A collector’s Dream

Most probably by far the largest (private) collection of curiosity and antiques in the Overberg region in the Western Cape, South Africa, can be found in some barns in the ‘outback’ of Napier. Skilled craftsman Mike Pope has been collecting the items during his entire life.

 

When visiting him he apologizes himself for the mess. There are still rooms where parts of his collection are piled up, waiting for restoration. The barns and his house are stacked with surprises from floor to ceiling. It’s different world out there and wandering through his collection I find it no surprise that there is an interest from diverse museums.

The age of the thousands of items goes back to far beyond the Boer War but there are also newer things like an electric grass cutter which, he says, will be a curiosity in a hundred years time …

By picturing his collection I did not use artificial light nor did I use a tripod. Some indoor pictures are shot with an ISO of 640, A 2.8 and S 1/6 second. On special personal request and for security reasons no indication of the location of this PRIVATE collection is given.

Living Apart Together

A few days ago I published my first online book review for the blog of bookshop Hemingways of Hermanus (a literary ‘attraction’ in Hermanus, South Africa). You will see it below the photo gallery. The same review on the FB-page Read any good books lately experienced an overwhelming number of responses.

Although this blog is first and foremost dedicated to photography of the world around me (wherever I am) I now make an exception in writing about the personal background that made me write this review.

Many things have changed in South Africa, for the good and the bad. But changing the mindset of people ….. ? When we emigrated from The Netherlands to South Africa in April 2000 one of our new neighbours (German born) in the Klaas Voogds Valley near Robertson said to us: “I’ve been living here for 30 years now and nothing has changed”. This turned out to be an essential truth. On the surface of the society we experienced in the past 15 years that many houses have been build for the “previously disadvantaged” part of the society; tourist influx increased significantly and so on. Still there is segregation, with whites, coloured and black Living Apart Together in different urban areas; a kind of LAT-relation thus with the majority of white still needing cheap labour for gardening and other domestic work and coloured and black people still depending on some income. With many good exceptions within the farming community we also experienced and saw farmworkers pulled on a rope behind a ‘bakkie’ (pick-up truck); beaten up by their employers and paid in ‘dop’ (alcoholic drinks). These problems are not solved overnight and we are not here to change the world but for tourists to South Africa it would be good to be aware of this underlying unrest. We do not blame ‘apartheid’ or ‘Afrikaners’ for this; history proofs different (one should for example know that the British introduced segregation of cultures and races and during the Boer War over 40,000 people -black, coloured and white- died in British concentration camps); although ‘Apartheid’ was based on religious fanaticism of some powerful Afrikaners. What we stand for is mutual respect and equality and that is, looking back, not easy with the majority of people being humiliated for centuries. In Robertson (a wine producing area with, according to a social worker, 70% of the ‘thoroughbred’ Robertsonners of all walks of life born with a Phetal Alcohol Syndrome) it took us 2 years before the first staff member could look us straight in the eye and dared to take own initiative. I must add to this that after our move to Stanford we also discovered another more open minded South African approach between cultures. But still; Cape Town is a wonderful city but one with most of the population living in shacks …. and as everywhere in South Africa; these neighbourhoods are ignored by the ‘Happy Few’.

It’s a grim picture I sketch here but let’s face reality. It’s real but who sees it? Or wants to see it? This week the president held his annual State of the Nation. It was like a soap opera with almost one third of the parliament leaving (some forcefully removed by armed security) after disruption by one of the parties. Real democracy is far to seek in this country (even people who say they are democrats don’t know how to practice this) and yet, with all this turbulence, we love this country with its stunning vistas and many wonderful and colourful people; great story-tellers, poets, artisans and artists, etc..

I might sound idealistic but sometimes I wonder how people of different backgrounds can achieve a better mutual understanding. Oh … I can tell you what a learning curve one undergoes by living in a shack for some days without electricity and sanitation in the bushes plus one tap cold water for a few hundred people. And than all those privileged people (me included 😉 ) complaining about load shedding. For many (virtually all) ‘lucky’ people it would be an eye-opener to undergo the ‘shack experience’ in an informal settlement without much or no money in the pocket. I could be a good first step to a better mutual understanding within this fascinating multi-cultural country. And it’s far cheaper than meditating in a decorated and candle-lighted pig stable at a so called ‘retreat centre’ in McGregor … (really; some do believe in that.. 😀 ).

Why am I writing this? When I wrote the brief review of ‘The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena’ these thoughts crossed my mind.

