The Elephant’ Ear, B Guy Rogers
DO YOU remember Alan Hendrikse?
The founder member of the Labour Party is probably best remembered for his historic December 1986 dip off Port Elizabeth’s then “white’s only” King’s Beach and how that was the end of his tenuous tenure as a coloured minister without portfolio in President PW Botha’s apartheid cabinet.
Hendrikse’s name surfaces in Bart Logie’s wonderful new book, Boots in the Baviaans, an exploration of the Baviaanskloof – the places, the rivers and mountains and animals, the stories and also, of course, the people.
Logie writes that in the 1930s the first United Congregational Church was established on the farm Zandvlakte in the western ‘kloof by Rev Charles Hendrikse. Charles ministered there for half a century and was in later years often accompanied by his son Helenard Joe, better known as Alan. And before he dived into politics, Alan followed in his Dad’s footsteps as teacher and minister, serving the same congregation deep in the ‘kloof.
It was Zandvlakte owner David Gellman who facilitated the establishment of the church, a cemetery and a house for the minister on his quarterly visits, Logie notes. And Gellman himself was a remarkable character. A Jewish businessman from Latvia he initially set himself up as an ostrich feather merchant, visiting farms on his bicycle. He was already fluent in Russian, German, English and Yiddish and before long he could make himself understood in Afrikaans….
One story follows another as the author ranges effortlessly back and forth in time across this unique mountain kingdom. Like the late great naturalist Dr Jack Skead, he understands the intrinsic value of names, of places and families especially, and there is often something of Herman Charles Bosman’s sly and gentle humour in his tales.
Running parallel to the Eastern Cape coast but set back from it behind rugged mountains, the Kouga and Baviaanskloof valleys once facilitated the east-west migration of the early San people, he explains in preface. These are the same folk who frequented sites lower down the coast like Klasies Cave and Pinnacle Point, some 125000 years ago.
At the western end of the ‘kloof, we read of the kaalblad, the spineless prickly pear which almost became the perfect livestock food in times of drought before it got wiped out by the moth and beetle introduced to tackle the invasive Mexican prickly pear. The problem was, it seems, neither the moth nor the beetle could tell the difference between the different varieties.
There is the story in the central ‘kloof of the construction of Beervlei Dam and how it drove up the salinity levels of the Groot River and eventually resulted in the collapse of communities like Goede Hoop. “Today all that remains of the once thriving settlements are piles of broken masonry [and] homemade irrigation pipes of bamboo or wood reinforced with wire. The pipes were treated internally with beeswax and externally with aloe sap.”
Interesting characters traverse the pages like Boer War leader Gideon Scheepers and his Witkoppen (they wore white bands on their hats), legendary Khoekhoe commanders Klaas and David Stuurman. There is schoolgirl Poemie Jackson, who walked a way with the Logies at Rus en Vrede and Veronica Maganie of Vero’s Restaurant at Hingoe, baker of “the best roosterkoek in the ‘kloof” and niece of Jan Maganie who, on June 19 1956, tracked down a weerwolf which was thought to be taking lambs (it turned out to be one of the few brown hyenas ever seen in the ‘kloof).
Logie’s narrative is rich with plants and animals spotted and discussed along their journey: buig-my-nie, baroe and protea, the Baviaanskloof cedar, cycads, waboom and yellowoods; hamerkop, Derek Clark’s left-handed awl snail, kakkelaars (wood hoopoes), otters and of course baboons.
Fascinating places include Thomas Bain’s Nuwekloof Pass, the extended stone walls of Bergplaas (a yard of roltabak was paid to the artisans for every yard of wall completed) and the Waterpoort cablecar, constructed by Andries Blignaut, principal of the Motherwell Technical College, for his farmer friend Winston le Roux.
At any of the 12 Witrivier crossings at Poortjies, Logie notes, you can dangle your feet in the water and the endemic redfin minnow will probably nibble your toes.
GPS co-ordinates for 220 places named in the book are listed at the end.
Boots in the Baviaans reminded me how lucky we are to live in the Eastern Cape and what a treasure we have in the Baviaanskloof.