I can’t really say exactly when Dice was conceived, but, whenever that was, he certainly wasn’t born nine months later. He and his world involved a lot of research, which eventually made a visit to Maun, Botswana, his home, mandatory. All I knew for certain was that he was to be a black Motswana, (Yes, there is such a thing as a white Motswana, a citizen of Botswana.) and he would be a policemen in their CID.
Asked how on earth, as a honky, I planned to get inside the head of a black policeman, I was stuck for an answer. But whether I’ve succeeded or not, or simply concocted a reasonably exciting bunch of yarns, is up to my readers to judge. I didn’t know there would be a series of three adventures, but that’s how it turned out in the end.
But I digress. A trip to Maun was planned for early July, 2009, but it would have to include a family catch-up along the way, and I hoped to sell enough of my first two novels to pay my way….
Collecting my yellow 1976 Peugeot 404 from my mechanic, who had given it the once-over for the trip (and expects to inherit it when I croak,) I drew three weeks wages for Sheila to pay my building teams.
Early the following morning I was on the N9 to Graaff Reinet where I flogged a couple of copies of Purgatory Road and The Barros Pawns to McNaughton’s Bookshop there and wolfed down some Wimpey breakfast. On through Colesberg and Bloemfontein to Welkom to spend the night with my salt-of-the-earth old family friends, Anne and Herman van Hees. I got to Pretoria after lunch the following day.
Back in the 80’s, I used to work for a Consulting Engineers, called Strydom, Newmark & Anthony based in Pretoria, so I found their offices and saw old friends like Vissie Visser, Gordon Hart and the ‘new boss’ Dave Temple who had taken over since Dolf van Huyssteen retired. (The latter 2 were also at school with me at Pretoria Boys High.) Vissie kindly bought 2 books!
As arranged, I went on to my daughter, Nicci, and her husband, Frederick’s home near Hazeldene, Pretoria, and spent the next couple of nights with them. The next day, Nicci kindly took me scouting the malls looking for bookshops. We left 5 of each book with Eddington Esterhuizen of eBooksetc. We also made an arrangement to meet up with Estienne van Wyk of Fascination Books when I get back. The following day, Nicci showed me around Frederick’s family farm. It is still huge, despite the fact that parts have been cut off for housing complexes. They have retained a stand in one of these, where the streets are named after members of the family – there is a Frederick Street and an Anna’s Way, amongst others. Their future home will be overlooking a dam. We had supper with my son Ryan. He, his wife Elaine and his 3-boy-family lived about twenty minutes away. Thomas was nearly 5; Nicholas was 2 years and 4 months, while James was a blob of 5 months. Nicholas spokes nearly as well as Thomas and was a tease. He pretended to miss out a number while counting and then said ‘Jokes!’ when the adults corrected him. He did jigsaw puzzles of 30 pieces in no time at all. Unbelievable. It’s quite sickening how gooey these proud grandfathers can get.
The next day, Saturday, 11 July, all of us went north to the farm of my ex, Greet, and her husband, Dennis Driver for the day, where Sheila and I had gone to Nicci’s wedding. Dennis’ sister and family were there, as well, so it was very festive at the camping ground and chalets. I got a bit of chat in with Dennis and Greet, and slept at their farm house.
Armed with sandwiches Greet made, I set off for the border post at Martin’s Drift in the Peugeot, leaving the cool of winter behind, to Francistown, Botswana. I bought a starter-pack and airtime for my phone. The Peugeot started jerking, around about Nata where I filled up with fuel, and she died on me about 10 km short of the little village of Zaroga so I slept the night in the car. It was not too cold and I had food and beer. There was no cell coverage, where I was.
After awaking several times before daybreak, cramped and aching, a passing 4×4 towed me to Zaroga for P50-00 and a ‘mechanic’ charged me P150-00 to lend me a 9mm spanner to open the carburettor and move a pipe back so that the float could be free. His lucky day!
I arrived in Maun at about 11h30. The Thamalakane River was as high as I had ever seen it. I went straight to the Bon Arrivee restaurant to find the owner, Klaas Boll to ask to use it as a venue for my book signing on the following Sunday. Then I went to the Ngami Times to see Norman Chandler, the editor/owner, to get an advert in about the signing, but he promised an article, instead.
The quirky little town was still much the same as when I had last visited. Over the next week, I stayed a night here, another two there, with dear old friends, including Mieke and Kokkie van der Post and Becky Collins. There is no place on earth I have more friends in one place, so it was a delight to catch up with them all. Some, like Bonty Botumile and David Tregilges, were able to give me advice on Motswana culture which I was later to weave into the series. Most of all I needed help with details about the Botswana Police and CID. I called on the local station commander and was disappointed to hear that he would not help me without permission from higher up.
He told me to phone the Police Commissioner in Gaborone. I told him not to be ridiculous; the man would not talk to me, but he insisted that the Commissioner was a nice friendly fellow and gave me the number.
I called from the car park, reaching his secretary, expecting to be told not to bother the Man. She put me through. I stuttered an explanation about my research needs, while he listened politely. Then, blow me down, he said he’d assign a Deputy Director to be at my disposal. He told me to give him ten minutes to brief his Deputy, and a number on which to call her!
Which I did, and spoke to Maloti Pauline Gabositwe, Director of the Botswana Police College who was expecting my call. She apologised that she would be busy with a passing-out parade, but would be back in her office on Monday – Could I phone her back then? I asked for her email address and in the following months, and years, I got my every query answered. Amazing! Sometimes it pays to go to the top.
I sold some books, gave some away in thanks for being a house guest, and had a fairly successful book-signing.
The old Peugeot gave me some more headaches with a clutch cylinder leak and timing problems, but there were always friendly folk to help overcome these, so when I headed back to South Africa, I had an uneventful trip.