The Story of Oukloof written by Maria Appollis

In the valley at the foot of the Kasteelberg, lays Oukloof.  Our people built the houses themselves, from homemade clay bricks.  The roof beams were crooked and skew blue-gum poles. Enough sun and rain.  No electricity, running water was destined to us. We knew about wooden fires, oil lamps, and fat candles.  The smell of the lamps and candles were unique. It still awakens the homesickness.

Our kids’ meeting place was in the afternoons at the reservoir.  We drew water there daily. With a carrying-stick over our shoulders, we carried two buckets each time.  All of us were treated the same. The “uitverkorenes” [special ones] were the teachers and the Mission Church leaders.  We believed we belonged together. Only old men became deacons and elders.  The “ringkoppe” [ringleaders] of the “Oukloof Godsdienstig” [Oukloof Religious] wielded the sceptre.  Had to be careful of them otherwise you get a churchless funeral.  Oom Jantjies, Oom Lukas, Oom Byl’s looks were enough to give you convulsions.

Not all our kids made it to Standard 6.  But for the time being Standard 6 was enough for us.  Our mothers rented the girls out to the white ladies. For little money, but at least for food and to learn how to work.

The coloureds’ church stood on top of the hill.  For good measure it was the school as well. The hill always made me think of Golgotha.  In my imagination I always relived the crucifixion of the lord.

Pietie was the best plank-car maker.  He sped down the hill at a dangerous speed.  In the dip he threw an “S”, and stopped with a broadside.  Mannetjies, Kidos and Fanie sometimes chanced their luck.

Nicknames were the order of the day.  Everyone knew each other. With our ears to the ground we knew everything about each other.  We really cared for each other. Those who had little could get from those who had plenty.

We didn’t care much for visiting the white area.  It was the apartheid years. The Ouklowers did not bother themselves with politics.  Our interests were with the church and school. We lived “happy and content” (sic) in our little world.  Most of our people were farm labourers. There were at least a few building men too who could build houses.  This is how our houses were built. A bit crooked and skew, but at least. Most were serving and serviceable.

We were never bored. Our programme for the week was brim-full.  Sunday was church day. The adults worked on Mondays to Fridays.  Our kids went to school. In the afternoons we had knitting and sewing classes at Misses (sic) Africa.  Season-time our kids also worked with the tobacco harvest and grape harvesting, fetching water and wood were also our kids’ duty.  Our wood-fetching areas were far. It was the “Valley of shade” the deep kloof above Kloovenberg and Rooi Draai a portion of the pass.

Oukloof and the white town was situated next to each other.  Two shops, a butchery, police station, hotel and canteen was in town.  The canteen only sold two bottles of wine per person weekly. In the town centre was the white people’s church with the clock in the tower.  We all made use of the clock and the hourly chimes. It was the only clock available to us brown people. Some of our fathers did however own pocket watches.

We were 80 households, with lots of children.  We always had food. Food was cheap in those days.  Our fathers worked for little money. They received a weekly ration from the farmer they worked for.  Every day the workers also got an enamel mug of wine.

We lived in peace with each other.  We were never afraid. With us there were no competitions.  Everybody was content with the basic furniture in their houses.  Poor but clean. We managed with manure floors, clay walls and the necessary “kleinhuisie”.  We had to bury our own faeces.  The bucket system started at a later date.  Fridays we snipped up newspaper and hung it on the back of the kleinhuisie’s door.

Every year after the wheat harvest our mothers made us mattresses.  Flour bags were sewn together. A big mattress casing was made. Tightly filled with chaff.  Our kids then had to play these high mattresses flat. Our mothers also made our clothes. The finest underwear from [boiled-out flour runs].  Finished with ribbing. The young children’s shorts had “bicycle tjoep” [bicycle tube] cut elastic in them.  A white woman, Miss Toetie, made our best clothes.

Almost all the households kept chickens and a pig.  We also had vegetable and flower gardens. In the meagre months we exchanged chickens and eggs at the shop for groceries.  Fruit was plentiful. Our people who worked with it on the farms, ensured that we receive enough. Most gardens had a quince avenue, prickly-pear bush, pomegranate bush and fig trees.

The teachers at the school gave us the absolute best education.  They made us sing in the choir, do physical exercise, taught skills for girls and boys, concert acting and made us study hard.  We received hidings as well. The teachers had a slightly separate living area and lifestyle. Nonetheless we had a reciprocal respect for each other.  At school we received bread and milk at 1st break.  2nd break we received an orange or grapes.  We were also fed soup in the winter. Auntie Bok cooked the most delicious soup.  We were also given cod-liver oil daily. In general we were healthy. We had endurance, bodies were used to all of nature’s elements.  The cod-liver oil was an antidote to tuberculosis. If you fell ill with it, your death sentence was signed. You were held in isolation in a little wooden house far from the neighbourhood.  The little house was only for brown patients.

