Introduction to Bacon & the Art of Living
The story of bacon is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s when most of the important developments in bacon took place. The plotline takes place in the 2000s with each character referring to a real person and actual events. The theme is a kind of “steampunk” where modern mannerisms, speech, clothes and practices are superimposed on a historical setting. Modern people interact with old historical figures with all the historical and cultural bias that goes with this. What follows is a continuation of my quest to understand bacon curing and the art of living. As such, I change gears in this chapter to focusing on the “art of living.” In the story, I am writing as from the 1960s, but in reality, I address matters right up into the 2020s.
The Art of Living: Sketches to Understand Ourselves and Others
Over the years I have written letters to my kids telling them what I learn and about my experiences. They followed my quest to produce the best bacon on earth through these monthly communications. When I returned home I found that they kept every letter. When they were here last December, they gave me the draft of a book where they are including every letter. They even contacted Dawie and Oscar, who both sent them my letters. They asked me to write the introduction to every county and the “Union Letters,” as they called the letters I sent them from Cape Town.
I asked them if I could add three accounts of companies who achieved perfection in the large-scale production of bacon. The first of the three examples of people who achieved high standards in bacon production is Chapter 13.01: The Castlemaine Bacon Company. Here, I juxtapose the Anglo Boer War experience of Wright Harris, an Australian who fought for England in this war and who founded the Castlemaine Bacon Company after the war, with the experience of my great grandfather, Jan W Kok who fought on the side of the Boers and whose great-grandson, being myself, established his own bacon company in Woodys Consumer Brands in Cape Town which is a major subject in this work. I presented Jan W Kok as a man, inspired by nationalistic fewer for God and country. A true Afrikaner Boer.
The previous chapter, the Life and Times of Jan Kok, is a review of the world where Jan lived in his 20s. I ask the question of what a real Afrikaner or Boer is. “Art of Living” is not just a few motivational sayings about living life to the fullest! It involved tackling serious issues facing our lives. The conclusion is that Jan Kok is the man he is based on the faith he had. It is the same conclusion which I came to in the transition chapters from my life as a transport rider to that as a bacon curer namely that thinking, and therefore one’s world view and theology, drives the choices you make. I applied it to the Voortrekker, the Dutch farmers, who ventured into the interior in terms of their relationship with the black inhabitants of the land in Chapter 05: Seeds of War. I also examined the world view of the British and the black people they encountered as they drove the borders of the Cape Colony eastwards in Chapter 06: Drums of Despair. It explains the historical context of making the choice to abandon transport and distribution and enter meat processing.
Here I take the lessons from the life of Jan Kok and apply them to our lives today! This, as much as appreciating every sunset, is part of the essence of the art of living! It also calls for a view of others who share this planet and our short time on earth as equals in humanity and deserving of our respect.
– The Sins of The Fathers
As I’ve set out in Seeds of War, Drums of Despair and The Life and Times of Jan W Kok the sins of the fathers are impacting our lives today as it is impacting on the lives of the black people of our country. Our discussion is not just historical! Fellow Afrikaners tell me that we can not be expected to atone for the sins of our fathers. They have a particular view of crime and see farm murders as a systematic plan to eradicate the whites. My black friends, on the other hand, exhibit desperation that political freedom does not translate into economic freedom. Change is not quick enough or at the scale required. In their frustration, some of the radical black movements want to chase the white people into the sea with the cry of “kill the farmer! Kill the Boer!”
How do we respond to the radical black movement and are we responsible for the sins of the fathers? A hypothetical example will illustrate my point. Assume that someone was kidnapped into slavery, moved to a foreign land, raped and tortured. Imagine that the slave is rescued and placed in my care while I must take care of my children also. It will be ridiculous to allege that I must somehow atone for the sins of the people who kidnapped, raped and tortures the girl or boy but it will be equally unthinkable to suggest that I will treat this person and my child in the same way. I will, for example, deal with this person with the full realization of the deep psychological trauma, emotional and physical that was experienced. I will be more tolerant and work hard to establish trust and not be offended when trust is not easily given. For a time I will give this person greater attention and nurture, showing love and compassion. I will seek accelerated teaching to make up for lost opportunities. The point is clear. In no way am I saying that I am responsible for the actions of the people who kidnapped him or her but I am also not blind to the reality of trauma and its effect on our lives. In the exact same way, I will work hard to assure my own kids that I am not turning my back on them and I will accommodate their own emotional and psychological insecurities and needs which did not go away just because I am helping someone else. So far, I think most Afrikaners will still agree with my analogy.
Let’s progress the analogy. What will the situation be if the person was kidnapped by my dad? What if my dad used the slave to construct a house without getting any payment for the work besides food and very poor living conditions along with repeated beatings and other abuse. What if my dad one day give me the house? Let’s place it in the same context where the slave is rescued and placed in my care. Is there a moral dilemma to consider on my part of accepting the gift from my father? How do I interact now with the slave, who, in our analogy, has been emancipated, in light of what my dad did? If the slave, on the basis of my continued residence in the house views my affection and love with suspicion, will this surprise me? You get the point of my analogy and yes, it is a simplistic view, but how is that materially different from what actually happened? So, on the one hand, I agree that we can not be held responsible for the sins of our fathers and at the same time, I also see that the issue is not nearly as simple as that! The question as to the “art of living,” all of a sudden, became a very complex and personal matter. In trying to deal with the issue at hand, there are a few factors to consider.
What is the analogy from bacon? What does that teach me? Let’s take the issue of the use of nitrites in bacon curing. In doing so we may create health risks. On the other hand, what we are doing in meat curing is mimicking a normal physiological reaction. We are very close to how nature designed meat and if the bacon we produce is not healthy, then we are doing something wrong and the issue to eliminate is not the nitrites. The matter is more complex than this. Solving the riddle will not come through emotional rhetoric and perpetuating strawman positions. It will come through a proper understanding of the issues predicted upon a better understanding of our own physiology and biological processes. The answer will not be quick or simple! Resolving the apparent tensions will be the result of hard work, ingenuity and creativity. Likewise, the matter of how we deal with our past and people who were marginalised and exploited by our forefathers will not be easy to solve but if we put in the hard work to bring the people involved in both sides of the conflict together and if we remain honest and truthful in our pursuits, we will see the fruits of our labour.
As both the Afrikaner and factions amongst the black citizens retreat into tribalism, people are moving further and further away from actually thinking for themselves and towards merely running a script. The issues are far too important and complex to be repeating what is dictated by our group. In the day and age we live in, the script is oftentimes dictated by the tribe and preached through the new social media platforms. The biggest rift that is currently in existence in the culture has been coming in “Afrikanerdom” for a long time. The Boer War was a time when many of these concepts were present but in a far less calcified way. Since then it evolved from mere thought or temporary states of insanity, brought about by the pressures of war and poverty, to a place where these have become the religion of the Afrikaner tribe. Emerging from the two extreme positions of the Anglo-Boer War of either being Pro-War or Pro-Peace (which was re-interpreted as being Pro-English by the new nationalists) are two ideologies based on fragmentary mythologies which draw its power from its archetypal and psychological underpinnings. It is far more than just a disagreement between brothers.