First a few pictures of ‘township life’: (early morning teeth brushing at the communal tap; spaza shop, and overview informal settlement ‘Hopland’ in Stanford with Simba still brushing his teeth 😉 )

 

The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena

Elsa JI guess that most people have never heard or even read, The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena of South African author Elsa Joubert. And yet ‘Poppie’ was voted one of the Top 100 Best Books of the 20th Century. The book was also awarded with the Winifred Holtby Prize by the British Royal Society of Literature.

What’s a special about this book? Or, even better; what is so special about the ‘Afrikaner’ South African author?

The first book of Joubert that came under my eyes was Isobelle’s Journey which is an unique account of the lives of an ordinary South African (Afrikaans) family against the backdrop of a century of national and international upheaval. Reading this book I noticed that Joubert does not only have the ability to creep into the skin of her characters but also let the readers experience the personages from deep within. What an achievement, I thought and truly enjoyed my first encounter with the work of Elsa Joubert. I read books of many known and lesser known South African writers such as Brink, Van Heerden, Niekerk and Leipold but never underwent such an engagement with the personages. I bet that Joubert must have been photographing with the same early 20th century cameras as Frikkie, one of the personages; just to get the feeling.

But than ‘Poppie’ (English translation from Afrikaans published in 1980 by Jonathan Ball Publishers; ISBN 0340 25047 x). It took Joubert several years after her first meeting with Poppie (fictional name). Poppie a ‘black’ IsiXhosa woman went to Joubert for help and advise after the Cape Town riots had broken into the heart of her family. From listening to Poppie and years of research and questioning, the novel slowly got shape.

The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena is a story of a family over three generations and of one woman’s struggle to keep it together during the turbulent years of separation and Apartheid.

Joubert keeps politics as much as possible outside this story but wrote a story celebrating the human capacity to survive a repressive system. For a writer with a deep Afrikaner background, grown up under ‘Afrikanerdom’ and Dutch Reformed Church dogmas, it is remarkable how Joubert’s ability to become one with her characters also involved people from other South African cultures that were regarded as ‘lesser humans’ and, by a minority of Afrikaners, still are. With ‘Poppie’ Joubert succeeded, during apartheid years, in writing a story about true humanity, about a woman with one foot in modern Western life and the other still deeply rooted in tribal cultures.

A book review: The Boer War

It’s very unusual that I write a book review although I read many books. Writing a book review in a photography blog goes beyond usual but since I like the unusual … 😉

I’m living now for fourtheenandahalf year plus almost two months in South Africa and have read many books about its history but this one about THE BOER WAR beats them all….

BoerWarDe Boeren Oorlog (The Boer War) Author: Martin Bossenbroek. Publisher: Athenaeum, Amsterdam. ISBN: 9789025369934/NUR686

I’ve read many books about the history of South Africa, virtually all written by English and Afrikaans speaking South Africans and that includes literature about the Boer War (1899-1902). But never a book written from such a wide perspective (and from a variety of angles) as this 610 pages (including >40 with footnotes and index) masterpiece. It’s written in Dutch and hopefully English translations will be on the market soon for it should be read by South Africans of all walks of life… Until so far I only read books about the subject written from British or Afrikaner perspective. This book adds the Dutch angle to both perspectives. ‘The Dutch connection’ as Bossenbroek writes plays an important role in the years before the Boer War broke out. The story is mainly based on diaries, notes, letters, memoires and articles of British war correspondent Winston Churchill, Boer commander Deneys Reitz and Willem Leyds (Dutch State Attorney in the Transvaal).

The Boer War is intriguing is many aspects. It shows clearly that history repeats itself and that every war is nothing more than a ‘power game’ (or ‘money game’ if you like) on the expense of innocent people. It also learns that the British introduced ‘concentration camps’, which they already did a few centuries before in Australia, with the difference that this time more than 40,000 people (of the estimated >200,000) died in bizar circumstances during their ‘internship’; mainly children. It took over 100 years before the English government made some kind of apology … The Boer War is a ‘forgotten’ war but many used strategies (policies, etc.) were repeated (and sometimes perfected) in World Wars 1 (1914-1918) and 2 (1939-1945) by all involved parties (‘aggressors’, ‘allies’ and ‘resistance’).

In our previous South African residence (in a farm community near Robertson in the Western Cape) one of our neighbours once said (in Afrikaans) that a “book about Africa, South Africa included, can only be written by a true Afrikaner” ….. In essence not much has changed since the Boer War.

The (his)story of the Boer War begins in 1884 in the Amstel Hotel in Amsterdam ….