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A Woman in a Man’s World

Copyright 2014 Clem van Vliet

Published by Clem van Vliet at Smashwords

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ISBN: 9781370473601

A Woman in a Man’s World

This 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.

On a human level which readily commands empathy, the author describes the growing pains, triumphs and tribulations of her formative and later years.

Born 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.

After 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 into herself.

Having 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.

Then, 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.

On 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.

Although 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.

In 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 Directors.

Life, 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.

This 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 their wake.

It’s a story of an attack by armed thugs in which, though severely pistol whipped and injured, Clem escapes death by feigning it.

And then there is the “night of the elephants”.

By Clem van Vliet

Table of Contents



Book 1

Book 2

Book 3

Book 4

Book 5

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

About the Author


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 slowly reactivating.

For over 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.

Then there 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.

I never 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.

What 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?

Then there 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.

The other 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

My 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, very emphatically.

The other 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

At the 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.

No wonder he was awarded the DFC.

No awards for elephant bravery.

I have 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.

Why were we saved that night?

Then there 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.

Corry kept 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

on 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 bitter end.

I 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 exaggeration.

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?

Mourning 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.

But is that not always the case?

To this 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.

I survived the night of the elephants.

Do I believe in miracles?

Yes, I do.


The village

The 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.

“Close that book, Clem, and pay attention,” he said.

“What 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.

He swung 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.

I was 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.

— • • • —

The 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.

We lived 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 “Mr. Mac.”

The bank 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 pastimes.

The Indian 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

Mr. Esat 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.

On the 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.

The 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 pleasant contemplation.

With few 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.

— • • • —


Growing pains

We 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.

On arrival 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.

Every 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.

“I 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.”

“Sure, 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.

My father 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 fingers.

The author’s mother Constance Jordaan, circa 1930

The 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.

“Connie, don’t go so fast,” cried my aunt in alarm, “the road is dangerous.”

“Can’t help it,” shouted Mother, “no brakes.”

Frantically 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.”

“Can’t,” shouted Mother, “no brakes.”

“Put her in low gear,” bellowed Father.

“Look 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.

My father 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.

My brother 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 car.

“You 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.

A while 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.

Mr. Mac 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 after-supper treat

I had 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.

This was 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.

Meester’s 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.

At this 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.

— • • • —


Thumbnail sketches

My 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 shows.

Father was 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.

My brother 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 small.

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 elsewhere.

We had 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 impressive.

One 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,

“Bet you’ve never boxed before.”

“No, I haven’t,” said little Anton.

“In that case,” said Arthur, “I’ll let you start with my sister. That would give you about an even chance.”

“I don’t like to box with girls,” said Anton. “What if I hurt her?”

“That is not very likely,” said the challenging Arthur.

The boxing 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.

I readied 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.

Arthur was jumping up and down with glee. “You see, what did I tell you? My little sister can lick you any time!”

But by 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.

At times 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

With 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.

Dee Venter 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..

Meester 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 his watch.

“Right,” 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.

“How did the exam go?” asked my mother when I joined her on the veranda where she was sewing,

“It was 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.”

“Is that so?” said Mother with raised eyebrows.

“Yes, and as you know, she is not the brightest person in class. I wonder how she does it.”

“Never 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?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t speak to him afterwards, but I know he was still writing when Meester announced that time was up.”

Jannie 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.

“Can I 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.”

“I see no reason why not,” said Father, always indulgent and ready to please.

Mother gave it some thought

“How will you go? They do not possess a motor car and I doubt whether our car could manage their farm roads,’

“Their mother always fetches them in their big barouche and there’s plenty of room.”

I could see that Mother had reservations and I was worried that she would object.

“We have no communication with these outlying farms and what if you got ill or something?” Mother ventured.

“I’m not going to get ill. How does the Kruger family manage to survive?” I countered.

“I’m sure Bob and Susan will know how to cope,” said Father. “After all, they have reared four children successfully.

Finally Mother agreed but with an expression of “on your head be it” on her face as she gave Father a sideways look.

School was 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.

“First is Dee Venter with 94%. Next is Clem Jourdan with 93%. Then Jannie Kruger with 90% then Emma…” and so he went on.

I was stunned. In all the preceding years, before coming to Meester Venter’s class, I had always been way ahead of Dee. How could this have happened?

I went 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.”

Mother, 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.”

Father had served on the school board for some years now, sometimes heading it as chairman.

Next day 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 the farm.

It was 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.

Awake at 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.

“We had 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.”

A South 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.

Even 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 these.

After 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.

“My, but its high,” I said.

The ground 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 open.

Of course, 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 show it.

“You poor girl, you look pale. Are you all right?” asked Jannie.

“I’m o.k.,” I lied.

We rode 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.

The days 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.

Jannie, I 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.

Meanwhile 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.

The rest 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.

This 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 off.

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?

All good things come to an end and so did my farm visit.

— • • • —

One 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.”

With a 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.

“Hullo!” shouted Furnberg into the mouthpiece of the phone, totally unused to the instrument. “Hullo!”

“Hullo,” came the voice through the phone, “Is that Mr. Furnberg of Davel?”

“Yes, yes, dis is he.”

“Well Mr. Furnberg, this is the magistrate speaking to you from Ermelo.”

“Oh, Mr. 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.

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