Polarization is happening on a global scale between the left and the right. People are driven, on the one hand, by the tyrannical father and the destructive force of masculine consciousness or on the other hand by the benevolent great mother influence. In South Africa, this is less obvious. Here the benevolent mother view is largely held by individuals and is characteristic of smaller groups. The major issue is the tyrannical father dogma which is entrenched into the Afrikaner tribe as well as in the black tribe which has been ideologically formed around its own interests. The messages from these groups are vocally being proclaimed from the hilltops through social media. What must be recognized is that this is an appalling position both from the Afrikaner and the black tribe and is as unacceptable as the “benevolent mother” dogma. It polarizes society and pitch people against each other in a very archaic way! What the Afrikaner and the marginalised black majority must realise is that when they face off from two different hilltops from where they dance and sing and do their respective war cries, beat their chests, park their bakkies, point fingers, show firearms, threaten, accuse and insult each other – both groups are acting in exactly the same way. The one is not more or less civilised than the other. Both act in a dumb and unhelpful way!
In South Africa, we have a plurality of groupings who retreated into destructive tribalism. The Afrikaner formalized its tribalism in Apartheid and the fact that this was extremely effective, for a time, to lift the Afrikaner out of poverty should not be missed. It became a model which other groups in the country now follow by missing its inherently destructive nature and using it to get the same quick benefits that the Afrikaners got through its application. My argument is that the Boer War was destructive for the Afrikaners and we would all have been better off today if the war did not take place. Apartheid was beneficial to the Afrikaners. It will serve no purpose to deny this, nor is it a good plan for the radical black to imitate this. Yet, in refusing to deal with the issues, on insisting that we must all just continue as if nothing happened and as if we did not seriously disrupt the normal development, mental and material of our fellow, non-white South Africans, we are repeating the biggest mistakes of our nations past!
Let’s look at it purely from the Afrikaners perspective. The concept that Apartheid served the Afrikaners well is wrong because it is simply not the truth! It destroyed the future of our people on economic grounds and it destroyed us spiritually since it was diabolical! Let’s just focus on the economic aspect for a minute. I have been looking very closely at the meat industry around the time South Africa became a Union up until the time when we became a republic and started to turn our back on international markets. In the Union years, we were making huge progress in accessing the lucrative European and English markets, gains which were all but completely eradicated during the rise of nationalism. The opportunity cost was immense and can be calculated by comparing ourselves economically with countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The reality is that apartheid cost the Afrikaners far more than we can ever imagine spiritually and economically!
Let’s now look at the example we set. The model is inherently flawed! Unfortunately, other groups now look at Apartheid as a good model and they, understandably, organize themselves to follow it with the “Kill the Farmer, Kill the Boer” creed. In doing so they are simply not good students of history, exactly like the Afrikaner! Many of the Afrikaner tribe, which I use metaphorically to refer to a “new tribe which formed around these ideologies,” now float on the romance created by the nationalists about it and other groups in the country envy the model because they too believe the false and fragmented mythologies which were carefully crafted around it. They think “if only we can apply it to our own lives and treat the white people in the same way, surely we will have what the majority of what they now have!”
The Afrikaner is also not changing our fundamental belief about Apartheid. By insisting that we see farm murders not just through the paradigm of crime, but by coating it in civil war language; by insisting that the only form of progress for our children is to eradicate affirmative action; by holding onto the productive resources of the country as the only way to ensure our future, we are still perpetuating the thinking of Apartheid. This is true even more if we set ourselves up against the other tribe in a very typical tribal fashion.
So, here we have then two of the many ideological tribes that exist in our country. There are other tribal views but these two will serve as a useful illustration. One, a radical black tribe characterized by the creed “Black First – Land First.” The other, a white tribe that uses words like “White Genocide.” Both tribes have similar mythologies and tribe religions – the one has as an object, advancing the cause of the black man to the exclusion of the white and the other have as goal white interests with little regard for black needs. These tribes have set themselves up against each other in every respect creating a polarized society.
The white tribe is as fanatical to denounce any other white person who does not agree with them as a traitor, as pro-peace people were viewed during the Boer War. This phenomenon is not new. In a way we are worse off today than we were during the war since, as I have shown in The Life and Times of Jan W Kok, there was immediately following the war, a far greater desire to see the other persons point or at least to live in harmony with them than there is now. As Afrikaner Nationalism became entrenched in the years following the war, the mythical image of the Afrikaner Boer became the only picture that was tolerated and the dialogue ended with people who held divergent political views. During the war, peaceful co-existence was still possible for people of different views on the most burning issue of the time namely whether someone either supported the war or not, but not for very long. Very soon, as nationalists started to gain power, they grew completely intolerant of anybody who would hold to other views. Through the instruments of Apartheid, they calcified their mythology and any dissenting voice was vilified. The exact same hardline attitude is the hallmark of the white Afrikaner Tribe who believes they are being systematically driven from the land and out of jobs and anybody who dares to propose a different view to theirs which is steeped in military resistance is banned from the tribe. They love using Zimbabwe as a prophetic foreshadowing of what is to come and completely ignores Zambia and Botswana of examples of what can be achieved through mutual respect and co-existence!
The right-wing black movement in many of these respects mirrors the Afrikaans tribe. There is an interesting aspect of the black counter-movement in that they have, for strategic reasons, I believe, adopted many of the far left-wing “benevolent mother” positions simply because it suits their cause in eroding the credibility of the white tribe by appearing more thoughtful and in line with liberal international trends. I am, however, deeply suspicious of their motives in this regard. This gamesmanship is not helping our country.
– The Danger of Polarization
We must understand the inherent danger in polarization. The big problem comes when people start to act it out. The new media broke the stranglehold of traditional media over what and how people think by crafting the narrative to suit them. Social media broke this mould. On the one hand, it is powerful and refreshing and on the other hand, it gives the tribe equal access to preach its gospel to that of moderate forces. In fact, the tribe is more motivated than the moderate forces and have only to gain from being very organized in its messaging where the moderate voices have no motivation for such organization and by its very nature, moderate people are less likely to “preach” their message of the “more excellent way”. The tribe’s religion thrives on what it is opposed to and has a passion for proselytizing.
An interesting new tribe has been emerging in the anti-vaccine, Covid conspiracy group. They may be more deadly than the anti-black Afrikaner franchise. They bear all the hallmarks of the tribe in their fanaticism to spread their gospel and proselytize. Among the white South Africans, this sprang up as a large and polarizing movement. When they use the words like “discuss”, it often means that they seek a chance to convert you and not a sincere joint effort to find solutions for a common problem. Their view is the only one that matters and facts are secondary to the mythology they created.
Whichever group one is talking about, it is a time for the discussion of first principles which is virtually at the level of theology. It is what you assume and then moves forward. In theological terms, we will say that we are all presuppositional beings. We assume certain truths without validation and the discussion progress from there. My statement about the equal value of all humans and the dignity of the human soul are examples of such first principles. The basis for evaluating the Boer War which I discussed in the previous chapter (The Life and Times of Jan Kok) are more examples.
– World View Biology
A lot of what determines our worldview is our biological temperament. Left-leaning people are, for example, higher in a trait called openness. It is one of the big 5 character traits and is associated with abstraction and interest in aesthetics. Left-leaning people exhibit these qualities. They are low in trace conscientiousness which is dutifulness and orderliness in particular. This is the characteristic of a conservative. They are high in orderliness and dutifulness and low in openness. That makes them very good managers and administrators and often, business people, but not very good entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs are almost all drawn from the liberal types.
