S told us about Namibia as we drove through Windhoek. While she talked, I looked out the window at all the brick and concrete in the bush. I’d forgotten the electric wire everywhere, and the bright African colours of the houses and the walls – reds, yellows, oranges and the occasional light purple – the paint dilapidated from rain and scorching sun. S said we had to watch out for traffic cops along these roads. This might have just been her tactic to stop Dad from speeding so much. She said the cops were mostly there to stop poachers, who come driving down in their utes with tarps over the back, covering massive illegal kills, probably leaving a blood trail all down the highway. If they get caught, the cops can be bought. S said you could buy your way out of a speeding ticket too, but she wasn’t sure what the going rate was. “Better just to stay out of their way,” she said.
In South Africa, the water is recycled up to seven times. Under “affirmative action”, the white staff of Johannesburg’s sewage treatment plants were all fired and replaced with black staff. Unfortunately, the new staff were not trained, and did not know how to do their jobs. The French were flown in to give them training, but by then the water was already contaminated with e-coli. Why they did not forsee this outcome and train the staff beforehand is a mystery. Mum says she saw hundreds of black children skipping school in Cape Town because they knew they did not need to study in order to pass. They had to pass, because they were black, and therefore guaranteed a job.
As we drove through the smaller town of Okahandjia (okka-hundya) Dad told us the story of how he and Oupa had been driving up this road more than thirty years ago, and accidentally ran over a giant black mamba that had fallen asleep across the hot road. The snake reared up in pain and writhed away from the car. A black man was riding his bicycle in the other direction as the car ran over the snake, and the injured snake went after him.
Oupa stopped the car and got out with his shotgun. The snake veered off the road into the bushes. Its delicate spine had probably been broken, and it would slowly die unless someone put it out of its misery. But before Oupa could line up a shot, the snake suddenly veered around and came straight back at him. He had no choice but to retreat to the car. It wasn’t as dead as they thought it was, so they had to leave it. The man on the bicycle got away.
The conversation soon turned to hunting. Dad wanted to take us shooting for target practice, and then maybe (if we were good enough) to shoot a Hartebeest or a Gemsbok.
“You’ll have to get permission from R,” explained S, “he won’t let you shoot unless he thinks you’re going to hit it.” R was the current caretaker of the farm, along with his wife, V and two little boys. S said they were religious and said grace before meals – although they wouldn’t when we were there – but we should mind ourselves when getting into theological debates over beer. They didn’t like to drink, and frowned upon heavy drinking, so we would do best to retire to our bungalows after dinner before cracking into the vast supply of beer that Dad was going to buy us. It was a cattle farm, and R was employed to make money off it, so he was a serious man with serious responsibilities. “He knows how to shoot, too,” S said. “He takes a long time to choose which cow is the next one to go. Then he just watches it for a long time. He always hits them right in between the eyes. If you do go hunting, it’s best to try and appear very confident in front of R, even if you feel very nervous, otherwise he might worry that you aren’t up to it.”
I said maybe he had a point. Better not to shoot unless you felt confident. “Nah, the first time is always exciting” Dad says. “It’s just the massive adrenaline rush you get from killing something. It makes you shake.” “A!” Mum said, upset. She did not like the idea of getting a thrill from killing animals.
I wondered about hunting. If you felt bad about killing an animal, then you shouldn’t do it. But in that case, how could you reconcile your conscience the next time you are tucking into your beef burger? Hunting is a moment of truth. Either you find peace with the idea that you must kill to eat meat, or you stop eating meat. Anything else seems inconsistent and wrong. This trip would either make me a vegetarian or a killer of animals. I couldn’t guess which one.
Just before we got to the farm, Dad told us the story of the farm’s previous caretaker, H. H was a really tough dude, and wherever possible would use his knife on an animal instead of his gun. For example, when a Gemsbok tried to jump one of the fences but tangled its back leg and broke it, H decided to put it out of its misery. Not by shooting it – by cutting its throat. “He love to use his knife,” Dad said. “He had a bloodlust, that’s for sure.”
In spite of his abilities as a killer, H was equally adept at fixing the wounded. This is exemplified by the story of when he and his faithful hound went pig hunting. The foolish dog chased a warthog down its burrow – where the wily pig got the jump on it and gored the dog with its tusks, slicing the poor thing’s belly open. The dog emerged, dragging its entrails behind it through the sand.
Instead of killing the sorry creature right then, H got on his hands and knees and grabbed its guts with both hands, piling them back into its body with all of the dirt and sand, then used one of Africa’s most infamous thorns, the kameel-doring (as long and straight as a needle and just as sharp) to sew the wound shut with a piece of string while the dog lay there obediently. Miraculously, in spite of the rough conditions under which the surgery was performed, the dog healed and was eventually out hunting again with H. Needless to say, it stayed well clear of warthog burrows.
Finally, the dirt road ended in a tall gate, weaved through with loops of barbed wire. Two metal bells on top signaled our entry to the Erichsvelde. We were here.