causing Father to exclaim “Damn” as he bruised or pinched his
The author’s mother Constance Jordaan, circa 1930
Maxwell reached the end of its tether with us after our trip to
Swaziland a month or so earlier. We went to spend a camping weekend
with my Uncle Juan and family in this beautiful mountain country. For
some unknown reason it was decided that all the men would go in one
car and the women in the other. The other being the Maxwell driven by
my mother. Halfway down one of the steep mountains, the brake cable
snapped and the car gained momentum.
don’t go so fast,” cried my aunt in alarm, “the road is
help it,” shouted Mother, “no brakes.”
the two women pulled on the handbrake but to no avail. My uncle,
driving behind, became alarmed, speeded up and drawing level shouted,
“Stop, Connie, stop.”
shouted Mother, “no brakes.”
in low gear,” bellowed Father.
after the children,” said my frantic mother to my aunt as we
bucketed downward at break-neck speed. We were now thoroughly alarmed
and, thinking we were about to fly over the edge, plunging down a
dizzy drop into the valley below where the trees looked like
miniature green toadstools, we began to cry. Being only five years
old I was not at all happy about dying so young. My cousins were of
like mind and between us we gave a creditable performance of
disapproval the while we hurtled pell-mell round the s-bends and down
the slope. With no synchromesh it was a miracle that my mother
managed to get the car into low gear, and at a point where the road
mercifully evened out a little, slowed sufficiently to run into a
bank of soil piled up on the side, and so came to rest.
and uncle soon reached us and there were demonstrations of relief all
round. Then and there my parents decided that the Maxwell was
thoroughly unreliable and dangerous, nearly causing the death of five
of us in its perilous descent of a fair-sized mountain.
and I were extremely proud of the new Chev and watched as Father gave
demonstration rides. His passengers sat straight up like ramrods,
taking their drives very seriously and returned with smug, satisfied
looks. For a number of them it had been their first ride in a motor
know Gerrie,” said John McCloughlin, all new things like houses and
cars should be blessed and seeing that we do not have a minister or a
dominie, we should go and have a noggin at Bernie’s so we can all
give this smart new acquisition our blessing.” That went down very
well with all the men and the women followed Mother into the house
for tea and cookies.
later the men pitched up at the house to fetch their spouses and
suddenly Father remembered that he had recently had a cask of wine
sent up from the Cape. He cordially invited all the womenfolk to stay
and drink a glass of wine to toast the new car, an invitation gladly
accepted, not only by the women to be sure. Some of the toasts which
followed were distinctly blurred.
picked me up to give me the usual cuddle. “I’ve got something for
you,” he whispered.
At the age
of five I was partial to receiving presents. As usual it was a
gramophone record. Mascagni’s ‘Cavalleria Rusticana’ on one
side and Toselli’s Serenade on the other. I was impatient to put it
on the gramophone but had to wait until all the guests had gone. Mr.
Mac was staying for his usual weekly supper and it would be our
already started with music lessons, my mother being my teacher. My
repertoire at this stage consisted mostly of scales and exercises.
This was boring in the extreme and I was impatient for the day when I
could play Toselli or Schubert serenades without the preamble of
scales and exercises. This impatience was to lead to many
confrontations with my mother and no doubt laid the foundation for my
growing aloofness from her. My only consolation was that my brother
was having to go through the same boring ritual on the violin.
also the year I started school.
It was a
long walk from our house to the school. My first morning at school
was dramatic as teasing was part of the initiation procedure. Second
and third year students considered themselves senior enough to rag
the newcomers and quite robbed me of the thrill of being big enough
to go to school. Unlike most of the other beginners, however, I was
lucky enough to have an older brother who valiantly shielded me
against all hectors, even threatening one or two of the older boys
that he would take them to Esats after school if they did not leave
his sister alone.
daughter, Dee, also started school the same day. Perhaps, because she
was the headmaster’s daughter, she was not teased like the rest of
us and this made her brave. She joined in the teasing and taunting of
me and made rude remarks about my clothes and my hair and why my
shoes were so dusty (she knew very well that I had a long walk on a
dusty footpath.) This did not endear her to me and probably laid the
foundation for the years of cold rivalry and aversion which
characterised our relationship.
