To & Fro – 2500km each way

Inevitably, I was destined to return to Maun, Botswana, several times to tie up loose ends. Arriving in Uniondale at the beginning of March 2004, we were camping out in our quaint little Victorian cottage with a mountain of work to do to get it comfortable. There were floors to replace, shelves, cupboards and work-tops to install, walls to remove and top-to-toe painting to do.

A lot of winnowing of chaff has to go on when finding tradesmen and labour in a new town – reliable and honest ones, that is. However, there was at least some progress before I set off for Maun again on March 23rd.

Leaving a bit late, I only found myself in the little town of Hanover by nightfall, but it was an amusing delight when, looking for a B&B, I found 3 Darling Street. I stayed there more than once, going up and down, due to the friendly hospitality there by the owners; Lawrence, a theatrical make-up artist, Derek, a Brit ex-soldier, and the comedian, Mark Banks. The Three Darlings’ Treat. Seldom there all at the same time, they were always welcoming and intelligently amusing!

Phillipstown, Hopetown, Kimberly, Warrenton, Hartswater, Vryburg, Mafikeng, through the border, towing Nigel Rollo’s trailer to return to him in Gaborone where he kindly put me up. The next day he suggested I turn west at Mahalapye and take the rural tarred back road to Serowe. There was almost no traffic and the scenery of bush and hills was idyllic. From there, Letlhakane, Orapa, Rakops, Mothopi, Maun.

I spent two weeks tying up sales and contracts, during which time, late March, I got the nasty news that my mum, now in an Australian home for the elderly, had broken her hip and needed an operation. With this sign that she was possibly on her last legs, I decided to visit her before the year was out!

My return journey was on her 89th birthday, Tuesday 6 April. It was a reverse of my outward trip, but this time in Gaborone, I spent the night with friend Keith Spackman and his wife, Gwen. Keith had agreed to buy my Maun home and needed to sign some documents. At the border, I cleared Sheila’s Toyota Venture’s paperwork so that it could be finalised at our nearest Customs Office in Mossel Bay. I spent that night again at the 3 Darlings, entertained by make-up artist Lawrence’s stories of backstage hilarity. I was home by 13h00, Thursday.

Shortly thereafter we were visited by Sheila’s son, Timothy Simkin and a friend, then by my daughter, Nicci Earle who arrived Saturday 10th. That Monday, Nicci drove me down the beautiful scenic Prince Alfred Pass, and we began the, sometimes painful, process of rebonding as father and daughter.

By Tuesday 27th April 2004 I headed north again. This time a completely different route which would take me northwest through Namibia. From Uniondale I headed to de Rust, through the Swartberg Mountain pass of Meiringspoort, on to Prince Albert, Leeugamka (N1) Frazerburg, Williston, through the pass at Theekloof. Dirt road to Brandvlei. 200km to Pofadder, 50km to the border post on the Orange River at Onseepkans. It was closed so I slept in the bed of the truck under the unbelievably bright  beautiful  stars. Next day, waiting for the border post to open, there were guinea-fowl pecking around the post.

On to Karasburg, Grunau, Keetmanshoop, turned off on gravel roads to Stampriet and Leonardsville where I found a B&B for bed only. On Thurs 29 I got back on the tar at Gobabis. Through the border; Charles Hill, Ganzi, Maun by lunch time.

Another busy two weeks in Maun, evacuating my home and moving my remaining possessions to one of my remaining two properties, and improving both of them for eventual sale, if I could find a buyer.

Headed home on 12th May, I took the Gantzi route to the border and Lichtenburg, Ottosdal, Makwassie, Wesselsbrom, Bultfontein, to Bloemfontein where I slept in the cab on a backroad. I set off while it was still dark: Colesburg, Middleburg, Graaf Reinet, Aberdeen, Willowmore, arriving in Uniondale by lunch.

The next day, Friday 14th May, Sheila became a granny for the first time. Her son, Nicholas Simkin’s son, Ronan was born.

Keen to buy more property on Uniondale as a way of investing the money we were receiving from Botswana, there were two stands for sale side by side on the high street, Voortrekker Road, that interested us. I put in offers which were accepted.

On Wednesday 9th June, I left for Maun again, much earlier this time and only stopped to sleep in the cab between Morwamosu & Kang in the Kalahari, arriving in Maun at noon the next day. Once again, it was a matter of finishing tasks and winding down affairs.




