Sunday Times

THE HOTAZEL YEARS (1974 —1980)

Pho­tog­ra­pher Obie Oberholzer re­calls a no­madic pe­riod, when he criss­crossed the coun­try in a bright yel­low car, his trusty Nikko­r­mat by his side

- © Obie Oberholzer Louis Trichardt · Pretoria · Bob Hope · Bob Marley · Bob Dylan · Munich · Germany · Jack Kerouac · FC Metz · Africa · Madagascar · Zulu Kingdom

Some dreams hang on for a while, oth­ers fade through time, but this one has per­sisted as an al­most sur­real re­al­ity to this day. It’s Fe­bru­ary 1974 and a man walks up the path of our house on Louis Trichardt Street in Mayville, Pre­to­ria. There is a metal gate, with frills that hold a hand-painted num­ber on a dented post box. A ce­ment path, cracked in places, leads straight to the front door, which holds two panes of yel­low glass. Lace cur­tains and twirled bur­glar bars beau­tify the long, nar­row win­dows. The man has un­kempt hair and a hat, and car­ries what looks like a gui­tar strapped to his back. “Who are you?” I shout, from a half-opened front door. “Bob” he says. “Bob who? Bob Hope? Bob Mar­ley?” I grunt. “Bob Dy­lan.” The neigh­bour’s boer­boel starts to bark, lift­ing the birds up from the trees. When I look again, Bob is gone. I go in­side and play his song. How many roads must a man walk down be­fore you can call him a man?

For the pre­vi­ous three years, my wife Lynn and I had lived in Mu­nich, Ger­many.

Lynn taught English and I stud­ied pho­tog­ra­phy. Now back in our beloved land, many new songs blew through my head, over­turn­ing old ways and free­ing new ones. I was about to en­ter my Hotazel Years.

We soon left Pre­to­ria and moved down to “Durbs by the Sea”. There I was ap­pointed as a lec­turer in pho­tog­ra­phy,

pur­chased a house and started to lead stu­dents along all roads pho­to­graphic. “With­out pas­sion” I told them, “Your pho­to­graphic boat will never leave port.”

When our land­line was in­stalled, the first call that came was from the Bureau of State Se­cu­rity. A voice solemnly said, in a heavy ac­cent, that I should watch my lib­eral ways. He said I couldn’t ever side­step the long arm of John Vorster’s se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus. I mum­bled ob­scen­i­ties and spat them out the win­dow.

Iitched and twitched to wan­der forth, to head my eyes into the ad­ven­ture of dis­tances that shim­mered be­yond.

I bought a souped-up, yel­low Mor­ris Mi­nor and, dur­ing the long stu­dent hol­i­days at the Na­tal Tech­nikon, I pressed my foot on the pedal and let my spir­its blow into the hin­ter­land.

As com­pany I had other drifters, es­pe­cially one called Jack Ker­ouac, whose in­spi­ra­tional On the Road lay on the seat next to me, along­side my Nikko­r­mat 35mm cam­era, two lenses and a Metz flash.

My other favourite pas­sen­ger was a sense of hu­mour, which was to­tally nec­es­sary when trav­el­ling through Africa.

So Jack, Hu­mour and I hit the road.

For the love of the land we went, with the wind. My heart pounded be­hind my eyes, punch­ing the sights, lift­ing my spir­its to the rough­ness of this trou­bled but so won­der­ful of lands.

I threw my priv­i­leged, shel­tered ed­u­ca­tion out to the cos­mos flow­ers and the crows that sat on the tele­phone poles gawk­ing down as we passed.

Up the road past Tugela Ferry, I stopped at a Zulu homestead and asked to see the chief. He was sit­ting un­der a big wild fig tree drink­ing beer with his mates. I told him it was an hon­our to meet him.

He pointed at the sil­ver ban­gle on my wrist. “Gift me” he said. I told him a beau­ti­ful woman in Mada­gas­car had given it to me in 1968 and that I slept with it every night. He roared with laugh­ter.

Then he of­fered me a whole clay pot of umqom­bothi beer. When I made my frothy emer­gence from the pot, I wob­bled up­ward, stag­gered a few paces and then fell in a lump at the Chief’s feet. In sec­onds I had be­come a hero, the king’s jester. The cliffs echoed their ap­plause.

Be­fore my de­par­ture, the Chief wanted a ride in my soupedup Mor­ris Mi­nor. Be­cause I was feel­ing war­rior-like, I threw in a cou­ple of wheel­ies.

His eyes got a lot big­ger. When I stopped, all the women stopped, and all the fields and the hills and the huts hushed too. So did his large herd of Nguni cat­tle. Not a wob­ble, not a birdie’s twit­ter.

“Again,” he shouted. So I wheeled him around and around again, just a spin­ning yel­low blur in all of Zu­l­u­land and the en­tire world.

To­day, in the year of 2018, I sit and stare at my Mac OS 21.5 inch computer with an ex­tra mon­i­tor and ex­ter­nal hard drive with thou­sands upon thou­sands of im­ages and sto­ries on it, and I get a lit­tle nos­tal­gic for those long-gone days of hap­haz­ard free­dom and joie de vivre.