stage of my life we were still reasonably affluent, though goodness
knows, Father’s salary was far from princely, but Mother was
thrifty. She made all our clothes such as dresses, shirts, nightwear
and socks. She also grew all our vegetables and most of our fruit
requirements. She kept chickens, cows and pigs and when one of the
latter was killed, every scrap was used, including the fat for making
soap. Poor Mother. She had to do her own slaughtering, alas, as
Father was quite incapable of killing anything. One of the gardeners
or stable hands killed the chickens when required, but when it came
to the pigs, this was another story. Mother shot them. One day I was
watching over the stable door of one of the outbuildings, unbeknownst
to my mother, when she had a pig brought out for slaughter. A stable
hand tied the pig to a pole and left to stand a way off. Mother
raised the rifle, took careful aim and fired. The pig did not die but
sank onto its front knees, snuffling and snorting. Mother reloaded
quite calmly and fired a second shot which still did not kill the pig
but now it was down on its side, struggling and kicking and making
hideous noises. The third shot did it for the poor old pig, and left
its mark on Mother as well. She decided that she had had enough and
promptly sold all the rest of her pigs. From then onwards we bought
bacon from a shop like everyone else, and it was the end of homemade
soap, thank goodness. I never did like the smell of it anyway. The
killing left a horrid impression on my young mind and I resolved
never, ever to kill any animal.
— • • • —
mother was a gardener, first and foremost. By today’s standards her
garden would have been considered old-fashioned. The nearest
comparison I could draw is to that of Claude Monet’s lovely garden
as depicted in his paintings. It was a rambling garden, congested
with flowers and shrubs of every hue and colour, with little pathways
in which one could make one’s way around, and though not much by
way of pattern or design, nevertheless a delight to the eye. My
mother was a direct descendant of the French Huguenots – a de
Villiers of the Franschhoek and Paarl clans in the Cape, the musical
ones, and it was difficult to know which she loved most – gardening
or her musical pursuits. She played the piano, sang well and enjoyed
giving musical soirees or staging tableaux in the village hall.
Extrovert, good at reciting poems, fluently bilingual, she was
generally regarded as an intellectual. Fair or complexion and
dark-haired, she was considered a belle of her hometown. She was an
emotional person, given to high and low mood-swings, possessing a
tempestuous temper which was easily roused, but just as easily
subsided. Many of her genes have carried through to me as I had
arguments and confrontations with my mother from my earliest age. An
unfortunate twist of fate has, however, not endowed me with the swift
reversal of temper. One of her most endearing traits as far as we
were concerned was that she was a good cook and her preserves, jams,
sweets, cakes and cookies took many a prize at the agricultural
a hardworking man. Diligent and conscientious to a fault, no match
for Mother in an argument and inclined to seek refuge either by
staying away long hours at the office or taking a noggin or two with
his friends at Bernie’s place after work. This defence mechanism
did nothing to assuage Mother’s temper. All the same, he adored
her, and in this he never wavered for as long as he lived. He, too,
was a French Huguenot, a Jourdan of the Bree River clan, and his
forebears were trekkers. He was seventeen when the Boer War started
and immediately left his farm in the Pretoria district to go on
active service, finishing the war as a prisoner on the island of St.
Helena. He was present at the capture of Winston Churchill, who was a
war correspondent at the time, when the armoured train he was on was
derailed near Colenso in 1899, an event which Father related to us
many a time. Fiercely nationalistic, my father was a proud and
upright man, much liked and respected by all who knew him and adored
by me. He nearly always boldly, if somewhat recklessly, took my part
when in conflict with Mother. He was married before, his first wife
having died in the Spanish ‘flu epidemic in 1918. He had three
children from that marriage, Bets, Anne and Jan. Two years after the
death of his wife, he married my mother and a year later my brother,
Arthur was born. I followed somewhat later.
