Kuier with the friendly peo­ple of the north

The Groot­fontein Agri­cul­tural Show is the big­gest plat­te­land show in Namibia. For more than a cen­tury, it has been the thread hold­ing this com­mu­nity to­gether. Come with us be­hind the scenes.

Septem­ber is show sea­son in Namibia. Groot­fontein, Keet­man­shoop, Re­hoboth and Gob­a­bis are just some of the towns that get expo fever in spring. It all builds up to the Big One, the Wind­hoek Show, at the end of the month.

Of the agri­cul­tural shows on the plat­te­land, Groot­fontein is the big­gest. It was first held in 1911 and now at­tracts more than 10 000 vis­i­tors over three days. Even though the area be­tween Otavi, Tsumeb and Groot­fontein is known as the mielie tri­an­gle, this show is about the an­i­mals: cat­tle, small live­stock and horses.

At the 2014 show, the motto is “Nat, Nat­ter, Namibië!”. On the back of the pro­gramme, above pho­tos of full rivers and green fields, it reads: “We thank the Lord for the rain. May the next sea­son be equally blessed.”

It’s Tues­day evening and the show­ground is abuzz. A few Flem­ish horses gal­lop un­der the flood­lights on the sports field to the tune of “Ek en my meisie” by Wor­sie Visser. Ev­ery­thing smells like farm and braaivleis.

Out­side one hall, school­child­ren in cater­ing uni­forms wait for the open­ing cer­e­mony to begin. “What do we ac­tu­ally have to do? Do we have to carry things on a tray?” one girl asks. Her friend doesn’t an­swer. She’s on What­sApp.

Over at the amuse­ment park, lights flicker in the dark. The In­verter, a mon­ster of a ma­chine, spins its oc­cu­pants in cir­cles. “Some kids have rid­den the In­verter un­til their noses bled,” says Deon van Blerk, the vice pres­i­dent of the show com­mit­tee.

Deon is at the helm of the Proudly Groot­fontein ini­tia­tive. They re­cently took 250 kids to clean six schools in the area and planted a hun­dred trees. “Small com­mu­ni­ties are won­der­ful,” he says. “I’m al­ways drawn to them. It all re­volves around the school, the church, the town, and the lo­cal agri show.”

I also meet Jo­hann van Heer­den, the show pres­i­dent. “It’s fall­ing down and get­ting up, highs and lows and snot en trane,” he says, talk­ing about the “tough seat” he oc­cu­pies. He tells me how tem­pers flare when the com­pe­ti­tion gets tough: “Men have thrown punches down at the sta­bles. ‘My horse is bet­ter than yours,’ stuff like that. But the com­mu­nity can work to­gether. We’ve been part of the Groot­fontein Show for 103 years. It’s in­cred­i­ble.”

At the open­ing cer­e­mony, the hall is filled with breed­ers, spon­sors, farm­ers and ex­hibitors. Kanaal 7 ra­dio pre­sen­ter Neal van den Berg is the MC and he calls the au­di­ence to or­der. “You guys sit­ting out­side... How do I know you’re lis­ten­ing and not play­ing foot­sie or get­ting into trou­ble?”

Then, on a more sober note: “Ouens, let’s say thanks for a coun­try like Namibia and its won­der­ful peo­ple.”

Dom­i­nee Hen­drik van Zyl opens with scrip­ture and em­pha­sizes that we are the show an­i­mals of God. Speeches fol­low and Jo­hann ends the pro­ceed­ings: “I want to say a real Boere-dankie. May you pick up where you left off last year and en­joy the show.”

Kuier like you’ve never kuiered be­fore

The whole com­mu­nity gets in­volved. Pen­sion­ers keep the show­ground clean and churches and schools op­er­ate food stalls at the horse and cat­tle shows. You can eas­ily wreck your diet with pancakes,

chops, gems­bok steak and pep­per­mintcrisp tart.

Neal van den Berg is the an­nouncer again. Tick­ets to a per­for­mance by Die Camp­bells are up for grabs. Neal asks the au­di­ence: “What is the show sec­re­tary’s sur­name? What is the name of the show pres­i­dent’s dog?”

The stalls sell any­thing you can think of: arts and crafts, kitchen­ware, clothes, toys and snacks. At the Xtreme Body Art stall, peo­ple are queu­ing for tat­toos. Ricci van Ton­der works here and says the most popular de­signs are stars or the names of loved ones, although ac­cord­ing to Ricci get­ting inked with your part­ner’s name “is the dumb­est thing you can do”. She rec­om­mends a de­sign that can be eas­ily al­tered in­stead.

(Ricci also tells me that Namibia is full of in­com­pe­tent tat­too artists with un­steady hands and poor spell­ing abil­i­ties. In Walvis Bay, one “artist” mis­spelled Je­sus as “Juses”.)