One of my company properties, Hotshots, had a bed, fridge, electricity and a phone installed before I left, so emails and contact with Sheila was easy. Distraught, one day she phoned to say that her Alsatian male had killed my Staffy-Llasa Apso cross, Sprocket, and she had personally dug his grave in the garden.

The one thing Hotshots did not have was water. I was digging a well under the concrete floor and got six metres down without any sign when my labour refused to continue, afraid it would collapse, although there was no chance of that. However, I shored it up with roof sheets and dug on myself. Still nothing. I tried to get Water Africa to insert a 6m well-point down the bottom, but their man James Alexander refused to go into it.


Rob Riggs in Qihaba Caverns

My friend, Rob Riggs, kindly took me along one weekend to spend a night at his Cattle Post way out on the desert. We visited the nearby Qihaba Caverns, or Drotsky’s Caves. The only sign of commercial development was a rusty notice not to litter and to enter at your own risk. There was not another soul around.


Kalahari water well

Shortly after that, on early July, Jimmy Zondagh and Andries Stander from Uniondale arrived in Maun with their families, visiting the Okavango on holiday. I joined them for a braai one evening at Audi Camp. It was odd seeing them out of context in my old world.

In mid-July, despite the dry well, I sold the Hotshots property to Anthony Michler, who said he’d put a borehole down, and was then able to return home.

Again heavily loaded, I chose a route from the border through Welkom, Orange Free State, to spend a night with old friends, Herman & Anne van Hees. I barely made it home; my Nissan engine was on the point of seizing. It was to cost me R15500-00 for replacement.

Work continued at 10 Rose St. After Botswana’s heat, we had to get used to Southern Cape winter cold and frosts. -1deg temp. From home we could see the peak of snowcapped Mannetjiesberg, part of the Kammanassie Mts.

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de la Rey, de la Rey


One of six British forts surrounding Uniondale

Our new home was 10 Rose Street, Uniondale. The Boers called it Rose Straat, rose being the Afrikaans for roses, when it was in honour of British  Field Marshall Hugh Henry Rose, 1st Baron Strathnairn,GCB, GCSI, PC (6 April 1801 – 16 October 1885) who never served in southern Africa. However, a Brit is a Brit, so one can’t blame them. Besides, it happened that the area was perfect for the growing of roses and our new home had in the recent past been well known for being covered in magnificent blooms. No.10 lies on the corner of Rose and Roberts Streets, the latter being another Brit general (1832-1914) who did serve in the Boer War.


Gideon Scheepers (Right)

In the Boer War of 1899-1902 the village was theoretically in the hands of the British, as was the whole Cape Colony, but a local Boer terrorist, I mean patriot, Gideon Scheepers was running rings around the token Brit forces.  At the time that Gideon sallied into town and locked the local magistrate up in his own jail, the nearest garrison was stationed at Willowmore. By the time they arrived, Gideon was long gone, and it still took a further couple of days before they could cut their way into the jail to free the magistrate.

The story I love the most, folklore or not, is the one about the British troopers that got lost in the nearby hills and were blundering around for days, exhausted and famished. Early one morning, when a Boer appeared out of the mist and pointed his rifle at them, they gratefully surrendered. The Boer, a fifteen year old boy on his way with a message to Gideon, took them with him as his prisoners. When asked by the older men how he had managed the capture, he said, “I surrounded them!”


Boer Gen. de la Rey.  

There is a rousing song by Bok van Blerk about gathering to the Boer flag under the famous Boer General, de le Rey, which bears his name. I may have English roots, but I get a knob in my throat when I hear its proud and bitter lyrics. I can easily understand its appeal. I love ballads and I was born with an overdose of sentimentality, but I believe in looking forward in hope, not back in bitterness.

However, that is easy to say, from the standpoint of coming from the side that had the winning hand. Now, white South Africans are constantly reminded to hang their heads at the shame of Apartheid, but the murders of the innocent on the farms that continue to this day are conveniently forgotten or swept under the rug. Truth and Reconciliation should remain even-handed if we are to look forward.

Not back.

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The Big Onion.

Leaving Botswana in 2004, we established ourselves in Uniondale, Western Cape, South Africa. Despite its English sounding name, Uniondale turned out neither to be English nor unified.