is five years older than me and always let me know that. He was quick
to learn, ambitious, good at his lessons and on the playing field. At
an early age he displayed that quality of leadership which stood him
in good stead during World War 2. From his earliest years he had a
spirit of adventure which led him into many hair-raising exploits and
which often included me, that is to say, when he considered the event
not too good for the participation of mere girls. His opinion of
girls in his adolescent years was not very high, and his friends were
like-minded. Not that we had that many friends. Our village was
I was fond
of reading and, from as far back as I can remember, fond of classical
music. When, therefore, I was not busy with books or music, I tried
to join my brother and his friends. If they were short of players, I
was allowed to join in and play cricket, ‘kennetjie’, bushman’s
war, boxing or teasing the animals. One of the more select games
consisted of bringing the Merino ram out of his pen and onto the
grassy parkland in-front of the house, on the far side of the garden,
and teasing him into butting. It was somewhat reminiscent of a
Spanish bullfight on a smaller scale. There was a tenniquoit court in
the parkland and thither we would lead the ram, Daantjie, and untie
him. My brother would take the lead in making threatening charges
towards Daantjie until it got the animal thoroughly rattled. With
head lowered and his strong, curved horns thrust forward, the ram
would charge the while Arthur ran behind one of the court’s posts,
slender protection as it was, but it seemed to flummox Daantjie and
he would stop, run sideways and turn to charge from a different tack.
By now one or two of the other brave boys would tease the ram from
different angles and he would charge each in turn. On more than one
occasion the ram had the last laugh when he caught one of the boys
between posts and this chap would take to his heels and sprint, shirt
tails flying with the ram butting his posterior all the way down the
hill. Usually a stable hand or two took a healthy, albeit stealthy,
interest in the game and just as well, as it would need their
assistance to pacify Daantjie and get him back into his pen. Till
next time. Everyone was of course sworn to secrecy as we knew
instinctively that our parents would not approve of these games and
we always chose a day when Father was at work and Mother occupied
numerous games but my favourite was playing ‘farms.’ We fetched
clay from the dam at the foot of our hill and fashioned our own farm
animals. Arthur was particularly good at this and we always had a
good supply of cattle, sheep and pigs. At Xmas time we nearly always
got toy tractors, trucks and cars for presents. We built our farm
houses from clay. Then came roads, paddocks, hedges and trees and the
animals were placed, some by feeding troughs or dams. Our dams had
small mirror bottoms and, surrounded by clay walls, were quite
Christmas my brother was the happy recipient of a pair of boxing
gloves and so there were frequent boxing matches after that. The
outstanding one in my memory was the day the bank manager’s son
came to play. It was his first visit. He was ever such a pretty boy
with long golden hair which his mother curled into locks in a kind of
eighteenth century way. This immediately rendered him a ‘sissy’
in the eyes of my brother and his friends who wickedly decided there
and then that the lad needed a good punching in order to make a
proper boy out of him. First they decided to take the mickey out of
him by taunting him and saying,
you’ve never boxed before.”
haven’t,” said little Anton.
case,” said Arthur, “I’ll let you start with my sister. That
would give you about an even chance.”
like to box with girls,” said Anton. “What if I hurt her?”
not very likely,” said the challenging Arthur.
gloves were strapped onto my little hands and they looked like big,
brown balloons. They felt like it too, but I remembered my brother’s
earlier admonitions and was determined not to let him down.
myself the while Anton jumped around like a little frenzied Bantam
cock, boxing the air and coming towards me. I stood my ground and
seized the first opportunity I saw of getting a blow in to his nose.
To my surprise it connected a few seconds later and a trickle of
blood appeared, running from his nose into his mouth. Hurt, and I
daresay somewhat shocked, Anton put his gloves over his face and
started to cry.
jumping up and down with glee. “You see, what did I tell you? My
little sister can lick you any time!”
now, our two mothers had appeared on the scene, leaving their teacups
to come and see what all the crying was about. Of course there was
quite a fuss and we were ordered to stop boxing at once, the while
Anton was quickly taken to the bathroom by his mother to receive
first aid. She didn’t look too pleased. I don’t remember them
visiting us again.
Arthur was my mentor, companion and protector; at other times my
tormentor, disciplinarian and critic. At all times I revered him and
would have gone to the gallows for him. Then came the blow I had
dreaded. At age twelve he was sent far away to Pretoria to High
School and College. This was the commencement of my solitary life.
Had I been able then to take a glimpse into the future, or had some
prophetic voice whispered what destiny awaited me, I could have
guessed that I was merely being prepared for what lay ahead.. Just as
well, I suppose, that we do not know.
The author’s brother Arthur Jordaan as an infantry
officer during the war. Arthur had a fearsome reputation for
hand-to-hand combat against the enemy.
