A senior attorney recently said he could never understand why, during the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), his grandfather – at the age of fifty-six – one day saddled his horse and rode off to fight for the Boers as a Cape Rebel. The answer may lie in Leipoldt’s historical novel, Stormwrack, which describes civilians being forced, under martial law, to witness the execution of Cape Rebels sentenced to death for treason. There was no more efficient form of recruitment of Cape Rebels than this.
The Cape Rebel in question was subsequently captured and imprisoned, and he remained a prisoner when the war ended on 31 May 1902. The authorities would only release him if someone of means would guarantee a sum of £1 000 to vouch for his future good conduct. His family was unable to do this, and he remained in captivity for months after the war had ended.
Eventually a complete stranger from the Transvaal heard of the Cape Rebel’s plight, furnished the necessary guarantee, and the prisoner was freed. All the family could ever discover about the stranger was his surname, and they were unable to express their gratitude to him personally. So much was this act of generosity appreciated by the family, however, that the Cape Rebel’s son and grandson – both attorneys – never charged a fee to any of their clients who had the same surname as the unidentified benefactor. In this way, without explanation, they matched the silent generosity, years before, of a complete stranger.
One of the characters in Stormwrack, which portrays the war as civil war in the Cape Colony, states: ‘The wounds of civil war leave scars whose sensitiveness is not always dulled by time.’ This rings true, paradoxically, in the gratitude of a legal family that, to this day, has not forgotten the quiet generosity of true heroism – embodying what is noblest in the spirit of the Cape Rebel.