Go behind the scenes at southern Namibia’s most action-packed church bazaar.
In southern Namibia, one Saturday in May is always marked off on just about everybody’s kitchen calendar: It’s the annual Grünau church bazaar.
During one of my previous visits to the country, Kinna de Wet from White House Guest Farm told me about this gathering of farmers, and about the teamwork and generosity that define the day.
The bazaar is known for its large offering of meat – this is sheep and venison country after all. “We always joke that if there are 23 people at the bazaar, there will be 24 animal carcasses,” Kinna told me.
Grünau is a tiny town in southern Namibia where the main roads from Windhoek, Cape Town and Upington meet. It has a filling station, a hotel, a school, a few houses and a Farmers’ Association hall.
Today there’s a feeling of anticipation in the hall. The smell of mutton sosaties hangs thick in the air and the tables groan under the weight of oat biscuits, jam tarts, ginger snaps, cupcakes, fresh bread, rusks and cakes.
The proceedings haven’t yet begun, but Enna Oberholzer already has her eye on the rusk table. She shares her strategy with me: “Stand near the table and wait until they open the bazaar with a prayer. As soon as you hear “amen”, you start grabbing. I want the boerbeskuit. That’s a quality rusk right there! I’m not moving. If I leave this spot for a second, the rusks will be gone.”
But Enna has competition. “I’m also guarding the rusks,” whispers Petro Bergh as she inches another step closer to the table. “If I have to, I’ll dive for them.”
The stall selling bazaar pudding – an old-school dessert made of whipped evaporated milk and jelly – is also ready for business. “More pudding will arrive soon, but when we run out, we’re out,” says Dedre Swartz behind the table.
Imme van Deventer from the farm Bremen has made blikbrood to sell. “I bake this bread every week because my husband claims that he can’t eat store-bought bread. I suppose we do live 120 km from the nearest town and I only come in every six weeks to do grocery shopping.”
The pancake table is an institution at the bazaar and a team of tannies will soon start pouring batter into the pans. One of the bakers, Petro van Wyk, wears an apron that says hunger is the best cook.
Somehow, the bazaar pancake has managed to beat inflation. These sell for only R5 each. “We bake about 400 to 500, depending on demand,” says Petro as she stirs the batter. “There’s usually a wall of
people around the table.”
There’s also a wide variety of fruit and vegetables for sale: bananas, beans, apples, tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkins, carrots and oranges. “I had to water my vegetables all year long to get this harvest,” says Dolf de Wet as he lines up his pumpkins. Dolf runs the veggie table and will also oversee the auction later in the day.
These are some of the items up for grabs at the auction: a painting of a Toyota Land Cruiser, a watermelon, a towel with yellow Minions on it, a framed artwork with the words “90 % of a farmer’s problems dissolve in rain water”, a cheesecake, boerewors, and a leg of gemsbok.
The kids can try their luck at the tombola table. A turn of the wheel can win you a prize, with options including a packet of chips, prize 1, a lollipop, prize 2 and “Sorry”.
The meat table is abuzz with last-minute activity. “Who’s looking after that sheep carcass? Someone has to start weighing the meat! Where are our comrades?” The pots are full of cooked boerewors and sosaties hot off the grid. The fires outside have been burning since 6 am.
Outside, at the braai area, I chat to Rean “Stoney” Steenkamp from Vastrap Guest Farm. “Meat is what attracts people to the bazaar,” he says. “It’s not a one-man show. Every farmer donates what he can. This is an opportunity to be social. Many of us work hard on our farms and such opportunities are scarce. The church bazaar is the one place we can get together to talk and kuier. Then we all go home again.”
The hall is starting to fill up. There are about 100 people and many are visitors from elsewhere. Willie Vermeulen from the farm Kirchberg is an elder in the congregation and will open the bazaar with a prayer and a reading from the Bible.
“Our dominee moved away in August. Money is tight, but we’ll have a new dominee by the end of the year,” he tells me.