These are fundamental biologically predicted differences. They are different sets of opportunities and limitations and different ways of screening the world. Each of these different temperamental types needs the other type. It is then an issue of diversity. If you start to understand that the person you are talking to and who do not share your political views is not stupid, it is a major breakthrough in moving to a sane “art of living.” Differences in intelligence is not the primary determinant of differences in political beliefs. Let’s first agree that there are highly intelligent people on both sides of our conflicts. “Black-first, Land-First” as well as “any affirmative action, pro-Boer.”
If you are a liberal, you may be talking to someone who is more conscientious and more creative than you but that does not mean to say that the person’s perspective is not valid and it does not mean that they will not out-perform you in certain domains. They absolutely may be able to!
Remember that people do see the world differently and it is not merely that they have ill-informed opinions. The point is to keep the dialogue going between people of different temperamental types so that we do not move so far to the right that everything becomes encapsulated in stone and that we do not move so far to the left that everything dissolves into some soft chaos. The only way you can navigate between these two is through discussion.
The same is true between the two tribes I am using as an example of “pro-white” vs “pro-black.” If I accept the right of others to voice their opinion, no matter how unpalatable that may be for me personally and if I see them as important and valuable human beings and if I am prepared to take into account the trauma they suffered to get to where they are in life, we have just laid the foundation for coming up with new solutions that will address the overall problem, and eliminate the need to fall back on destructive tribalism. The basic core principle is free speech and the second, which is equal to this, is the importance of dialogue and the value of mutual understanding which is the point of this chapter! There is an inherent evil in polarization and the solution almost always is to find the middle ground. This is not possible without dialogue, mutual respect and understanding!
Stories from the Other Side
There is value in having your eyes opened for the plight of the other person. Storytelling is a powerful way to do this and was started in our country by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In a way I continue that same model by telling stories of ordinary people that you will in all likelihood never hear off, friend and foe, from all sides of the cultural and political spectrum and both from far off history to more recent events. The most basic assumption I work from is the value of all human life and our shared right to co-existence where we all strive for a better future – but how do we unravel the past to deal with the future?
I do not think it’s possible to be our brother’s keeper to everybody on earth but in our communities, there is a practical aspect that necessitates this. The tremendous benefit of an open hand to anyone in need becomes part of our own survival and the question is then, how do we do this in the face of such overwhelming need and suffering and such an unfortunate and bloody past. From the life of Jan Kok, I see the usefulness to eradicate the demonized view of the other by framing our discussion in a new way and resisting the tendency to retreat into tribalism at all cost! The only tribe we should belong to is the tribe of the human race. I offer up a number of sketches to illustrate my point and references to stories for further study. I refrain from commenting on anything. I simply tell the story.
1. De Wet, Christian and Piet
2. Esau, Abraham
3. Hottentot Code, 1809
4. Kokkie (Oom Jan Kok)
5. Kitchener, Herbert
6. Pooe, Petrus
7. Steyn, MT
8. Van Tonder, Jonas
1. De Wet, Christian and Piet
One example of the impact of the war on people is the relationship between Christiaan de Wet and his brother, Piet. The two brothers ended up in complete opposites of the spectrum and considering these matters helps us to explain why this happened. Both men had a different psychological make-up and as a result of this had different resources to cope with the stress. Subsequently, they responded differently to stress. The particular stress they were exposed to was not the same. Christiaan became dictator-like while Piet became very humane. No other indecent highlights the Character of Christiaan De Wet more than the murder of Morgeldeel. Here I translate from Blakes (2016).
“Morgendaal, together with Andries Wessels decided in December 1900 as members of the civil peace committee (burgerverdeskomittee) decided out of their own free will to go to the camp of Christiaan de Wet to try and convince them to lay down arms. The wealthy 60-year old Wessels is typical of the wealthy republican members of parliament (volksraad) that were in favour of the declaration of war with Britain, only to turn their back on the republican ideal in the midst of the war campaign. The actions of the two men speak to true naivete not only regarding the fighting Boers (burgers) but also regarding the inherent danger in their actions.
Shortly after their departure on 28 December 1900 from Kroonstad they were captured by a Boer patrol. On 6 January 1906, the two appeared before a military court. Judgement was reserved, after which Morgendaal and Wessels were forced to join Christiaan de Wet and gen. Stoffel Froneman on commando. Both were explicitly warned not to leave the wagon that transported them or they would be shot.
The morning of 9 January 1901 they were on the farm Nobelsfontein in the Kroonstad-Lindley district when a black man brought a report that the British forces were approaching. The Boers (burgers) were commanded to saddle up. Morgendaal did not pay any attention to the commotion in the camp and took his time on purpose. When commanded to cooperate he continued with his provocative behaviour and he walked to a ditch nearby to wash.
Froneman had enough and hit Morgendaal with his sjambock. In the proses Morgendaal janked the shambock from Froneman’s hand. Christiaan de Wet who witnessed the events from his horse shouted: “General, shoot him dead on the spot!”
Froneman removed his short rifle from his rifle bag and shot Morgendaal. He was seriously wounded and collapsed. Christiaan de Wet did not have much sympathy with Morgendaal and he refused to allow him to be taken to the hospital on Lindley. “So bitter was gen De Wet against the traitors that the wagon with the wounded was not allowed to come close to him. He, however, did not prevent me from caring for the wounded as best possible”, wrote Okkie de Villiers in his recollections. Morgendaal passed away shortly afterwards.
Piet de Wet, Christiaans brother, was extremely upset about the death of Morgendaal and some claim that this event contributed to his decision later to join the English forces against the Boers. Christiaan continued to call his brother a “black traitor” even after the war ended.
The pressures of war impact different people differently. De Wets experiences calcified his national views. In 1914 he joined JBM Hartzog in creating the National Party. The spirit of De Wet and Hertzog can be seen running through the policies of the National Party, culminating in the formal establishment of the policy of Apartheid and the isolation of the newly formed republic. Even though one can “understand” the psychological effect of war, it is important to recognise the result of these influences and if people with the domineering character of De Wet, Steyn or Hertzog, for that matter, remain unchallenged, it leads to generations of misery and hardship. The nurturing mother personality can never remain silent when the patriarchal father character dominates and intimidates others. Dialogue and a sincere effort to understand can never replace direct confrontation of men and women like this. Even the most peace-loving people have to, at some point be prepared to stand up and “confront” for what they believe in! One can never allow the agenda for business or civil life to be set by manipulators and damaged people!
Blake, A.. 2016. Broedertwis. Bittereinder en Joiner: Christiaan en Piet de Wet. Tafelberg.
