The good old days at Kaapmuiden
When I saw Kaapmuiden on the cover of your Winter Issue ( Platteland #11), my heart leapt. It led to a sleepless night as the events of more than 60 years ago flashed before my eyes.
That multicoloured painted silo was one of many playgrounds where we trampled the silage as the maize was chopped up and blown into the tower. We liked to see who could jump the highest from the shutters onto the silo floor – I was usually the champion – and it was also the place where I first kissed a girl undisturbed.
My father, Piet, was the manager of the jersey dairy on the one side and the piggery on the other side of the tower. There, I not only learnt to milk and warmed my feet in the steaming fresh dung in winter but also witnessed my father weeping when hundreds of healthy pigs had to be shot and incinerated in long trenches after swine fever broke out in the Kruger National Park. The stuff smouldered for almost a year.
I was one of the Grade 1 learners who started school in the new school building in 1951. Tant Lucie Badenhorst was my teacher, and later Miss Japie Beetge and Oom Frikkie Botes – the best teachers in the world. Our house was on the road between the school and the station. (The last time I drove past Kaapmuiden, I saw our rondavel house had been transformed into a fruit-and-vegetable shop.)
Kaapmuiden was a happy community. The main employers were the farms of Oom Johan Badenhorst and Laurie Wiid, South African Railways and Harbours, and the Patoma cannery. A&A Hollman and Pieter van der Westhuizen were the two shop owners; Bill Grant Garage had everything to keep wheels turning; and Oom Zeeman sold the best meat in his butchery. The hotel was a much-needed watering hole, and the station café kept all the necessary refreshments – and was also the only place where you could buy the Sunday newspapers.
The post office was one of my favourite hangouts. One of the exchange girls used to board with us and would allow us to come and “help” at night on the manual exchange. “Number, please? Line busy; please hold.” Or “They’re not at home; I’ll call Jan Kruger, because that’s where they’re visiting.” I also remember how we stood at the post office window to watch and listen how the postmaster, Mr Murray, sent and received telegrams using Morse code.
We were carefree and free, and the world was our playground. I still wonder whether our parents knew about everything we got up to: in the mountain we played in prospecting tunnels and climbed to the top, where we’d loosen rocks and send them thundering down the slope; from swimming in the river we got bilharzia; and in the Kruger National Park we’d shoot at birds with our catapults, and at hippos from a high vantage rock, as we believed their skins were too thick to feel anything. One day we were caught red-handed by Fauna & Flora officials patrolling the area by bicycle. They wanted to take us to our fathers to complain, but after begging them not to, I played a trump card: we’d show them where the poachers set their traps.
I’m leaving the best for last… At Nelspruit High School, boys and girls weren’t allowed to mix except for an hour of “relaxation” on Saturday nights, under hawk-like supervision. We had to wait for those weekends we would head home by train on Friday nights – without any supervision – and back on the Sunday evening. The lot on the train understood one another’s needs: there was little time, the kyse back at school would be forgotten for a few hours and true love wasn’t that important. I always felt aggrieved because the bunch that got on the train at Komatipoort had three times more time than I had! Our freedom on that train was vrytyd indeed, but it flew by.
Thank you, Kaapmuiden, thank you very much!