I close my eyes and see it all, like a dream — driv­ing back again, into that South African dor­pie in the sun­rise. To the right lay the “lo­ca­tion”, lit­tle cor­ru­gated-iron shacks sadly jum­bled and hud­dled to­gether for life’s worth.

Men would stand around a fire. Over the set­tle­ment, a pall of smoke marked the sep­a­ra­tion from the other side of town, where the wealth­ier peo­ple lived.

On the main street, old Un­cle Sey­mour’s 1958 green Vaux­hall Velox hoots at a stray dog.

A mother and her two chil­dren, dressed spick and span in their school uni­forms, wait for the Unie Winkel Cloth­ing shop to open.

A group of do­mes­tic work­ers walk to the smart houses where the white madams live and the dogs bark hate­fully each time they open the gar­den gates.

At the rail cross­ing, where the train comes in daily, Farmer Mo­erdyk doesn’t stop in his pale blue 1973 Dodge D100. Why should he? He’s baas and a proud na­tion­al­ist. He’s on his way to the Bo­ere Winkel to buy crushed mealies for his chick­ens, then around the cor­ner for a bot­tle of brandy.

In front of the town hall, new marigolds grow. On Sun­days there’s no park­ing in front of the church and on a hillover­look­ing town, a big white cross stands, wooden arms em­brac­ing.

So you must be won­der­ing about this “Hotazel Years” thing? Ac­tu­ally, me too, I am still won­der­ing about all this wan­der­ing some 44 years later.

If one takes south­ern Africa south of the Zam­bezi and the Cunene rivers as the greater hin­ter­land then, us­ing a com­pass, traces a cir­cle around the coast­lines of these coun­tries and the above-men­tioned rivers, the most cen­tral point, the one fur­thest away from all oceans, is the min­ing town of Hotazel in the North­ern Cape.

When I ar­rived there in the mid 1970s, all that re­ally stood out was the bot­tle store with some lo­cals jiv­ing it up be­fore it opened at 10am.

In the prime of my Hotazel Years I used to wear this Ché Gue­vara beret, and with Jack and Hu­mour formed a some­what de­vi­ous, but for­mi­da­ble team.

I saw the coun­try in tonal val­ues of black and white, striv­ing for sub­tle de­tail in the shad­ows and high­lights. Some­times this was very dif­fi­cult, as we lived in a land of ex­treme con­trasts. Of­ten, com­ing into a town, we would drive straight to the po­lice sta­tion and ask them who the fun­ni­est, weird­est oke in town was.

Or, when over­come with re­morse, I would stall my Mor­ris in front of the Pas­to­rie (the min­is­ter’s house) of the Dutch Re­formed Church and busy my­self un­der the bon­net. Soon Mrs Dom­i­nee would bless pity on me and I would be in­vited in for tea on the pol­ished stoep.

“Love thy neigh­bour, like thy­self,” I would sigh, cast­ing my eyes up to the cock on top of the church steeple.

Then the dom­i­nee would hold forth about the new lib­eral poli­cies of the NG Church and so on and on and on.

Mean­while, I’d be check­ing out his pretty wife, biting my lower lip sore as I tried not to break the 10th Com­mand­ment: “You shall not covet your neigh­bour’s wife.”

Ican still re­mem­ber what Jack said all those years ago: “Just go. Just get on the road, as one day when you are old you won’t re­mem­ber the time in the of­fice or mow­ing the lawn.” I am old now, so per­haps I know. “Where are we go­ing?” Hu­mour wants to know. “I don’t know,” I’d say, “We’ll know when we get there.”

“What is the free­dom of the road?” Jack asks one night around the camp­fire. Above in the African night, the stars flicker a dis­tant light and some­where in the dark a hyena whoops its eerie call. “Free­dom,” I say, “Is when your right arm is burnt darker than your left arm.”

 ?? Pic­tures: © Obie Oberholzer ?? FIELD OF DREAMS Chil­dren play foot­ball in Keet­man­shoop, Namibia, 1999.
Pic­tures: © Obie Oberholzer FIELD OF DREAMS Chil­dren play foot­ball in Keet­man­shoop, Namibia, 1999.
 ??  ?? 1/1000 SEC­OND A cap­tured mo­ment of joy on a swing on a Ka­roo farm, 1977.
1/1000 SEC­OND A cap­tured mo­ment of joy on a swing on a Ka­roo farm, 1977.
 ??  ?? HEAL­ING POW­ERS Young am­ath­wasa (tra­di­tional healer trainees) wait for the chief san­goma in a vil­lage in the hills above Gingindlov­u, KZN, 1981.
HEAL­ING POW­ERS Young am­ath­wasa (tra­di­tional healer trainees) wait for the chief san­goma in a vil­lage in the hills above Gingindlov­u, KZN, 1981.
 ??  ?? MEL­LOW YEL­LOW The pho­tog­ra­pher and his Mor­ris Mi­nor.
MEL­LOW YEL­LOW The pho­tog­ra­pher and his Mor­ris Mi­nor.

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