Steeds & Roosters
my brother gone, games came to an end and all the fun seemed to
vanish from my life. I concentrated on my class-work and prepared for
the mid-year examinations.
looked out the classroom window next to which she was sitting,
dreamily examining distant objects, the nature of which was not
visible. There was, in fact, little to please the eye outside our
classroom windows except empty playing fields on which the short
grass was browning from the nightly frosts. There were tall gum trees
behind the playing fields, but that was all. I wondered what she was
dreaming about because the examination paper was difficult and I was
not nearly finished with mine, so I determinedly took my attention
off her and concentrated on the exam. Every time I stopped in order
to give the subject some thought, I glanced at Dee who was still in
the same reverie, no pen in hand and paper lying neglected..
had his back to the class and was busy writing up the blackboard with
sums in readiness for the next day’s work. Suddenly he looked at
he said, “time’s up. Put down your pens and hand in your papers.”
He walked up and down between our desks and collected them. I was
surprised to see Dee hand hers over with a smile of satisfaction. The
exam over, we were allowed to go home early.
the exam go?” asked my mother when I joined her on the veranda
where she was sewing,
more difficult than all the others. I battled to finish in the
allotted time, but just managed. What I can’t understand is how Dee
managed to finish a long time before the rest of us, and that has
been the case with every exam.”
so?” said Mother with raised eyebrows.
and as you know, she is not the brightest person in class. I wonder
how she does it.”
mind,” was Mother’s reply, “you’ll just have to work harder
so that you can be more prepared and faster. How did Jannie do?”
know. I didn’t speak to him afterwards, but I know he was still
writing when Meester announced that time was up.”
Kruger was the one other student whom I considered to be a rival. He
was a bright lad with a sunny nature and very intent on his studies.
His sister, Sarie, who was two years younger had lately been
attaching herself to me and so I was not entirely surprised when she
came to me the next day to ask if I would come to their farm for a
few days during the holidays which started the following week.
go to the farm with Sarie and Jannie for a few days during the hols?”
I asked my parents that evening. “Sarie invited me and I said I
would give her the answer tomorrow.”
no reason why not,” said Father, always indulgent and ready to
gave it some thought
will you go? They do not possess a motor car and I doubt whether our
car could manage their farm roads,’
mother always fetches them in their big barouche and there’s plenty
see that Mother had reservations and I was worried that she would
no communication with these outlying farms and what if you got ill or
something?” Mother ventured.
not going to get ill. How does the Kruger family manage to survive?”
sure Bob and Susan will know how to cope,” said Father. “After
all, they have reared four children successfully.
Mother agreed but with an expression of “on your head be it” on
her face as she gave Father a sideways look.
to break up the following Friday and the exam results would be
announced on Thursday. Eagerly I set off that morning with high hopes
of hearing that I was first in class. After what seemed an
interminable age, Meester stubbed out his umpteenth cigarette during
late morning and announced the results.
is Dee Venter with 94%. Next is Clem Jourdan with 93%. Then Jannie
Kruger with 90% then Emma…” and so he went on.
stunned. In all the preceding years, before coming to Meester
Venter’s class, I had always been way ahead of Dee. How could this
home in a thoughtful mood and announced the results to my parents.
Father was sympathetic and said, “It does not matter. You did well.
Your results are excellent.”
strangely, said nothing but that evening I overheard her talking to
Father and saying, “We all know Dee is not clever and certainly
does not come up to Clem in most subjects. I suspect something is
wrong here but we can’t say anything without antagonising Meester
and creating a storm in the school board.”
served on the school board for some years now, sometimes heading it
was the long awaited Friday and school broke up early. I was
collected by Mrs. Kruger and felt excited about my first ride in a
barouche. I sat next to Sarie, facing the horses and hardly
remembered saying goodbye to Mother. We went along at a spanking pace
and I was somewhat taken aback by the unmannerly behaviour of some of
the horses. I decided that barouches were overrated and I would
prefer motor cars for the rest of my life. Nevertheless the ride was
pleasant, though bumpy, and it was late afternoon before we got to
winter and bitterly cold after the sun went down. Fortunately there
was a roaring fire in the dining room and we ate a hearty supper.