2. Esau, Abraham
(Text and photos from karoo-southafrica.com)
The story of Abraham Esau takes us to the small town of Calvinia. “During the Anglo Boer War in 1901, the village was attacked by raiding Boer Commandos. Abraham Esau, a patriotic Coloured blacksmith loyal to the British, gathered a force of 70 locals to defend the town against the raiding Boer Commando. The Boers ripped down the Union Jack upon entering the town and tore it up. The torn flag is on display in the Calvinia Museum a photo of which is seen below.” (karoo-southafrica)
“Esau earned the hatred of the Boers by demonstrating an active loyalty to Britain and by defiantly asserting the limited civic rights enjoyed by Coloureds in the Cape Colony at the time.” (Keroo- SouthAfrica)
“Esau was captured by the Boers, placed in leg irons and tied between two horses. The horses dragged Esau out of town where he was beaten and finally executed by one of the Boer Commandos, Stephanus Strydom.” (karoo-southafrica)
“Legend has it that a sudden thunderstorm scattered the mourners at his funeral and the coffin was splintered by a lightning bolt exposing Esau’s shattered face. The irony of Esau’s capture and execution was that Calvinia was recaptured by British forces three days later.” (karoo-southafrica)
3. Hottentot Code, 1809
The Hottentot Code, or the Caledon Code, was the first of a series of laws that sought to restrict the rights of the Khoikhoi in Cape Colony. The decree was passed on 1 November 1809 by the Earl of Caledon as part of the longstanding process to enslave the indigenous KhoiKhoi people on their own land. It was established to help Afrikaner farmers control the mobility of the labour force. The Earl of Caledon imposed the Hottentot Code in his capacity as the first Governor of the Cape Colony after the occupation by Britain in 1806. The Hottentot Code was implemented during a time when the British public was openly against slavery and after parliament had abolished the slave trade. It was thus crucial that its application seems different from the previous slave laws. Written contracts had to be registered documenting the employment of Khoikhoi servants for periods of one month or longer. It also claimed to provide a safeguard against their ill-treatment, making it compulsory that they were paid for any services that they provided. According to the Apprenticeship of Servants Proclamation of 1812, in support of the Hottentot code, white settlers could apprentice and employ a Coloured child without paying them from the age of eight to eighteen years if the child was an orphan, destitute or grew up on the employer’s property.
4. Kitchener, Herbert
The British supreme commander, Lord Kitchener could also not escape the trauma of war. When he learned about the loss on 7 March 1902 at Tweebosch, where Lord Methuen was captured by Gen Koos de la Rey, Kitchener suffered a nervous breakdown. It lasted 48 hours. He said to his aide de camp confidentially that his nerves “has gone to pieces.”
Blake, A.. 2016. Broedertwis. Bittereinder en Joiner: Christiaan en Piet de Wet. Tafelberg.
5. Kokkie (Oom Jan Kok) and My Recollections
Oom Jan sent me the following intimate portrait of life on a Free State Farm and some of his personal observations.
“I always cried when my dad beat the farmworkers and cursed them and it saddened me that they had to work for such low pay. About a year before I went to school, we visited Oupa and Ouma at Heilbron. It must have been around 1947/48 because I started school in 1949. This was the high time for Afrikaner Nationalism and the establishment of Apartheid legislation. Oupa was already married to his second wife – Ouma Hannie. Saturday mornings she would cook us a delicious breakfast with rooster bread, eggs and sausages. When we were done she set the table again with three places, more rooster bread, eggs and sausages. She then invited the black woman who worked in the house and the black gardener to come and enjoy breakfast at the table. I was amazed because I never saw this on the farm.
One morning, back on the farm I left the house through the back door and saw the maids under a tree around a pap pot where they ate the porridge using their hands. I asked Ouma Susan why Ouma Hannetjies’ maids can eat at the table and the same food that she made for us and our maids must eat under a tree using their hands. Her answer was short: “Because!”
In our home, I remember having the same discussion with my mom. The maid and the gardener had to sit on the grass and eat. They had a plate and a cup, but these were made of tin and was never used by us. If for some reason, the maid or gardener used a regular glass, my mom would mark it with nail polish so that it would never be used by one of us again. I asked my mom about this on many occasions and got the same answer that Oom Jan got from his mom. “Because!”
I remember the impression it made on me whenever I witnessed my Oupa Eben, Oom Jan’s dad, beating his workers with a ship because they were either late or did something he instructed them not to. It made a lasting impression on me. Like Oom Jan, I must have been around 6 or 7 years old and what stood central to me was the value and dignity of all humans. I remember looking at it and vowing that I will never treat another human being with such disrespect.
6. Pooe, Petrus
– Bakwena ba Mogopa
I am introduced to the life story of Petrus Pooe (pronounced as in ‘toy’). His story is connected to the Bakwena ba Mogopa. Let’s first look at who the Bakwena is. “Traditions record that the Bakwena (The Crocodile clan), and the Bahurutshe were closely related (brothers??), at one time sharing a common token (the Eland), indicative of their having been one community. Like the Bahurutshe they trace their lineage back to the (largely mythical) figure of Masilo (supposedly their father). Around 1600 they emerged as a more distinct lineage. They occupied territory around the lower reaches of the Odi (Crocodile ) River, at a place named Rathateng. They relocated to a number of different sites in the close vicinity, eventually settling at the Majabamatswa hills northeast of present-day Brits, between approximately 1730 and 1750. It is remembered that this occurred during the rule of Ditswe Tlowodi. Prior to this, however, a number of the Bakwena moved with Malope to the Mochudi district of modern Botswana. This area was well served by a number of perennial rivers the Odi, Apies and Hennops. Another faction moved to modern Botswana under Malope. Ditswe was succeeded by his son, More IX who ruled from about 1750 to 1770. This occurred during the period of conflict given the name difaqane. More IX centralized and controlled the Bakwena earning a reputation as a fearsome warrior. The Bakwena were locked in conflict with the Bakgatla and Bapo, a Transvaal Ndebele. Kgosi More was not the rightful kgosi,(chief) however, and when he refused to hand back control of the merafe to his brother Tsoku, a division of the community occurred, More moving away to the west of the Pienaars River.
Tsoku, however, was not a popular ruler, earning a reputation for the cruel treatment of his people. He allegedly demanded exorbitant numbers of cattle in the form of tribute from the Bakwena. He was also no match for the Bakgatla, and was forced to request the assistance of his brother More, who once more took control of the merafe. Tsoku was allegedly assassinated and his retinue fled to seek sanctuary among the baPedi. Around 1820 the Bakwena were attacked by a combined force comprising of the Bakgatla, the Bahwaduba and the Batlhako.
This was followed by a series of cattle raids by the Bapedi whether this was at the instigation of Tsokus followers, then residents with the Bapedi, is not clear. By 1822 the Bakwena were pretty well subjects of the Bapedi. In 1836 Andrew Smith the naturalist and traveller was informed by the Bakwena that they had lost a lot of their cattle to the Bapedi. Worse was to follow when Mzilikazis Matebele entered the western highveld. More, though now in a weakened state, attempted to resist, but the Bakwena were overrun and incorporated into the emergent Matebele kingdom. Traditions record that More was killed by the intruders. Smith recorded that when he encountered the Bakwena, they trusted for food entirely on game and corn and they had no cattle.
For just over a year I searched for the enigmatic and spiritually significant “hole in the rock” on Wolhuterskop, ancestral home of the Bapô. My kids, Tristan and Lauren often accompanied me and a friend, Carlo Robertson and his fiancé accompanied me once. On 12 October 2019 I found it by chance with Lauren when, returning to our car, she asked that we explore one more footpath. The Bapô and Bakwena are close neighbours and inter-marriage occurred over the years so that they remain very close.