At the Gideons In­ter­na­tional stall, chops and sosaties siz­zle on the coals. I chat to Land­man van Gre­unen (77), for­mer show pres­i­dent, for­mer mayor and for­mer school prin­ci­pal. He’s a leg­end in Groot­fontein. Ap­par­ently Land­man doesn’t like English much – the dom­i­nee even goes so far as to apol­o­gise: “Ver­skoon my oom Land­man, maar ek moet nou die vol­gende in En­gels sê…”

“This show is the link be­tween Groot­fontein and the rest of the dis­trict,” Land­man tells me. “It does well. It has never made a loss.”

He re­mem­bers some “diep kuiers” in the past, back when the army was still de­ployed in the area. “One night, when I was mayor, we par­tied so hard that I ‘gave’ the army the Free­dom of the City.”

In the show of­fice, the com­mit­tee is hard at work. “Stay calm and tackle the prob­lems head on. Don’t fight with each other,” Jo­hann van Heer­den tells his team af­ter read­ing them a verse from the Bi­ble. One-lin­ers fly around the of­fice: I

It doesn’t have enough mas­culin­ity. It doesn’t say “ram” to me.

can see your calf mus­cles are stiff this morn­ing – about 2 bar; you’re too pretty to be this bad-tem­pered in the morn­ing; ons gaan nóú skou!

The In­verter is on ev­ery­one’s lips. It seems to in­stil equal parts ex­cite­ment and fear. Dian Jansen (15) pops into the show of­fice and says, “I’m never go­ing on that thing again! I prayed to God like ten times!”

How to judge a goat

Live­stock judge Ber­tie van Zyl watches as han­dlers lead grumpy goats into the ring. A woman from the stands shouts: “Lize, sta-a-a-a-dig, rustig. Lize, vashou, váshou.” The goats take a few min­utes to set­tle down: Some butt heads or try to mate; oth­ers are frozen in place, bleat­ing for­lornly.

Polla Pot­gi­eter from Dor­ing­draad Boerbok Stud out­side Tsumeb is one very proud grand­fa­ther. He’s been bring­ing his an­i­mals here since the 1970s and his sons and grand­sons will con­tinue the tra­di­tion this year. “Og, I live for this,” he says.

Ber­tie stud­ies each boerbok from head to tail. Ap­par­ently “a large, well-formed scro­tum” counts in a ram’s favour. He has an al­most foren­sic ap­proach to judg­ing: “This one has a good waist and great length. Look, the mus­cles from its haunches run al­most to the heart.” He sums up an­other can­di­date: “It doesn’t have enough mas­culin­ity. It doesn’t say ‘ram’ to me.”

I hope no one ever says that about me...

On the first af­ter­noon of the show, there’s a pa­rade to the show­ground: bakkies and trucks, a fire en­gine, the army orches­tra, the Luiperd­heuwel Pri­mary School drum ma­jorettes, mo­tor­bikes, a 1930s’ Model A Ford and march­ing po­lice of­fi­cers. Miss Tsumeb Gym­na­sium waves at the crowds from the school bus.

A car­ni­val at­mos­phere reigns in the arena. “The beau­ti­ful girls of Luiperd­heuwel, you’re our pride and joy,” says Suret Botma, the or­gan­iser of the pa­rade.

The crowd comes to its feet to sing the Namib­ian and African Union an­thems. There’s some­thing beau­ti­ful and deeply hu­man about the pa­rade. It binds ev­ery­one to­gether, young and old.

Ben-Hur and tough love

Horses are well rep­re­sented at the show: Some come from as far afield as Keet­man­shoop, Mari­en­tal and even South Africa. This is also where the Frisian and Flem­ish na­tional cham­pi­onships take place. Many of th­ese horses be­long to Karen Wo­er­mann from Wind­hoek, who is well known in Namib­ian horse cir­cles.

There are lots of events and classes, but I find the plea­sure-driv­ing event the most en­ter­tain­ing. Fine har­ness, sin­gle har­ness and dou­ble har­ness horses make their way around the ring. It feels like watch­ing some­thing from a by­gone era – like Ben-Hur with­out the testos­terone.

An­nouncer Frans Steyn steers the pro­ceed­ings with a firm hand. When some kids light a fire­cracker too close to the ring, he chases them off. But mostly he gives pa­tient in­struc­tions. “Galop as­se­blief. Can­ter please.”

A boere­s­port event is held for the kids – a type of mu­si­cal chairs on horse­back – where broth­ers and sis­ters and cousins from the dis­trict com­pete against each other. The cos­tume event is also popular with the younger crowd, es­pe­cially the horse and rider in Spi­derman at­tire.

Dur­ing one of the items, teenager Amoret Louw falls off her horse. Her grand­mother Mar­tie is on the scene im­me­di­ately, ready to dole out a strong dose of tough love: “If you don’t get back on the horse now you’ll never ride again. Put on a brave face and smile. There you go…”

What is fem­i­nin­ity?

