Saturday, July 17, 2010

Down on the farm

Looking back, I have mixed feelings about a strange visit we made to a farm near Bothaville in the Free State. As part of our intelligence officer's course at 1 Intelligence Unit, Kimberley, in 1980, they saw fit to decamp a group of us to this farm (I can't recall for how long), during which we were supposed to learn the rudiments of farming. The aim was we would pass this knowledge on to the "local population" in South West Africa. At the time, as an avowedly anti-apartheid person, I was entirely cynical. Anyway, I persuaded the military men that I should be given a large drawing book and pen-and-ink with which to record this momentous event. They had the option of choosing which drawings they wanted, and left me with the rest - thankfully the nicest.

Despite my grandparents having farmed in the then Rhodesia from the 1930s, I know zilch about this vital activity. But I loved sketching the farm implements lying about.

I sketched this old farm worker, then took the drawing up to him to show him. However, his fellow farm hands told me not to bother, as he was almost entirely blind.

Where is this young boy now? The farmer who hosted us was hospitality personified, especially, I suspect, towards the officers. I sketched his son with their dog. It was that sort of time in South Africa, with PW Botha having militarised everything as Defence Minister, Prime Minister and soon to be Executive President. People like this farmer had to comply. Today I have a real admiration for the farmers of this country. You only have to look at the collapse of Zimbabwe to realise what a key role our commercial farmers play within the broader economy.

There is nothing quite as bucolic as a cow lying, or grazing, in a field, like the one above. The old three-legged pot, or "potjie", is emblematic of our rural communities. Due to only having an A4 scanner, you'll notice this picture is actually from the same page as the one above.

Quickfire drawings done with that knib dipped in black ink. The horse on the right was being pestered by a fly, or something, and I caught its irritated twist in a few lines. Again, this is half the page, with the other below.

I enjoy the soft pencil lines of the cow, top, which contrast nicely with the fine ink lines.

For some obscure reason, while based briefly at a place called Jan Kempdorp, north of Kimberley, we travelled further north to Hartswater, where there is a thriving citrus and wine industry, thanks to the miracle of irrigation. At one point we ended up in a farm-vehicle service station, where I captured this guy holding out his hand to receive a spanner. Not sure what the guy, one of ours, was doing relaxing in a deck chair. But one of the best pastimes in the army was called "B en O", which in Afrikaans was supposed to stand for "Bestuur en Onderhoud" - driving and maintenance - but was distorted to "Balbak en Ontspan".

Much of the time, naturally, was spent "ballas-bakking", which is what this hard-working soldier seems to be doing. I like the little figure above him, like something from The Three Musketeers.

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