After supper was story-telling time, followed by a short Bible
reading, prayers and then bed. Sarie and I shared a bedroom and my
bed had soft, warm sheets and a feather mattress on top of the
ordinary mattress. I was soon comfortably warm and slept like only a
child can sleep.
dawn, I was eager to explore. We drew hot water from a large urn in
the kitchen, bathed hurriedly and dressed warmly. We were soon
running around outside, getting our circulation going, breath coming
out like white smoke making us laugh and experimenting as to who
could blow out the biggest cloud. Jannie and his older brother,
Teunis, joined us and we went to visit the horses. I was promised a
ride after breakfast. Having never been on a horse before, I was
thrilled at the prospect. Teunis, was particularly caring.
better let her ride Old Bess. She is the most docile and trustworthy
of our horses. She does not mind walking for a while, whereas all the
others will want their customary gallop.”
African farm breakfast is something to write a sonnet about and that
first breakfast at the Kruger’s farm was an unforgettable
experience. I was not a big eater and food fell pretty low on my list
of priorities in life, but I never tasted better cheese and bread.
Everything was home-made or home-grown. The cheese was a hard ball
and I watched Mrs. Kruger grate a soup-plate full while we were
awaiting Mr. Kruger’s arrival from the lands. The kitchen smelled
wonderful with the aroma of coffee and bacon combining pleasantly
with that of boerewors sizzling in a large pan on the enormous stove.
Finally, all being present, we were asked to be seated at the big
dining table where grace was said and breakfast began.
though I was only eleven, I was addressed as if I were a grown-up and
honoured guest, which courtesy I valued and appreciated. Mindful of
my manners which had been carefully cultivated by my parents, I tried
not to eat too much or too fast, but that was not easy, surrounded as
I was by so many delectable items. Having already had egg and bacon I
was hard put to it to eat any more, but bread baked in a clay oven is
in a class of its own. Accompanied by the strong cheese and honey, it
left a lasting impression. There were other goodies on the table,
like preserves and konfyts, but regrettably I had to give best,
resolving to skip the egg and bacon next day in favour of some of
breakfast we youngsters went to the stables where the horses were
saddled. Bess was a dark brown mare, almost black, with a long white
blaze on her nose. Suddenly I became aware of how big a horse really
was, particularly after I had been helped into the saddle.
its high,” I said.
seemed far away and I sat stiff and strained, trying not to show how
scared I was. I noticed how easily the others mounted their horses
and were holding them in. All of them wanted to get going but obeyed
instructions and off we went at a walk, Jannie and Teunis on either
side of me telling me what to do. We arrived at the exit to the horse
paddock where the barbed wire gate was open and lying flat on the
ground between the gate posts. The other horses stepped through
gracefully but Bess stopped dead. Suddenly, she half reared, jumped
right across the gate and started to gallop. To this day I do not
know how I managed to stay on that horse. Bess galloped like a mad
thing and I clung onto her mane with one hand and the saddle with the
other. Jannie & Teunis tried to stop her but couldn’t. She
out-galloped all the other horses and headed for the dam. I don’t
remember crying. I was too scared and saved all my energy for just
hanging on the while my steed rushed headlong down the slope, finally
dashing right into the water where the iciness of it brought her to
her senses. Teunis reached me first and grabbed Bess’s reins. The
others now caught up and were full of apologies. Jannie said he had
forgotten that Bess took fright at wire gates that were not properly
none of us wore hard hats – they were unknown on farms those days.
I was shivering with shock and felt a bit sick but determined not to
poor girl, you look pale. Are you all right?” asked Jannie.
o.k.,” I lied.
back to the farmhouse with Bess decidedly subdued. All I wanted to do
was to dismount and never get on a horse again, but as all the others
were regular riders, I had to overcome my fears and misgivings and
later went for another ride to the river.
One of my
favourite pastimes was to lie on the grass under the willow trees
with their soft, leafy fronds gently stroking my face while I
listened to the sounds of the river. There are always sounds by a
river. Lapping of water, or water bubbling over stones. The splash of
water birds as they dive for their catch. The croak of a frog,
humming of water insects or wind rustling in the reeds. Those were
the days when I could hear the faintest of sounds. How little we
value our faculties when we are young.
passed swiftly with the playing of many games and we rode far and
wide. The last afternoon before my return to the village Jannie
decided we should have a bit of fun. There were a lot of free-range
fowls around the farmhouse and among them was a big black and red
cock. A magnificent bird but not very popular because he had a habit
of mounting a tree stump not far from the house at about 4:30 each
morning and crowing till not even the devil himself could stay
asleep. I think Mr. Kruger used the cock as his alarm clock because
not long after the cock’s raucous crowing, I could smell coffee and
hear the sound of stirring coming from the kitchen.
think, had it in for the cock and decided to exact a little
retribution. Somehow, Jannie had contrived to get hold of some
brandy and calling the rest of us to witness the proceedings, we
gathered around the outbuildings where the cock usually hung out.