He reads 1 Corinthians 12: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?”
After the reading, a short sermon: “We are all parts of a congregation and members of a community. Let us not think only of the money, but also of the fellowship in faith. We may not have a dominee, but there’s a revival in our congregation. We’re growing spiritually and we work together. All is well with us.”
Then the latest news from the district is shared: “Tannie Kotie passed away, followed by Tannie Elda this week. We remember them. Our congregation has also known joy: Lizette had a baby, Dolf and his wife gained a grandchild and I hear Nicolette is expecting. Congratulations!”
At the end of his prayer, Willie utters the most anticipated “amen” of the year. The bazaar is open and the biscuits are cleaned out within minutes. Money changes hands, someone writes out a cheque and a Casio calculator does fast sums.
Enna and Petro – the rusk ladies – are both smiling. Holding the fort next to the table obviously paid off.
Deon Goussard walks away with R250 worth of biscuits. “It’s just me and my wife so these will last us a while,” he says.
I visit the pancake stall, where I talk to Marais van der Merwe. He runs a B&B in Noordoewer and tries to attend every bazaar on the church calendar. “It’s part of our menswees here in the south,” he says. “Every bazaar has something that makes it special and we should all support each other. My parents raised me with this tradition and I want to do the same for my children.”
I sit down at one of the tables with Molly Joone. She is eating a mutton chop with a red Victorinox pocketknife. “This knife belonged to my late husband,” she says. “He passed away nearly 20 years ago and I used to put it in my handbag when I felt lonely. Now it goes everywhere with me.”
She also brought her own jammerlappie – a damp kitchen cloth used for wiping hands. “I raised five children,” she says. “I’m always prepared!”
The hall is alive with sociable scenes: A child balances on his grandfather’s lap while the adults talk about the drought and a husband and wife sit down to share a sosatie.
Jannie and Heleen de Villiers farm in the district. Heleen is a church deacon and the resident organist. “Our farm is centrally located,” she says. “Everything is equally far away! We’re a small group of people scattered over a wide area, but the church brings us together and the Farmers’ Association keeps us together.”
Jannie went to school in Grünau. “Ever since I can remember there has been a bazaar here,” he says. “Everyone does their part and tries their best to make it a success. We’re about 20 families in the area. One person will donate a gemsbok, another will donate a kudu. We made more than 320 kg of boerewors. Last year the bazaar brought in R135 000 – a huge sum for such a small community.”
The final event on the programme is the auction. Dolf de Wet is the experienced and patient auctioneer. “Do I have a bid for this cheesecake?” he calls. “Remember, you eat it and return the dish!”
“With something else in it!” someone shouts from the audience. The cheesecake goes for R950! Next up is the meat. “Gemsbok chine!” says Dolf. “A little bit of red gold. The meat always brings in more money than the hard work of our artists…”
After the auction, Dolf thanks a few people and calls an end to the bazaar with another prayer. Money is counted, chairs are packed away and bakkies kick up dust as everyone heads home. Soon the hall is empty again.
It’s a tough and isolated life on the farms of southern Namibia. Droughts and jackals are never far off. I talk to a few men remaining outside the hall. “I’d rather be here than not be here,” says André Lötter from Goibib Mountain Lodge.
It’s true. The sense of community experienced here is hard to find and I feel privileged to have been a part of it for a few hours. The people are bound together in a way that city dwellers have either forgotten or have never known.
BAZAAR PEOPLE. Christina Christian (above left) with Hadley Swartbooi (2), Daphne Swartbooi (4) and Richard Christian (6); Ellen van der Walt (above right) and her husband Francois with Adriaan (6 months) and Henru (3).
WHEEL OF FORTUNE (opposite page). Henru van der Walt tries his luck at the tombola table.
KA-CHING! The pancake table makes a solid contribution to the bazaar’s overall profit. Rands and Namibian dollars are both welcome.