Uniondale Courts.

It didn’t take too long to peel back some of the layers. This was not just an Apartheid dorpie, it was a Boer War dorpie. With exceptions, of course, the majority of the moneyed populace were not only Afrikaans, the intrusion of English Inkomers was resented, and persons of Colour were kept in their place. Their place, Lyonville, was around the corner of a hill that effectively kept them out of view of the pale-faced quaint little Victorian village with its broekie-lace colonial gabled architecture.

ud-victorian-hse2Tenants occupying another property that we bought insisted that we should attend a Uniondale High School fundraising function to be held at the town hall so that we could meet the local folk. They assured us that our feelings of rejection would prove to be unfounded. Neither Sheila nor I were particularly social people, but we hoped that our original impression of a particularly unfriendly town would be dispelled in wave of warm welcoming bonhomie.

We stood around clutching our comforting wine glasses like rocks in a tidal pool while the fishes both large and small swirled around us. Even those who had invited us kept well clear lest they run aground.

Jimmy Zondagh, a local apple farmer, briefly came to greet us before he was swept away by the tide. A brief glimpse of what should be normal hospitality stood out like a lighthouse.

ud-welcomeThe Master of Ceremonies, the High School Head Master – we noted him ask his wife, the local librarian. sotto voce who we were – anchored himself in front of us and, without introducing himself, in Afrikaans demanded to know where we were from.

“Uniondale,” I answered helpfully.

“What!?” he thundered.

“Sorry,” I said, puzzled, “Haven’t you heard of the place?”

Although we moved to Haarlem, a Colourful village some twenty-five km away, two years later, Uniondale is still our nearest town, and there are actually some fine friendly Boer folk there.

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While it was still dark on the morning of 2nd March 2004, with all nine cats and eight dogs aboard into our two loaded vehicles, the police arrived at the gate to arrest me.

gavelWith them was a lawyer, Mr Otukile, crowing about how I was about to skip the country without paying my debts! Apparently, the previous day, a court order had been taken out against Bastion Construction by Otukile representing Tlou Walling, my brick supplier, for an unpaid account. They had come to get me the previous evening, at 19h00, according to the watchman I’d taken on to look after the property after we left for South Africa, but we were out to supper. If I had been home, Sheila pointed out, I’d have spent the night in the cells!

When Otukile had left, confident that I would be slapped in irons, I convinced the police to let me use my own vehicle to go to my other plot, which had my office and store room, to retrieve the documentation that would prove that I had paid Tlou Walling in full. They followed me there to ensure I didn’t do a bunk, then we went to the Courts where we thrashed it out in front of the Clerk of the Court. Otukile admitted that if he had known about this, he would not have let it get this far, but he still wanted me to pay his costs. The matter was then set to be settled before the Magistrate the next day at 08h30.

Nigel Rollo, our surveyor friend from Gaborone, had left a trailer with us after a field trip in Maun, which we would use to help cart some of our possessions down South. It was arranged that I return it on my way back to pick up my next load a week later. The licence disc he needed to send us was delayed for a day, so we would not be leaving until the Thursday, now, in any case.

Unsurprisingly, 08h30 Africa Time became 09h20 Real Time, before everyone got their act together. All concerned gathered to see the Magistrate, Ms Mogomotsi, in her Chambers. First, she listened to Otukile, who had not made himself popular by being late in the first place, then to me.

Summing up, she stated that, if it was up to her, costs would be due to the Plaintiff as they had been negligent in informing their lawyer that they had received payment, but that it was not up to her to proportion costs. That would be up to the High Court in Francistown, which would be Otukile’s next step if he wanted to pursue the matter, as he seemed intent on doing.

I phoned a decent local lawyer to handle it if anything transpired, now free to leave. Up at 04h00, we only got going at 08h00 due to settling the animals – the cats in a cage in Sheila’s Toyota Venture, the dogs in a cave among the furniture in my Nissan bakkie with access through a sliding rear window into the cab! Then we picked up our friend Pat Hagan’s daughter, Kirsty, who was getting a lift to her aunt’s home in Vryburg, SA.

After a night in Kang in the Kalahari, due to the need to get a new tyre for Sheila’s Venture, we headed for the border, just before which we let the dogs out. What a lot of pooping and peeing went on. We couldn’t risk it with the cats; they had sandboxes, but the Venture stank to high heaven.