During the rule of Mmamogale XIII, the Voortrekkers displaced the Matebele (with the assistance of various allies). Now impoverished, the Bakwena had to work for the Boers. Many of them were incorporated into Boer society as so-called Oorlams. Mmamogale, to evade the exactions of the Boers, relocated to modern Lesotho, where he remained until the War of Sequiti (the Basutoland Gun War) returning in 1868 to Mantabole (Bethanie). The Bakwena ba Mogopa were now divided into five sections. Bethanie in the Rustenburg district, Hebron and Jericho in the Pretoria district, and at Brits and Ventersdorp. Those at Bethanie, Jericho and Hebron were all under the aegis of the Hermannsburg Mission Society. The missionaries afforded them security and assisted them to obtain land. The different sections of the merafe were partly independent, but recognized the authority of the Bethanie faction, under the rule Mmamogale family. During the rule of J.O.M. Mamogale in the 1920s however, the Jericho and Hebron residents refused to pay tax for the purchase of the farm Elandsfontein, from which they would derive no benefit. The South African authorities, in the form of the Native Affairs Department (NAD), had to resolve the conflict and decide whether the different sections were autonomous or under Mmamogales authority. The matter went to the Supreme Court. Though even the NAD officials were divided, the court ruled in favour of Mmamogale. Even then the rebel factions refused to pay the levies and to recognize Mmamogale. The unity of the Bakwena was shattered and to all intents and purposes, they were made up of five autonomous sections.
Even within Bethanie, Mamogale lost control, and civil conflict, the worst the Rustenburg district has experienced, ensued. A so-called Vigilance Committee was established, ostensibly to support the Kgosi, but it then turned against Mamogale. Supporters and opponents of Mamogale were engaged in a prolonged conflict, which spilt over to the Lutheran church. Many of Mamogale’s opponents, and those of his successor, Daniel More, joined the Bakwena Lutheran Church, a separatist movement. In 1941 they went on a rampage and burnt down the Hermannsburg mission church. This was followed by assaults on the missionary himself, on the police and some government officials. Daniel Mores uncle took over the reins after the former’s death in 1946, and some degree of order was restored to the Bakwena at Bethanie.
It was Bethanie where Lauren and I visited the old Lutheran Church one weekend. Importantly for my own quest, the Bakwena is distinct from the Transvaal Ndebele living in the Magaliesburg region, the Bapo of Wolhuterskop where I am located their elusive and sacred hole in the rock. The other interesting fact of the linage of Malope dovetails into my wondering at the ancient village close to Heidelberg, at least according to one account. According to this, Malope had two children. One was a daughter called Lehurutshe the eldest by the first wife, and a son, Kwena, by his second wife. After the death of Malope a split occurred. Some of the Bakone encouraged Lehurutshe to claim the chieftainship, for, though a woman, she was the daughter of the senior but most would not be ruled by a woman when there was a male.
This quarrel led to a split. Lehurutshe, at the head of a considerable following, left the capital Majanamatshwanaand went to live in Tsoenyane, then known as Lesosong, now the town of Heidelberg where I hiked between the ancient stone ruins many times.
On their way to Lesosong, they went through a pass of the Mokgana Mountains (Magaliesberg). So, they must have lived North of the Magaliesberg. I later years they removed from Lesosong, crossed Kokotsi (Witwatersrand), and settled in the Madiko (Marico) Valley. The followers of princess Lehurutshi were then named Bahurutshe after her and those of Kwena was called Bakwena. There is another version according to which Malope had four sons – Mohurutshe, Kwena, Ngwato, Ngwaketse. Mohurutshe, the heir apparent, rebelled against his father, left the capital and founded his own independent kingdom.
– Enters Petrus Pooe
Petrus was born in 1902 on the farm Arcadia in the Free State. The farm was owned by a Mr Dannhauser. Both names of Arcadia and Dannhauser are familiar in the northern parts of the Free State, close to Vredefort. On my grandmothers side, Tannie Baby Dannhauser was married to Oom Piet Dannhauser. Tannie Marietjie Human tells me that Tannie Baby is my Ouma Susan’s and her cousin (niggie). That makes the Dannhausers from the Northern Free State family, through my grandmother on my mom’s side. Today, the farm Arcadia, in the Vredefort is still in the Dunnhauser family. I got to know the family who owns the far and I will certainly pay them a visit one of these days.
Petrus remembers that his father grew maize and sorghum. The grain was sold at Heilbron or Wolwehoek or at Dover station if the crop was small. Each family had their own field, but livestock grazed communally. He remembers that the relationship between black and white farmers was very good in those days. Often a black man would borrow a span of oxen from a Boer. Sometimes a Boer would borrow a span of oxen from his black tenants. On the farm was a small farm school that attracted children from the surrounding farms. Naphtali Pooe, another of Petrus’s uncles was a man of some education. He was the teacher. For reasons not clear, Petrus never attended school at Arcadia and first attended school after they had left Arcadia in 1913. As war clouds were gathering that would eventually lead to World War One, Petrus was still a young man but remembers vividly how their freedoms were being encroached upon. “Our elders got together to consider the difficult period that lay ahead. The immediate option was that of tracking down our morena (chief) to brief him about the difficult times that were in view. They went up north to Bethanie near Brits….”
This is the exact community where Lauren and I found ourselves one week after she had a serious accident, in the most unlikely encounter when we not only drove to Bethanie without a clear reason but ended up, right at the Lutheran Mission that is so intimately associated with this main Bakwena ba Mogopa community. Petrus Pooe was part of the Bakwena ba Mogopa. It was a policeman at the Hartebeespoort police station who suggested to us that we drive to Bethanie and see what we can learn about the Bakwena people. It was the accident that took us to the police station to report the accident and do the affidavits. Serendipity at its best is defined as the act of finding something valuable or delightful when you are not looking for it. It is astounding to me that in searching for the history of the Bapo and the Bakwena, I am faced with my own history. I am learning their customs and traditions while I am re-discovering those of my own people.
– A New Home
Petrus Pooe’s father and uncles were far-sighted enough to know that their time of largely unhindered tenure on the northern Free State farms was coming to an end. White farmers were extending their control over productive resources by demanding that they share in the crops of their black tenants from a half to two-thirds of the crop and the number of cattle black tenants was allowed to keep were being restricted.
The Native Land Act (No. 27 of 1913) prohibited black land purchases in white areas and assigned black ownership to designated black reserves which comprised around 7% of the land. It was these curtailing of their freedom that prompted the elders to track down their chief and brought them to Bethanie, just north of Brits, to chief Mamogale, chief of the Bakoena.
The chief consulted with the Bakoena in council. The outcome was that it was decided that Bethanie is too small even for the residents living there, let alone accepting new residents. The chief was asked to help them find a place elsewhere. They did not have money to buy land, but they had cattle.
In 1911 Phiri-ea-Feta, a Councillor of Mamogale, came to the Free State to inform Petrus’s parents that there was a farm between Koster and Ventersdorp which would be a good buy. The elders were aware of the fact that there was not a good water resource on this farm but they were desperate and assured Phiri-ea-Feta that they would solve the water problem. Their first option was to purchase land close to Bethany, but when nothing became available and on account of their increasingly desperate situation, they agreed on this farm, despite its distance from their tribal chief’s village.
For three years they collected money to buy the farm Swartrand or Mogopa, as it became known to the inhabitants, in the name of chief Mamogale. So it was that the three brothers Pooe and their families, confronted with the ultimatum from their landlord at Arcadia, set off in about September 1913 for their new home, their three wagons pulled by spans of big red oxen.
