A soutpiel’s tale: My weekend in Schweizer-Reneke
Last week's saga at a Schweizer-Reneke school brought back memories of a weekend spent in the town in 1996, just two years after democracy
I had set out from Johannesburg and zigzagged 400km through Potchefstroom, Klerksdorp, Orkney and Stilfontein to Schweizer-Reneke because on a farm in the heart of the town was a brandewyn-en-Coke with my name on it.
A year earlier I had bumped into Morne, a Namaqualand farmer, in a pub in the bubbling Western Cape metropolis of Vredendal. We shared a couple of brandewyn-en-Cokes and when I stumbled out of the bar I told him that if he ever found himself in Johannesburg I would show him a real Jozi jol. The truth is I never expected to see him again.
So when the phone rang a year later and the person on the other end sounded like an angry Czechoslovakian, I didn’t even consider that it could be the big, burly, bearded farmer I had drunk with all those months ago.
Morne, who only knew three words of English – “yes, no en vok jou” – explained that he was staying with a friend in Schweizer-Reneke and I was expected there the following afternoon.
“But ... but ... but,” I stammered.
“What? Are you a moffie?” he shouted.
It will be an adventure, I told myself, which is why the following afternoon I meandered into the town. This was the town where the farmers had given the AWB leader Eugene Terre’Blanche the freedom of the dorp in 1993, presumably before he fell of his horse.
Schweizer, as the residents call it, is a one-horse town and when I arrived there it seemed that some of the locals had already braaied the horse. The town was hard, dusty and grey, and I remember thinking that if it were a car it would be in a scrapyard.
I met Morne at his friend’s house and before I could say boerewors there was a brandewyn-en-Coke in my hand.
“Why did you drive so slowly?” Morne shouted at me. He then introduced me to Oom Japie.
“Oom,” grunted Morne, “this is Engelse Moffie.” Everybody laughed. Morne introduced me to Oom Bert.
“Oom, this is Engelse Moffie.” Ha. Ha. Ha.
The procedure was repeated for the benefit of Oom Andries, Oom Hendrik and Oom Pieter.
I sank lower into my chair and nursed my drink. Morne motioned me to finish it; there was another one waiting. This shouldn’t be too bad, I told myself, as long as they don’t drag me into politics. I needn’t have worried: The conversation took a dramatic turn to English people and how cowardly we are.
“Hey, Engelse Moffie, you know why we call an Englishman a soutpiel?” one of the ooms asked.
“Because your one foot is in South Africa and your other foot is in England and your you-know-what hangs in the salty sea water.”
Ha. Ha. Ha.
All the ooms have a chance to relate an encounter when they beat up an Englishman. With each brandewyn-en-Coke I sank lower into my chair and let the jabber float past. I fell asleep at about 2am and woke up later that morning with a raging headache. At breakfast an African Grey started chanting: “Moffie! Moffie!” Although the parrot could imitate the ringing of the phone this was its first actual word. A cause for celebration – Morne handed me a brandewyn-en-Coke. Soon we had headed off to Oom Eddie for more drinks and a chat about the chances of rain and the prospects of a volkstaat.
There was a warthog’s head in the place that most city folk would have a doorbell. The warthog’s glare was a bit unnerving. We made our way to Oom Eddie’s bar, which he had named “Lomu se gat”, after the giant All Black star who had terrified the Springboks at the Rugby World Cup a year earlier.
Again I was introduced to each Oom as Engelse Moffie and again each introduction was followed with peals of laughter. This time the introductions are also coupled with the story of the African Grey.
The Ooms chatted about the following week’s hunt, bar brawls, women and boozing.
It was time to go. Morne handed me a bottle of brandy and a groot stuk biltong.
“Drive safely, Engelse Moffie,” he told me.
I drove back to Johannesburg and wondered what the Schweizer-Reneke ooms would do if I had to return to the town with a black friend. I wasn’t sure, but what I did know was that the parrot’s vocabulary would have doubled.