Then, the border crossing was memorable.

Firstly, on the Botswana side, Kirsty’s residence permit was not accepted – a copy of her mother’s permit – until a senior official finally okayed it and earned himself a hug from Sheila. Then the South African Customs wanted to impound the Venture pending its clearance into SA and the paying of VAT. We did not have all the documentation to do this right there and then, it seemed.

Sheila throws a mean wobbly when she puts her mind to it. She told the Customs Official to not to forget to feed the cats as she set off down the road on foot. The Senior Officer pleaded for her to come back, and to calm down while he made a copy of all her documents and told her to get it sorted out at our nearest Customs Office when we arrived in Uniondale. He nearly got a hug, too, but apparently it is not the done thing to go hugging obliging Customs Officers.

After two or three more trips to Maun to fetch more stuff and settle business, I never heard anything further about the Tlou Walling affair.

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From the start of the new Millennium to 2003, in Maun, Botswana, Bastion Construction grew from nothing to having 35 souls on the payroll, which might sound like nothing much, but more than enough for somebody who had previously had no understanding of the word stress. From a single manhole in Pony Transport’s yard to a half million Pula house and four other concurrent contracts was a large step.

bots-bastion-eigbe1Exhausted, your sleep is still interrupted by nightmares of folk who won’t pay you, suppliers who need payment in turn and finding enough for the wages. Worry about whether your solution for the strength of an overhead beam to carry a change in roof design. Whether the Thalamakane Fault Line will crack your project before you can hand it over… Of course, the word design is a misnomer – a sketch from the owner, or a plan line-drawing with no elevations, no detail, by a youngster trainee architectural draughtsman with his first CAD program.

bots-bastion-eigbe2Everything hinged on word-of-mouth reputation in a small town. Your breadline depended on your reputation of integrity and reliability. On results, not excuses. Yes, there was a frontier town lack of the sometimes tedious control found in settled societies, where qualified artisans only are used for, and take responsibility for, the work. Bricklaying, plastering, tiling, plumbing, electrical installations; all with inspectors regulating every aspect every step of the way. The designs are done by Architects with input from Engineers and approved by Town Planners.bots-bastion-eigbe3

Government jobs were of course handled according to the book with all appropriate checks and balances, sometimes by greasing the right palms, of course. On the few jobs Bastion got with a CE – Consulting Engineer – overseeing the works, I was fortunate to find myself working with decent, non-petty men who would overcome onsite obstacles with practical solutions and no fuss.

With the decision made to leave Botswana before the mighty mosquito killed me, I slowly wrapped up contracts, and looked for potential buyers for the properties I had acquired.

So many dear friends to leave behind; we had a great but certainly saddening farewell party at our soon to be left home on the Thalamakane River in Sexaxa Ward.

On a trip to South Africa to the area of her choice for resettlement, Sheila found a house to her liking in the small town of Uniondale, in what is known as the Southern Cape, which lies mostly in the Western Cape Province. This was within a few kilometres of the farm of her brother, Neil Maling. With a fortunately well-timed buyer for our home on the Thamalakane River, we were able to close the deal.

While it was still dark on the morning of 2nd March 2004, with all nine cats and eight dogs aboard into our two loaded vehicles, the police arrived at the gate to arrest me.

To be continued, of course….

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Escaping the Hangman

In June 1996, in her Phakalane suburb of Gaborone, Botswana, Ria Wolmarans died. She was shot twice, in her side and chest, with a pistol.

The police assumed it was a robbery gone awry, and for three months, so it might have stayed. Until the woman finally convicted of the murder was ratted out by Judith Bosch, the sister-in-law who loathed her. It was established that the pistol that shot Ria had been smuggled from the South African city of Pietersburg by the dead woman’s friend and neighbour, another South African, Mariette Bosch. After the murder, Mariette gave the weapon to her brother-in-law for safekeeping.  Not a smart move, especially when she had admitted to Judith that she was in love with Ria’s husband, Tienie.

Her own husband, Justin, had recently passed away in a road accident in 1995, so, three months after the murder of Ria, she and Tienie were free to get engaged.

Of course the police arrested Tienie on suspicion of murdering his wife. Obviously. But he was a contractor, working some 900km away, so he was released and not charged.