Petrus remembers that the Vaal River was in flood, and describes the difficulty experienced in crossing it above Lindequesdrift. “I had never seen such drama in my life,” he says. He remembers his father feeling the depth of the water with the handle of his oxen whip, his brother Samuel leading the oxen into the water until it was swirling around his chin, the surging river dislodging bags of grain from the wagons. At last, they reached Swartrand and set about building their new home on the land allotted to them.
– His Humanity
What is striking is his humanity. Life at Mogopa was hard. They did not have enough water, grazing pasture for the cattle or land to grow crops. Disease caused them to lose almost everything they had and Petrus moved off the land in search of work. After a spell in Ventersdorp and Potchefstroom, he moved to Johannesburg where he found employment in a butchery, delivering meat on a push bicycle. The hardship did not cause him to lose his humanity and there is no evidence that it made him bitter.
An incident in his life as a young man would illustrate this. It was during this time that Petrus remembers seeing sixteen black men inspanned before a laden wagon on the road near Potchefstroom. He recalls that “they were a full span of sixteen men, inspanned and pulling the wagon. I stood and stared as I could not believe my eyes. At first, I was not even persuaded that they were people. As they had short trousers on they looked like ostriches. I then thought that it was a Boer using ostriches as draught animals. I drew nearer. But luckily, before I got close, I met an elderly man who saw that I was puzzled by what I saw. He anxiously shouted and beckoned to me. I could hear from his shouting that he had something urgent to tell me. He told me to disappear at once as I would be shot by the Boer who had inspanned people like animals.
I obeyed him and went off in the opposite direction. He told me that the men that I had seen were convict labourers being used on the farm. ‘Those people are prisoners and the man with the gun and the whip is very cruel. Never stare at him like that.’ I continued on my way still puzzled that human beings could be used like animals to pull a wagon. Son! I have never ceased to wonder whether what I had seen were real men, pulling a wagon. To this day I am still shocked.” It shows that he never lost his humanity. He was so abhorred by what he saw that even into his old age, it haunted him. Yet, it never made him bitter!
Keegan writes that Petrus was a man without strong political feelings, but he said that when he thinks of the indignities generation of Africans have had to endure, “I have every reason to support our grandchildren for refusing to submit to any form of oppression.” One can not be bitter and still respond to injustice and have compassion! Bitterness poisons. This is a remarkable human quality!
Apart from a tremendous “human heart”, Petrus had a romantic heart also. He fell in love and in 1932 married a young lady. The couple moved to Johannesburg. Even though he maintained his ties of family and identified with Mogapa, which remained his home base to which he would eventually return on retirement, he was now a fully urbanised Johannesburger. For something like 22 years, he worked at the fresh produce market in Newtown. He and his family lived as tenants of one Kgengwe in Bertha Street, Sophiatown, the freehold township that was finally bulldozed by the government in the 1950s. Their children were born there. The one remaining son was in the early 1980s a factory worker in Maraisburg, and his wife worked for a white household as a maid.
Petrus Pooe and his children had never succeeded in acquiring sufficient education to be anything other than unskilled wage employees in town. When asked why he did not proceed with his education, Petrus responded, “In fact in those days schools were not run the way they are nowadays. The major job for boys was looking after cattle. A boy did not have the full week to himself for schooling. We each went to school in turn. That is why we never became really educated.”
Petrus gave another reason why he chose the urban Johannesburg life as a waged employee. This is one more aspect of his humanity that is striking. Like any other human on the face of the earth, Petrus aspired to a better life. He wanted to be a gentleman. He wanted to wash, to be clean and well dressed. In his memory the lure of fashion, as is the case in most young people, was powerful. He remembered that “there was a make of trousers called ‘ragtime’ which were in vogue at that time. Our friends would come back from Johannesburg with these trousers on. We would then think to ourselves that we could be like them if we too went to Johannesburg. We looked down on young men who walked bare-footed and had cracked feet covered with red soil all the time.”
Petrus particularly remembered a male-voice choir led by a young man named Rampulana which occasionally visited Mogopa to perform. He said that “they would come on a Friday well-dressed, clean and truly well-groomed to the amusement of all the local populace. It was after such occasions that most of us would take to rethinking our positions. No sooner would they be gone than we would decide to try our luck on the Rand as well.”
– Loosing Mogopa
Petrus Pooe eventually went on pension and returned to Mogopa. Here he built his house. A direct result of the insecurities of urban life, especially for black people, placed a premium on continued ties to rural communities. His connection to Mogopa was not only a form of security and stability for him but also a refuge for his children. This would remain very typical in South Africa to this day. Petrus’s children sent their own children to Mogopa to be brought up by their grandparents.
Old families like the Pooe retained the right to arable land at Mogopa even though they had no hope to ever work it productively. For this, they needed plough oxen and adult male labour. This state of affairs was not unique to the Pooe family and a new form of entrepreneurship developed. Petrus describes it as follows: “There are many lands. People are not there to plough them. The only group of people who are capable of producing enough from the fields are those who have tractors. In fact, the tractor owners are those people who are making money. If they plough for you, out of ten bags you, the owner of the land, get one bag. Some of them do get sympathetic with their clients. If you are lucky you might get as many as two bags. Beyond that you get nothing. What I am saying is that we have the land, but we are incapable of putting it to use. Only those with tractors can. In order to survive as a farmer, you must have a tractor. Apart from it being expensive you also have to hire a driver if you buy one.
The grossly unequal balance of power between the contracting parties is reflected in the share of the crop – 90 percent – which the entrepreneur is able to claim for himself. Petrus tells that “in earlier times we used to be helped by the children, but today that is no longer possible. The children today are nurses and teachers and therefore not available for work in the fields. Things have changed. Well, I agree with them. The elders have gone through difficult times.”
A bigger problem that the community did not foresee is that Mogopa was deemed to be a black spot, isolated from the nearest part of Bophuthatswana by miles of white-owned farmland. It had to be expropriated and its inhabitants resettled elsewhere. Keegan writes that the resettlement received unprecedented international attention. “Perhaps no single forced removal of African people did more to focus worldwide attention on the ghastly realities of life under apartheid than the destruction of Mogopa. Police encircled the settlement in the early hours of 14 February 1984. The inhabitants were forcibly loaded onto trucks with what belongings they could carry with them and were transported to their new home Pachsdraai in Bophuthatswana.
Most of the families that were removed from Mogopa, ended up, not at the resettlement camp at Pachsdraai, but at Bethanie, where the Bakoena chiefly lineage, descendants of Mamogale under whose auspices the original settlement at Mogopa had been created, still lived. Petrus Pooe was in his eighties when the government trucks came. What became of him is not known. His life encompassed the birth and the death of the community known as Mogopa.
The life and story of Perus Pooe are from, Facing the Storm: Portraits of Black Lives in Rural South Africa by Tim Keegan, 1988, published by David Philip, Cape Town.