Dawid Krause is a popular an­nouncer on the cat­tle cir­cuit in Namibia. He likes to tell anec­dotes over the mi­cro­phone. When the ap­plause is not to his lik­ing, he says:

“You know those rent-a-crowd peo­ple you can get to come cry at your fu­neral? Next year I’ll pay peo­ple to clap their hands.”

The cat­tle pro­gramme fea­tures 140 heads of stud cat­tle: Brah­man, Braun­vieh, Santa, Sim­bra and Sim­men­taler are some of the breeds on show.

In a sep­a­rate camp there’s a huge Brah­man-Charo­lais ox – its skin is the colour of the High­veld in win­ter and it weighs 920 kg. “Put a horn on it and sell it as a rhino,” some­one says.

On Thurs­day it’s 36° C. Dawid brings a lit­tle re­lief: “We’ve ob­tained per­mis­sion for the judges to take off their blaz­ers.”

Cat­tle are less manic in the ring than goats. They pa­tiently wait their turn like mod­els in a heavy­weight fash­ion show. The judg­ing gets tech­ni­cal: “This heifer has great ca­pac­ity and good fem­i­nin­ity. Just look at the lines. See how the ud­der gives her a nice wedge shape,” says Barend Dor­fling, one of the cat­tle judges.

I chat to Alex de Kon­ing (26), one of the new gen­er­a­tion of cat­tle judges, over a beer. Alex teaches me what con­sti­tutes good “mas­culin­ity” and “fem­i­nin­ity” in live­stock. “A slight build, curvy hips and a del­i­cate face – that’s fem­i­nin­ity,” he says. “If the an­i­mal peeks around a cor­ner, you should be able to tell that it’s a cow and not a bull by the head alone. You don’t want a rugged, strong, mas­cu­line cow. For mas­culin­ity, you want a prom­i­nent brow ridge and a more de­vel­oped neck with a deeper colour.”

Alex is a farm manager and calls him­self a “novice farmer”. “We al­ways talk about the groot gees of Groot­fontein,” he says. “The Wind­hoek Show is more com­pet­i­tive and peo­ple keep to them­selves. Here we get to­gether, the guys tease each other and so­cialise.”

A Sim­bra cow owned by Har­dus Breedt is crowned as the over­all win­ner in the Grand Cham­pion Beef cat­e­gory. “It’s not about the breeder, it’s about the an­i­mal,” Har­dus says. “I just want to thank the Lord for the op­por­tu­nity to show such an ex­cep­tional cow. There’s no such thing as a per­fect an­i­mal, but she’s close. I think this is her best year.”

Salt of the earth

The show ends on the Fri­day night with two heart-warm­ing items. Groot­fontein res­i­dent Marié Kriel (38) has been in a wheel­chair since a shoot­ing ac­ci­dent at the age of 7 – tonight she’ll drive around the ring in a cart drawn by two Flem­ish horses. “I haven’t been on a horse in such a long time. I can’t even re­mem­ber what it feels like. I dream of be­ing on horse­back again,” she says.

“Af­ter the ac­ci­dent, ev­ery­one feared that I’d be a zom­bie. But I fin­ished ma­tric and now have my own Ara­bian horse stud. I like chal­lenges. If you get given an op­por­tu­nity you should grab it with both hands.”

Marié drives around the arena with Shaun Ester­huizen and her brother Sam. The crowd goes wild and tears flow freely.

For the last item, eight Flem­ish horses pull a cart around the arena. A whole bunch of Groot­fontein­ers – par­ents, chil­dren and fa­mous horse breeder Karen Wo­er­mann’s 81-year-old mother Emily Noth­nagel – are on board. (Emily her­self still com­petes in plea­sure-driv­ing events).

Karen and I stand un­der the flood­lights and chat about the peo­ple of Groot­fontein. “If some­one en­coun­ters a prob­lem here, ev­ery­one lends a hand,” she says. “There’s amaz­ing team spirit. Peo­ple work hard, party hard and pray just as hard. They are the salt of the earth.”

For ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in the Groot­fontein dis­trict, see page 122. In 2015, the Groot­fontein Agri­cul­tural Show will take place from 16 – 18 Septem­ber. Other shows: Keet­man­shoop 2 – 5 Septem­ber; Gob­a­bis 21 – 23 Septem­ber; Wind­hoek 25 Septem­ber – 3 Oc­to­ber.

INTO THE SUN­SET. Horses were big on the pro­gramme at the 2014 Groot­fontein Show. This is a Flem­ish horse pulling a cart around the sports field track.

DENIM DUO (op­po­site page, top). Deon van Blerk is the vice pres­i­dent and Jo­hann van Heer­den the pres­i­dent of the Groot­fontein Show com­mit­tee.ADREN­A­LINE MA­CHINE (op­po­site page, bot­tom). The In­verter, de­signed in Amer­ica, was a high­light for kids at the show.HI THERE (above). Groot­fontein­ers took to the streets in all kinds of ve­hi­cles dur­ing the street pa­rade.

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