I had done some survey for Tienie on one of his Maun contracts, so knew him slightly. Some payment delays had not warmed me to him. After the murder of Tienie’s wife, Mariette lived with him in Maun for awhile and I briefly met her there.

Despite the fact that Mariette’s three children swore that their mom was at home all evening at the time of the murder, the maid stated otherwise. Judith took the gun to the police, who matched the fatal bullets to the weapon, and which basically cooked Mariette’s goose. Mariette was arrested, but after ten months in custody, she was granted bail, during which time, in 1998, she and Tienie got married. Her trial started soon thereafter.

Botswana High Court’s Justice Isaac Aboagye found Mariette guilty of murder on 13th December 1999. In February 2000, he sentenced her to death.


Mariette Bosch

Of course she appealed. It was finally heard by the Botswana Appeal Court, mid-January 2001. The sentence was upheld. The final decision for clemency by the Botswana President, Festus Mogae, did not materialise. Despite further attempts at appeal, as well as efforts by Pro-Life folk all over, Mariette, then aged 50, was hanged 31st March 2001.

No family, all hoping for some kind of miracle, were present. They were not informed of the coming finality.

I think she never believed she would pay that final penalty because Mariette persistently denied killing Ria. I’m inclined to believe her, although she surely knew who had pulled the trigger. It was said that she never showed remorse and accused a third party of the deed. I wonder if, in her final moments when she realised that there was now no reprieve at all, she revealed to anyone who actually had done the deed?

After the hanging, I employed a labourer in Maun who told me that he had worked for Tienie at the time of the murder. That he had been working with him on a contract near Gweta, which is a good two hundred km closer to Gaborone than is Maun. The man stated that Tienie had given him a lift to Palapye, on the road to Gaborone, on the afternoon before the murder, and that Tienie had left site early, returning a bit late for work the following day…

Mariette should not have faced the hangman alone.


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Malaria: P. falciparum and me.

Thanks, Wiki-p:  Plasmodium  falciparum – located worldwide in tropical and suburban areas, but predominately in Africa. An estimated 1 million people are killed by this strain every year. The strain can multiply rapidly and can adhere to blood vessel walls in the brain, causing rapid onset of severe malaria including cerebral malaria. Malaria is caused by the bites from the female Anopheles mosquito, which then infects the body with the parasite Plasmodium. This is the only mosquito that can cause malaria.

life_cycle_of_the_malaria_parasiteSheila assures me that I had had a bout of P. vivax, previously, but I hardly remember it – I thought it was the ‘flu.

But I’ll never forget the two lots of cerebral malaria that laid me low.

When we lived in Maun, it seems that vivax malaria was prevalent, and falciparum malaria was rare. The latter form of malaria was more associated with visits to the Zambezi Valley areas of Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.


P. falciparum

The most horrific tale I ever heard of falciparum concerned a Dutch hairdresser, married to a South African, who settled in Maun. Her father flew out from Holland for a visit and, of course, a safari. The family did the round trip – Victoria Falls, Kasane, Chobe Game reserve, Moremi Game Reserve and back to Maun. A wonderful time was had by all, and Dad flew back to Holland.

Where he died a couple of weeks later.

His abrupt passing was a tremendous shock to the family. In remembrance, a year later, the hairdresser’s brother joined them from Holland to replicate the trip. In memorium.

Back in Holland, her brother, too, passed away.

Presumably, if the doctors had had any idea of what they were dealing with, they could have been treated and saved. Both of them. But apparently they had no clue…

Obviously, in Maun, diagnosis was more immediate, and treatment available.

Besides the ‘flu-like symptoms, and anaemia, it was the headache that was devastating and unforgettable. It felt like a continuous axe blow to the lower back of my skull. I don’t mean repetitious; simply there all the time until the pain tabs kicked in. I moaned and groaned and whimpered, and if there had been an OFF button, I’d have pushed it.

Sheila helped me through one bout at home with medicine from the Nigerian, Dr Patrick. I spent the other in Dr Patrick’s newly established Maun Clinic. I would not wish it on my worst enemy. The only good to come out of it was that I gave up smoking, a story I have already related.

“If you plan to continue living in Maun, this thing is going to kill you,” Sheila warned me. That scared the hell out of my mind set. I began to think seriously, although with great reluctance, about moving on…

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