Historical Encyclopedia of People of South Africa’s North West Province.A Short History of the Bahurutshe of King Motebele, Senior Son of King Mohurutshe. James Mpotokwane, Botswana Notes and Records Vol. 6 (1974), pp. 37-45
7. Steyn, MT
The trauma of war has an impact on the psyche of people as well as on their bodies. It can lead to a disruption of a humans ability to interact with the environment and can lead to a concept disorder. Nobody in war is immune to this. Andrew Mcleod is quoted by Blake (2016) about the fact that at the end of the war, President M. T. Steyn was completely broken by war stress. He writes, “the psychological impact of stress experienced by the president of the Free State, Marthinus Theunis Steyn, was extremely severe and eventually resulted in serious physical affliction.” (Blake, 2016)
The reason why I mention this is not to have sympathy for Steyn but to say that it is important to understand the psychology and the forces impacting other peoples mental world when we engage them in a discussion. When we talk to farmers or listen to them we must understand the trauma they experience in seeing their neighbours being killed in the most violent and brutal way. When they come face to face with destitute people who have no land and no hope of earning a living to feed their families, both groups are severely traumatised and the fact that they find it challenging to have a meaningful conversation should not be surprising to us. The distress on both sides is real. Turning conflict between the two groups into meaningful dialogue will require creativity and commitment beyond what I see from our present leaders.
Blake, A.. 2016. Broedertwis. Bittereinder en Joiner: Christiaan en Piet de Wet. Tafelberg.
8. Van Tonder, Jonas
There are many stories about kidnapped black children but this one is personal due to its close proximity to my family. I first give the background.
The father of Jan Kok, my maternal great-great-grandfather was, Johan Hendrik Christoffel Kock. He was the great grandfather of my Oom Jan and Uncle Leon Kok. He was born in Robertson op 11 May 1826. He relocated his family from there to the Free State and settled in Windburg district on the farm Besterschrik, 5km north of Korannaberg, where he also passed away on 24 November 1908.
At the outbreak of the Second Anglo Boer War, JHC Kock was 73 and not eligible for military duty. We know that the Windburg Kommando did duty in Natal at the outbreak of the war as well as in the Western Front and that Jan Kok, his son was the Komandant of the Windburg Kommando (his photo is above). We later find him fighting on 18 February 1900 fighting with Cronje at Paardenberg. I located his war diary at the War Museum in Bloemfontein and will update this as soon as I can get my hands on it (and Oom Jan can help me with the translation). If the letter we have that was sent from Ladysmith dated 10.12.1899 is from JW Kok and not his son with the same initials Jan (JW) Kok who only joined the war effort on 5 May 1900, then it means that Jan was in Ladysmith in December 1900.
So, we have three generations of the Kok Family. JHC living on his farm Besterschrik, 5km north of Korannaberg. His son JW Kok living on his farm Kransdrift in the Windburg area who fought in the Second Anglo Boer War from the outbreak in 1899. His son, also names Jan Kok living with him on Kransdrift, joining on 5 May, a week after his dad surrendered with Cronje.
Important for our story is the fact that Jan Kok (Senior) also fought in the Basotho Wars. It must have been the third Basotho War which started in 1867and ended in March 1868 when Britain annexed Basotholand and the British parliament declared the Basotho Kingdom a British protectorate. The Free State forces were compelled to cease military operations as continuing it would now mean that they are engaging the British Empire.
The story of the kidnapping of a small Zulu boy comes to us through the writing of J. N. Brink from around 1920 serving in the Union Army. Brink begins his story with the murder of the Voortrekker, Pier Retief and his compatriots on 6 February 1838 at Umgungundhlovu. In response to this, a commando was raised of mostly burgers from the Winburg district to leave for Natal to assist in defeating Dingaan. JHC Kock was 12 at the time and living in the Cape Colony.
Two of the men from Windburg was Wessel Wessels and A. C. Greyling from Korannaberg. His farm was right next to the mountain and included sections on top. JHC Kock would later buy a farm 5kms away. A. C. Greyling was a cousin of A. C. Greyling who was killed at Umgungundhlovu. Upon their arrival, Dingaan had already fled to Swaziland where he was later murdered. Brink says that with the flight of Dingaan, a number of Zulu children were left behind. The Boers caught a number of them under the pretext “to save them from starvation.” (as if there were only Zulu kids left and not a single Zulu adult)
Greyling caught a Zulu boy of around 7 years old and a man with the surname Van Tonder, a friend of Greyling, restrained the boy in front of his horse. The boy remembered the moment of his capture for the rest of his life and often told the story that when they were chasing him, he ran into a bush, but Baas Abraham (Master Abraham) grabbed him.
Greyling gave him the name Jonas van Tonder and he was raised by Greyling on his farm Van Soelenshoek. He later bought him a wife from among the Swazis during a time of famine and her name was Swartjie (Little Black). They were faithful workers (volk).
Jonas became the rear rider for Greyling, responsible for carrying provisions, setting up camp and also serving as protection from the back for Greyling during the Basotho War of 1868. This is one of the commandos that Jan Kok could very likely have been a part of. Of course, I will not know this for certain without a lot more information, but the likelihood is there. In light of the fact that he grew up on Besterschrik, 5km north of Korannaberg, and the farm of Greylin, Van Soelenshoek, was against the Koranberg, they definitely knew each other.
When the Kommando entered Basotholand, which must have been early in 1868 since the English declaration of Basotholand as a protectorate happened in March of that year, he advised the Boers on more than one occasion. One example is when the Boers took cattle from the Basotho’s and wanted to leave the cattle. Jonas told them that it would be a big mistake since it would give the Basotho’s courage and they would charge them.
During the charge on Tiennieberg, Greyling and Jonas were responsible for guarding a footpath at the mountain. Jonas was armed with a long sanna-rifle which he held upright. It was already dusk when a couple of Boers came past. One of the Boers walked into Jonas’s long rifle. The Boer said, “Uncle, you must turn your tent pole away a bit (Oom, jy moet jou tentpaal ‘n bietjie wegdraai.) Jonas replied in the Afrikaans vernacular of the time, which would only have been permitted amongst White’s, ” No cousin (Nee neef), I won’t turn my tent pole away. I must stand my ground” (Ek draai my tentpaal nie weg nie. Ek moet my plek in besit hou) The Boer did not know that it was Jonas and the following morning Jonas kept himself aloof so that no-one would discover what happened.
One of the other duties he had was as a translator from a high cliff across a valley when the kommandant wanted to negotiate with the Basotho.
Based on the faithful execution of his duties, after the war, Greyling bequeathed around 50 morg (4 morgen is 1 hectare) of his farm on top of Korannaberg to Jonas and his wife in his will. Here, Jonas planted an orange grove and a garden close to a strong water spring.
His house was an overhanging cliff. He made a house of it by erecting a stone wall in front of the overhang. Later his children helped him to construct two rondawels (round houses with thatched roofs) not far from his overhang house. He furnished these with beds and bedding. Swartjie saw to it that everything was always clean and neat because she could not know when white people would unexpectedly show up to look at their place and view things from on top of the mountain and to talk to Jonas about all his experiences.
In those days, due to the distance between the towns, it was necessary to keep a coffin handy. In their attic was a coffin for the widow of A. C. Greyling. At the age of 96, she saw her 5th generation. When she passed away she was buried in a better coffin and the coffin in Jonas’s attic was donated to him.
Jonas passed away on Korannaberg in 1917 and is buried there. Many visitors attended his funeral. His wife passed away years later in the location in Windburg where she is buried. When it was communion on Marquard, ds. Theron and his elder regularly went to Koranaberg the following Monday and walked the steep road to Jonas’s house where they served communion to Jonas and Swartjie.
