From The Rooinek in Mafeking Road
by Herman Charles Bosman
It was in the first year of our having settled around Derdepoort that we heard that an Englishman had bought a farm next to Gerhardus Grobbelaar. This was when we were sitting in the voorkamer of Willem Odendaal’s house, which was used as a post office.
Once a week the post-cart came up with letters from Zeerust, and we gathered at Willem Odendaal’s house and talked and smoked and drank coffee. Very few of us ever got letters, and then it was mostly demands to pay for the boreholes that had been drilled on our farms, or for cement and fencing materials. But every week, regularly, we went for the post. Sometimes the post-cart didn’t come, because the Groen River was in flood, and most of us would have gone home without noticing it if somebody hadn’t spoken about it.
When Koos Steyn heard that an Englishman was coming to live among us, he got up from the rimpiesbank.
‘Nee kêrels,’ he said, ‘always when the Englishman comes, it means that a little later the Boer has got to shift. I’ll pack my wagon and make coffee, and just trek first thing tomorrow morning.’
Most of us laughed then. Koos Steyn often said funny things like that. But some didn’t laugh. Somehow, there seemed to be too much truth in Koos Steyn’s words.
We discussed the matter and decided that, if we Boers in the Marico could help it, the rooinek would not stay among us too long. About half an hour later one of Willem Odendaal’s children came in and said that there was a strange wagon coming along the big road. We went to the door and looked out. As the wagon came nearer, we saw that it was piled up with all kinds of furniture, and also sheets of iron and farming implements. There was so much stuff on the wagon that the tent had been taken off to get everything on.
The wagon rolled along and came to a stop in front of the house. With the wagon there was a man who walked up to where we were standing. He was dressed just as we were, in shirt and trousers and veldskoens, and he had dust all over him. But when he stepped over a thorn-bush we saw that he had socks on too. Therefore we knew that he was an Englishman.
Koos Steyn was standing in front of the door.
The Englishman went up to him and held out his hand.
‘Good afternoon,’ he said in Afrikaans. ‘My name is Webber.’
Koos shook hands with him.
‘My name is Prince Lord Alfred Milner,’ Koos Steyn said.
That was when Lord Milner was Governor of the Transvaal, and we all laughed. The rooinek also laughed.
‘Well, Lord Prince,’ he said, ‘I can speak your language a little, and I hope that later on I’ll be able to speak it better. I’m coming to live here, and I hope that we’ll all be friends.’
He then came round to all of us, but the others turned away and refused to shake hands with him. He came up to me last of all. I felt sorry for him; for although his nation had dealt unjustly with my nation, and I had lost both my children in the concentration camp, still it was not so much the fault of this Englishman. It was the fault of the English Government, who wanted our gold mines. And it was also the fault of Queen Victoria, who didn’t like Oom Paul Kruger, because they say that when he went over to London, Oom Paul spoke to her for only a few minutes. Oom Paul said that he was a married man and that he was afraid of widows.
When the Englishman Webber went back to his wagon, Koos Steyn and I walked with him.
Webber and Koos Steyn became very friendly. Koos Steyn’s wife had had a baby just a few weeks before Webber arrived. It was the first child they had had after being married seven years, and they were very proud of it. It was a girl. Koos Steyn had said that he would sooner it had been a boy; but that, even so, it was better than nothing. Right from the first, Webber had taken a liking to that child, who was christened Jemima – after her mother. Often when I passed Koos Steyn’s house, I saw the Englishman sitting on the front stoep with the child on his knee.
In the meantime the other farmers around there became annoyed on account of Koos Steyn’s friendship with the rooinek. They said that Koos was a hensopper and a traitor to his country. He was intimate with a man who had helped to bring about the downfall of the Afrikaner nation.
Yet it was not fair to call Koos a hensopper. Koos had lived in the Graaff-Reinet district when the war broke out, so that he was a Cape Boer and need not have fought. Nevertheless, he joined up with a Free State commando and remained until peace was made; and if at any time the English had caught him, they would have shot him as a rebel, in the same way they shot Scheepers and others.
Gerhardus Grobbelaar spoke about this once when we were in Willem Odendaal’s post office.
‘You are not doing right,’ Gerhardus said. ‘Boer and Englishman have been enemies since after Slagtersnek. We’ve lost this war, but someday we’ll win. It’s the duty we owe to our children’s children to stand against the rooineks. Remember the concentration camps.’
There seemed to me to be truth in what Gerhardus said.
‘But the English are here now, and we’ve got to live with them,’ Koos answered. ‘When we get to understand one another, perhaps we won’t need to fight any more. This Englishman Webber is learning Afrikaans very well, and someday he might almost be one of us. The only thing I can’t understand about him is that he has a bath every morning. But if he stops that, and if he doesn’t brush his teeth any more, you’ll hardly be able to tell him from a Boer.’
Although he made a joke about it, I felt that there was also truth in what Koos Steyn said.