Oupa Bekker mentioned another occasion on which a border patrolman came and assumed duty in the Marico, for the first time.
‘Of course, I’m talking of very long ago, now,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘The patrolman’s name was Duvenhage, and we could see that they had explained to him in Pretoria that his most important work would be to put down the awful cattle-smuggling that was going on here, in those days.’
‘Oh yes, in those days, of course,’ Gysbert van Tonder said, quickly.
Jurie Steyn challenged Gysbert van Tonder at once.
‘What do you mean by saying “in those days”, like that?’ Jurie Steyn asked. ‘What about the bunch of cattle with wide horns and all colours you’ve got in the camp by the kloof, there, right now? I suppose you’ll tell us next that you bought them on the Johannesburg market.’
‘And I expect that why you keep that herd in the kloof,’ Chris Welman observed to Gysbert van Tonder, sarcastically, ‘is because they’re the sort of cows and oxen that don’t like people to come prying into their affairs.’
‘Especially when they’ve still got Bechuanaland Protectorate clay between their hoofs,’ Jurie Steyn remarked. ‘Turf clay.’
So Gysbert van Tonder said that they would have to prove it. And so Jurie Steyn told us what he would have done if he’d been a border patrol policeman, instead of a postmaster. And then Gysbert said that if Jurie Steyn sorted out hoofprints in the dust like he sorted letters in his post office, then you could bring Bechuanaland cattle across the Convention line in broad daylight.
Thereupon Oupa Bekker said what a queer thing it was that there should be so much jealousy among Marico farmers.
‘I mean there isn’t one of us who wouldn’t smuggle in a few head of cattle if he got the chance,’ Oupa Bekker said, ‘and yet when you hear of your neighbour doing it – and you yourself didn’t do it, that time – and you picture to yourself a herd of all sorts of cattle crowded against the barbed-wire fence on one side of your neighbour’s farm, sniffing the wind from the Protectorate, and lowing, why, you get pretty mad about it. It’s almost like you’re also pawing the polgras with your hoofs, sniffing the wind that blows from Bechuanaland.’
We couldn’t but admit that there was much truth in Oupa Bekker’s words. At the same time – as Chris Welman pointed out, then – there was such a thing as overdoing this cattle-smuggling business. And it was people that overdid it who gave all the Marico farmers a bad name, he said.
Gysbert van Tonder sniffed. It was a different type of sniff from the kind Oupa Bekker had been talking about.
‘A bad name!’ Gysbert van Tonder said, his lip curling. ‘Well, there are some people sitting here in this voorkamer, now, that would give any district they stayed in a bad name, just by living in it. Even if they lived in the Cape Peninsula, it would get a bad name – and you can’t tell me there’s any cattle-smuggling going on in the Cape Peninsula. Unless you can smuggle in cattle off ships.’
Gysbert van Tonder grew thoughtful after that last remark. It was as though he was considering the possibilities.
‘Wasn’t Duvenhage the patrolman that was caught smuggling quite a big herd of cattle across the border?’ Chris Welman asked. ‘With his police boys helping him? I seem to remember something about it. The police boys were singing Bechuana cattle songs, with the patrolman joining in.’
‘Yes, the same,’ Oupa Bekker replied, ‘and I still remember my first meeting with him. He asked me where their hangout was. And when I said I didn’t know what he meant, he said the cattle-smuggling kings. The heads in the game, he explained. He wanted to know where they sat, talking and drinking.’
Oupa Bekker said that he could see, from that, that Patrolman Duvenhage’s training on the Illicit Diamond staff in Kimberley had been of such a nature as to leave him somewhat out of touch with conditions in the Groot Marico Bushveld.
‘I mean, I couldn’t go and tell him that there wasn’t such a thing as a gang of foreign cattle-smugglers working in these parts,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘After all, we all know that if there is such a thing as a few head of cattle being brought across the line on a night when there isn’t much of a moon, well, then we know it can be almost any Marico farmer trying to do a bit of good for himself.
‘And we know that there is no particular place where that Marico farmer will go and sit, and drink, and talk about it, afterwards.
‘The only place where a Marico farmer might have a drink would be in the Zeerust bar during Nagmaal. And then he would only talk about the crops, or about the Dominee’s sermon, or about how he’s got the laziest bywoner on this side of the Dwarsberge, and how that bywoner has the impudence to be making eyes at his daughter.’
Oupa Bekker went on to explain the details of a piece of strategy he and his partner, Japie Krige, had thought up, to get Patrolman Duvenhage out of the way on a night when they were going to smuggle cattle into the Transvaal.
‘But that evening,’ Oupa Bekker said, ‘when it was not a Bechuana from Japie Krige that came to my door, but Patrolman Duvenhage, then I knew there was something wrong.’
All the same, Oupa Bekker said, he could tell by Patrolman Duvenhage’s manner that he had not come to arrest him.
‘Duvenhage walked straight into my voorkamer and didn’t even take his helmet off,’ Oupa Bekker said. ‘And when my little yellow brak pup snapped at him, Patrolman Duvenhage landed one with his boot that sent the yellow brak pup flying through the door, and then it travelled about a hundred yards up the road before it turned round to let out a yelp. I could tell from these signs that Patrolman Duvenhage didn’t have a case against me.’
So Gysbert van Tonder said, yes, he knew. It was when a border patrolman came to your house, and was polite, that you had to watch out. It was when the patrolman patted your youngest son on the head, and asked him what class he was in – professing surprise that he should be so far advanced with his education – that the next thing the patrolman would say to you was to get your jacket.
Oupa Bekker said Patrolman Duvenhage had come pretty straight to the point, but it was when Patrolman Duvenhage started talking about how much there would be in it for himself, that an unhappy note crept into the conversation. For Patrolman Duvenhage had spoken, very emphatically, about what he called a rake-off, a word Oupa Bekker had not heard of until then.
‘When Japie Krige arrived at about midnight, with the herd of smuggled cattle, the drovers singing their chorus of a Bechuana cattle song,’ Oupa Bekker went on, ‘he came into my voorkamer prepared to be very indignant, because I had not assisted him at the fence.
‘But when he saw who it was sitting opposite me at the table, Japie Krige turned white. And I have never seen a man hide a pair of wire-cutters behind his back quicker than Japie Krige did then. But Patrolman Duvenhage did not even bother to look up from the figures he was working out on a piece of paper.
‘One thing I’ll say is that Japie Krige and I never brought any more cattle over the line while Duvenhage was the patrolman. We just couldn’t, I mean. Patrolman Duvenhage’s percentage rake-off, that he worked out for us on paper, was too high. In the end, the only man left in the business was Patrolman Duvenhage himself.
‘I often wonder how he came to be transferred from his post in Kimberley.’