During the battle of Mushroom Valley, during the rebellion, Jonas, advanced in years, was looking down on events below. He saw three Boers climbing the mountain. They told him that they were rebels that fled to the mountain and enquired if he could show them the way to the farms below. The old man Jonas told them to be very careful while he pointed to the farms below indicating which farmers are pro-government. He then said that the farm to the far-right belonged to a farmer who is a good man and would definitely help them. He supplied them with food and his wife gave them coffee after which they descended the mountain and made it to the farm where the farmer assisted them.
Brink concludes with these words. “They were strangers from Harrismith. The memory of Jonas van Tonder will live on and he fully deserves the honour and respect of those who knew him.”
Would I have Supported the War?
I want to lastly return back to where this discussion started, at the Anglo Boer War and ask the question of what my view would have been. Initially, I have no doubt that I would have supported it, especially if I lived at that time! Particularly if I was in my 20s or 30s. Hindsight is, however, a wonderful thing and we can evaluate the total impact of this war on the nation. It is reported that the Boer War had catastrophic consequences for the Boer. There was of course the massive loss of life. Additionally, it took the Afrikaner decades to recover economically. More than 30 000 Boer houses were destroyed, towns were completely destroyed complete herds of livestock were killed and planted fields were ruined in totality. The number of economically poor and marginalized poor white Afrikaners (armblankes) were increased so dramatically as the result of the war, that it remained with the country for years to come. The number of farm owners who became farmworkers (bywoners) after the war skyrocketed and so, generational wealth and stability were eradicated for many. Following the war, the Afrikaner had to fight, again, for the survival of their language. Decades of economic progress were wiped out! (Blake, 2016)
The other matter that impacts my own evaluation is that I lived through the latter parts of Apartheid and through the transition to democracy. Many lives were sacrificed on both sides of the struggle. The religious, legal and political Afrikaner leaders gave the kind of justification for Apartheid that was often given in support of the Boer War. “One nation before God” – that kind of thing! Having come out of that system disillusioned and having experienced indoctrination through the instrument of nationalism, I have, however, vowed to never look at life in such simplistic terms again. Well, that is, as far as I can help it. I learned that there is never just one side of the story and even if your course is just, there is still the question to ask – do you want to act based on what is RIGHT or do you want to act based on what will yield the best outcome! In light of this, I completely disagree with those who claim that an alternative view of the Boer War, i.e. being against the war, is held by traitors.
My problem with the war is that I doubt that it was the smartest option. Just in general terms, I consider myself free to disagree with my leaders. Yes, I am a Boer and an Afrikaner which for me are synonyms. I love my language and my history. However, I am also a member of the human race and if laws of governments, including my government, is inherently unjust; if war is declared for a cause that I do not support or if a cause that I do support is being protected through acts of war which I may not support – then I can disagree and if I feel its the best course of action, to even oppose! As much as I am thankful for my Afrikaans heritage, just because I am born into a culture, no matter how proud I am of that culture, does NOT mean that I sanction the entire history of that group and if there is an aspect of the history of that group that I don’t agree with, I am free to disagree. It is unfair to ask that I sacrifice my mind and my ability to think for myself! More important than the right of independence of the group is the right of independence of the individual! I can not be the slave of a group or nation, not even the Afrikaner nation and I can not by default be expected to agree with their ideology in every aspect!
Even writing this makes me smile because is this very attitude not born from Calvinism whereby each man and woman are personally and individually answerable to God and God alone? My attitude certainly reflects this undercurrent and, is it not one of the exact attitudes that caused the War in the first place. The best I can do is to recognize it and to poke some fun at my own firm convictions on this matter! 🙂
The brothers Christiaan and Piet de Wet bring these issues in my mind clear to the fore. It works out that I respect both Christiaan de Wet as well as his brother Piet. My respect for Piet is that, despite a lot that can be said against him, in the end, he was conflicted and did what his conscience dictated. It is not the place to do a full discussion on Piet. For this, I commend to you the work of Blake which is available on ebooks also. A brilliant work! I feel proud of the courage of men like Cronje who, despite his own shortcomings, gave the war effort his best. I even have respect for men like Vilonel and Prinsloo. This is a statement that I have to qualify. At times these men were open and honest about their view of the war, to such an extent that I wonder how could Steyn and Christiaan De Wet NOT have known about their vacillation. I will mention Piet, especially in this context. They acted based on great self-interest which could be seen as selfish, but taken the totality of the situation into account, including the poor decisions of Christiaan de Wet and Steyn, one can not help to think that overall this was a grand mess and to find heroes and villains, you have to disregard a truckload of information on all of the main players. I can not bring myself so far as to choose sides and especially if I put myself in their situation and I consider all the salient facts of their lives. No matter what I believe about myself, my own choices I make every day are based on self-interest and I am grateful that my choices are not set up in such a way that if I choose for my family and myself, that I severely disenfranchise someone else. In the life of Piet and Christiaan de Wet, I believe circumstances conspired against them in such a way that in the end, their choices had very negative effects on others. I do not believe this was their choice!
My opposition to the first war would have been in support of the equality of all men and in opposition to the treatment of black Africans. My opposition to the Second Anglo Boer Wars would have been based on my support for the Boer and Afrikaner Nation since I would have chosen material prosperity over ideology. I would further have objected based on the fact that both Britain and the Afrikaner continued to ignore the inherent right of the Black nations to govern. In this regard, the war in its totality was in a way illegitimate, in my view, because it was based on two groups both with dubious claims to the riches of the land. The view that only those who supported the wars were patriots is complete madness! In my view, the exact opposite may be true and most certainly was true in the latter parts of the war.
I see a lot of ego being served on the side of the Boer through the pro-war faction and, as I said before, the currency they used to pay for their own egos were the lives and prosperity of the Afrikaner! I see the evil imperialisms of the British on the other hand also, but exactly because of this, I would gladly have chosen the option which at least would ensure greater economic prosperity for the country. This is my personal view and I fully accept those who don’t agree with me. I boldly state my position, just as those who hold to different convictions are welcome to do so. I am not insulted or offended if they state their views and likewise, they should not be offended by mine. In the end, what we can all agree on is our great heritage and our mutual love for our people!
Having said all of this, there is, I believe, an even more excellent way and that is to follow the example of the Kok-family in these matters. They were able, I believe, to bring all these different strands together in a unique way by doing all of it. They fought the British and reached out to the black population in a way that is far more meaningful than most of their generation did namely through a lifetime of service. It would be very strange, I think if they shunned the Piet de Wet’s of their time and the area where they lived. As we have seen, there were many in the Windburg, Theunissen, Fickburg areas. Tom went to a church where Theunissen was a leader, while he was still alive! If they referred to them as Traitors, it would be surprising to me and contrary to the evidence. What we know for sure is that they did not shun the English, despite the war. I doubt if the grandchildren and great-grandchildren would have married English women if their parents and grandparents hammered into their heads how evil the English is! In general, the Kok family, to this day, is known as hearty and warm people who desire nothing more than to work hard, provide for their own, to mind their own business and to be at peace with all humans! They are good neighbours and always willing to lend a helping hand wherever they can. Salt of the earth kind of people!
(c) eben van tonder
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