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.

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