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Anne Townsend

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Find the people you belong to

My grandfather Jan Harms Steenkamp was a father, patriarch, sheep farmer.

‘’Hy was ‘n streng man, ‘n harde man,’’ my late uncle told me.

My uncle died close to the Misverstand Dam. He’d been playing golf.

My father actually literally died due to a misunderstanding. He’d attended a ceremony in Stellenbosch where he was awarded a golf trophy and on Polkadraai, on the way home, on a street without street lights, my dad tried to overtake a car.

He miscalculated. It didn’t end well.

His last words, according to my uncle in the passenger seat, were, ‘’Oh God, I’ve ……’’ I can’t remember the rest. It was an acknowledgement of the miscalculation of overtaking a car and then facing an oncoming car.

It may be that my entire ancestral line is a misunderstanding.

I have often wondered:

Did Jan Harms Steenkamp actually like sheep?

Did Jan Harms Steenkamp actually love his children?

Again, according to my late uncle, not only were he and his eight siblings beaten daily, but my mother was a prime target for the beatings. At five years old, she was beaten by both her parents. Often.

‘’Het Ouma dan nie vir my ma beskerm nie?’’ I asked.

My uncle laughed and replied:

‘’Nee, kyk, my ouers het nooit gestry oor dissipline nie. As my pa vir ons pak gee, dan hits my ma hom aan. ‘Slaan!’ En as my ma ons slaan, dan se my pa: ‘Slaan!’ My pa het ons aan God opgedra. Hy was ‘n harde man.’’

Folks, as I acknowledge the full extent of my heritage, here in the Northern Cape, I ask myself on a daily basis:

IMG_0008What are my non-negotiables?

Who are my family?

Where do I thrive?

Is it possible that I was born in the wrong tribe?

FRIDGE MAGNET: Find the people you belong to. Keep howling.


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