The memories are filled with homesickness.  Sweet, no bitterness. Ouklowers understood each other.  Satisfied, it was enough. Our children walked bare feet until we left school.  Going to school did us well. Most of us were studious. We had ambition. A minister, teacher, policeman, nurse, warder, security guard and many decent jobs were delivered to us by Oukloof’s children.  We knew our own entertainment and pleasures. In the dusty streets we played our own make-believe games. It was “ablou”, rope skipping, ‘tippy, tippy behind your side’, “tol kap” and “kennetjie”.  Lots of dancing and singing too.

Appel taught us English songs. Annatjie Lukas’ cape cousins taught us the newest dances during holidays.  Yes, langarm [ballroom dancing] too.  The grammy-phone (sic) records and seven singles we bought in Malmesbury.  At the cross-roads where Auntie Keloes lived, we danced. Hartjie played the guitar.  

On a piece of open field the boys sometimes kicked a ball around.  Not real rugby though. Their field did not have rugby posts. The girls liked playing dolls.  Making dolls’ clothes and visiting each other. One evening, Lena, Let and Gerty’s dolls stayed over at Lene’s dolls.  That night a vagrant pig ate all their bran dolls. It was a serious affair. Just like a funeral.

Funerals were a real “sad” (sic) story.  Everybody was involved. The children were not allowed to go view the bodies.  The mortuary was never locked. So we went to view the bodies secretly. We picked wild flowers, made wreaths and mourned with the next of kin.  A lot of us are probably still weeping with oom Jan’s children. His wife passed away and left a number of orphans. They were Oumatje, Boekies, Willem, Boesman, and the Kleine Jannie.  Our friend, Saaitjie from Kloovenburg, also lost her brother, Ruitertjie. Our husbands made the coffins themselves.

One day, Oom Krisjan Gesigge’s house burnt down.  He and his family then just left Oukloof.

The first crow of the cockerel was at about quarter to three.  Then the children that lived on the other side came to call us living on the near side.  Yes that was the time we went to plant or harvest tobacco. It was before going to school.  

In the meantime, Oom Kerneels Koopman also moved in.  He and his sons made paintings. They painted farm houses and farming tools, show wagons and horse drawn carriages.  They also painted the coffins with coffin-brown.

Old girl Sofie was our herb doctor.  Her medicine was cheaper and worked faster than doctor Atta’s.  In addition our parents self-medicated with home remedies. Goat droppings in warm farm wine for fever.  Oil leaves and the skin of a freshly slaughtered cat for inflammation or croup chest. [Bruised] malva leaves in ears for infection.  Mixed braai fat and coconut oil for cracked feet. Going to the doctor was only for serious incidents. Ouma Eva, Auntie Siena and Auntie Berta were our midwives.  It was seldom that a baby was stillborn.

Holidays were celebrated with vigour.  Guy Fawkes evening was celebrated on the 5th of November.  We made a big effigy with real clothes.  It was drawn through the streets in a wooden cart.  People threw lamp oil on our effigy. Whilst singing “Guy does not have hair, but Guy has a child”, we lit it.  We never attempted to find out the meaning of Guy Fawkes.

Christmas was a holy church day.  It was the same every year. The Christmas tree and performing the birth of Jesus.  Us brown women can really make tasty food. The menu was normally as follows – yellow corn rice, roasted home-grown chicken, roasted potatoes, [sauced beans], offal or mutton and sweet potato.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day we were a jolly lot.  Back-and-forth home visits. Lots of [skuinskoek] and dry ginger biscuits.  Delicious ginger beer which was sometimes a bit too strong. Of course, during those two days the wine flowed.  There were toasts to everyone’s happiness.

So between 1950 and 1960 we were very happy.

But suddenly our peaceful existence was ended.  In 1965 our people got the order to move to a plot far from the village.  Our parents were very unhappy. They did not want to move. Our children were excited about the new big school and newly-built houses.  The adults were however forced to move. The houses were not all built at the same time. They had to move bit by bit with the municipal wagons. Oom Bul and Oom Lukas resisted.  They almost had their houses bulldozed on top of them.

This is how Esterhof was born.  A white principal, Mr Esterhuysen, was very kind to our people.  Esterhof was named after him.

Esterhof was a mourning town in the making.  It first had to be tamed. Uncomfortable two-roomed homes.  The smell of the rubbish dump and the dam with the cellar runoff was an asphyxiating stink.  It was very sad for us when Oukloof was completely destroyed. Every person, it does not matter what race, wants to know where they are from.  They want a tangible heritage. A person can easily adapt to a situation but today we understand.

Oukloof is completely destroyed.  Bulldozed. Nothing remained. The earth lay dormant for a few years.  Now there are vineyards.

And we are homesick.  It is a deep, hurtful homesickness of what once was.  The government did however give us flush toilets, running water, and electricity.  It was a big comfort.

In 2002 the government paid an amount of R17,000.00 to the former residents of Oukloof.  Unfortunately almost all the Ouklowers are dead. The money then had to be divided amongst the children.  It’s a small comfort. Or it was, we say.

We have become used to Esterhof.  The hope that we will ever move back has faded.