There was a water trough and a fallen log nearby. The cock had a huge
red comb, scarlet feathers around his neck shading into a bright
orange mantle which cloaked the shiny black feathers over his
shoulders. The rest of him was clothed in iridescent bluish/black
feathers down to his orange legs. A truly magnificent specimen of
cock-hood. Jannie strewed grain from a small bowl and soon had all
the fowls gathered around him with Mr. Cock lording it over all,
demanding more than his fair share.
Jannie got Teunis to mix a dollop of brandy with water in a small
bowl. Next, Jannie grabbed the unsuspecting cock who was quite put
out, squawking and struggling. Teunis pacified him and commenced
feeding him the brandy water. Holding his head up and squeezing his
cheeks till he opened his beak he poured small quantities of the
liquor down the cock’s throat while his eyes rolled and he tried
frantically to get free.
of us watched with interest and I was secretly wondering whether the
grown-ups would approve, also whether the cock was imbibing the
liquid or spluttering it all out. We didn’t have long to wait.
Jannie released the cock, who immediately took off, squawking
indignantly, but soon slowing and then staggering. He decided it was
time for his evening crowing session and mounted the log. His legs
became decidedly unsteady and he tried to balance himself by
spreading his wings. The weirdest crowing noise then issued from his
beak which was opening and shutting in a frantic effort to control
himself but, alas, his efforts were in vain and he fell off his perch
backwards in a flurry of feathers. He rose, shook himself and managed
to get back onto the log again where the whole sorry performance was
repeated. By now we were all in stitches with laughter and this
attracted the farm hands who soon gathered around, joining in the fun
and shouting words of encouragement to the cock.
inebriate now walked sideways along the log as if on a tightrope,
feebly flapping his wings and emitting the weirdest croaking noises.
Finally he decided to take off in flight, no doubt feeling in a
conquering frame of mind but succeeded only in crash-landing in the
water trough where he quite gave up the struggle and passed out.
Teunis rescued him and carried him off to the henhouse to sleep it
When I saw
him the next day he looked none the worse for his drunken experience
. . . or did I detect a bleary look in his eye? Who can tell whether
the poor blighter had a hangover?
things come to an end and so did my farm visit.
— • • • —
day, near office closing time, my father walked down to the grain
silos to do an inspection and on the way back called on Mr.
McCloughlin, the station-master. He was about to knock off too so
they decided to go and have a noggin at Bernie’s pub. There they
met some of the locals and a few farmers and soon the atmosphere was
quite convivial. Then arrived Mr. Nosey-Parker Furnberg who
immediately joined in, oblivious of the fact that he was unpopular
and not being included in the conversations. Furtively, Mr.
McCloughlin called Father aside and the two of them hatched a little
plot. The hotel had a public telephone which was ensconced in a booth
on the veranda directly in-front of the pub window. The hotel’s own
telephone hung on a wall at the back of the pub. Father and Mr.
McCloughlin had a quick meeting with certain other members of the
assemblage and then quietly got Bernie to make a phone call.
Meanwhile, Furnberg was drifting from one group to the other in his
usual style, listening to the conversations and butting in with inane
comments. The telephone in the booth on the veranda started to ring.
Bernie asked one of the men leaning on the counter if he would kindly
answer it which he did and called out across the veranda, “Hey,
Furnberg, its for you.”
look of astonishment, Furnberg rushed out, hat still perched on the
back of his head and he took the receiver. What happened then was
re-enacted for us by Father afterwards.
One of the
farmers who was a great mimic and a bit of an actor was asked to
impersonate our district magistrate, and put the wind up Furnberg. He
spoke from the telephone at the back of the pub, shielded by the rest
of the men present, and the fun began.
shouted Furnberg into the mouthpiece of the phone, totally unused to
the instrument. “Hullo!”
came the voice through the phone, “Is that Mr. Furnberg of Davel?”
yes, dis is he.”
Mr. Furnberg, this is the magistrate speaking to you from Ermelo.”
Magistrate,” shouted the disbelieving Furnberg the while he was
lifting his hat politely up and down with his free hand. “Yes, Mr.
Magistrate?” He was clearly agitated.