Continued … from Chapter 5 Part 1
Presumably Piet and Tilman were very interested. In 1979, together with Moyan van der Merwe, they bought the farm from Moyan’s stepmother, Johannes van der Merwe’s widow. In the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, when land goes up for sale, there is a preemptive right that fellow landowners have to be given first option to purchase before the land can be offered on the open market. (Since 2007 this rule has been changed). By going into partnership with Moyan, Piet Moolman and Tilman Ludin were effectively getting their foot in the door of a notoriously exclusive old boys’ club.


It is difficult to understand why the beautiful name of Wintersrus was at this time changed to the unattractive name of Renosterhoop, which literally means rhino midden or toilet! It is true that the density of rhinos, and the consequent density of middens, is quite evident and so must have been a factor in changing the name of the farm.
By 1983, after a couple of years of roughing it under the corrugated-iron roof and in the communal buildings, the Moolman, Ludin, and van der Merwe families decided that more comfortable and attractive buildings should be erected. Piet and Tilman had been very successful in business and so could provide the finance which, teamed up with Moyan’s resources in the timber industry and his building skills, meant that all the elements for the makings of a fine camp were available.
The new buildings were designed by a Pietersburg architect named Vic Spruit. Many years later I found his plans, moth eaten and water damaged, but nevertheless very interesting. They showed a greater inclination towards mathematically geometric shapes than towards traditional buildings: triangles and pyramids dominated and actual brick and mortar walls were basically non-existent.
The 25-meter long, 8 meter high-pitched thatch roof covered three levels due to the sloping aspect of the site, with all the levels open to the bush on the north and south sides. From the ground level, which served as a lounge, one could go up onto a timber landing and then out on either of its sides onto timber decks. Alternatively, one could go down paved steps into the kitchen and scullery area. The lower level, which was also open to the bush on either side, and in its center was an enormous, copper-hooded fireplace. As well as this large main building there were six additional pyramidal chalets dotted around the campsite.
It is worth mentioning here that the main building and the six chalets were intended for family holiday-use only and never for a commercial enterprise. The three families holidayed at this camp for several years, sometimes one family on its own, at other times all three families together as a huge group.
The bush in those parts was pretty wild. There was the odd hunter, or a family game-drive, but there were few permanent residents in the area. The staff who looked after the camps was few in number and their mode of transport was either their feet or their bicycles. Sabi Sand Wildtuin game scouts would drop off monthly staff-rations.
The only other people in the area at the time were Mozambiquan refugees passing through in small groups of up to about fifteen - men, women and children. As exhausted, courageous survivors they were on foot, fleeing the Mozambiquan civil war. Many did not make it, but were killed by lions lying in wait along the well-travelled walking trails through the Kruger National Park. Most of the refugees travelled under the cover of darkness and spent the hot, daylight hours resting for the next night’s ordeal. Some would need urgent medical attention for their feet. Walking barefoot for days through the thorny bushveld could cause septicemia, often necessitating the amputation of a foot. The refugees were also vulnerable to various diseases. The landowners and their staff had to report the arrival of refugees to the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, which in turn would report it to the South African Defense Force. A collection truck would arrive to take the people to refugee camps outside the game reserve boundaries.
An incident in the Renosterhoop camp illustrates how wild the area was in those days. The three families were on safari with some friends, one of whom was a woman in a wheelchair. Most of them, including the woman, were sitting around the fire awaiting the arrival of supper. Someone suddenly spotted a lioness heading straight for the fire. She was not making threatening advances: she was on a mission to somewhere on the other side of the camp and no fire was going to stand in her way. The resulting pandemonium sent people scattering in all directions without a thought for the practical problems of propelling a wheelchair unaided through the sand. The woman was extremely brave to stay calm while the lioness passed mere meters away from her. It was noted that for a long time thereafter, many a burly man was unable to look her in the eye!


In about 1983 something occurred that, during the years to come, was to have various unsettling impacts on the three families. Jurie arrived at Gowrie Gate of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin on his way to Renosterhoop with a couple of schoolmates, one of whom was Sam Molatse. As Jurie’s VW Kombi entered the reserve Sam climbed out to sit on the roof of the car for the last stretch to Renosterhoop, a distance of about 10km.
A car, carrying Moyan van der Merwe and Rhea, Moyan’s wife, came towards them. Since they were old family friends of the Moolmans Jurie was surprised when, instead of, as usual, stopping for a chat, their car squeezed passed him on the narrow road, only to stop a short distance away. Moyan signaled for Jurie to come over to him and started asking questions about the young black fellow on the roof of Jurie’s Kombi. Jurie explained that Sam was a school friend and that they were all on their way to Renosterhoop for a few days off from school. Moyan seemed to take exception to the fact that the boy was not there only in the capacity as a labourer, and forbade Jurie to continue on to the camp. The situation was tense and Jurie found that, since it was getting dark, he had no choice but to turn back and make an alternative plan for camping for the night.
As fate would have it in a remote area about 100km from Gowrie Gate the VW broke down in the by then pitch darkness, not far from the small town of Bushbuckridge. Any chance of there being passing vehicles that could help them was slim. This being the time before the age of cell phones the teenagers ventured out into the night hoping to meet a Good Samaritan. With an instance of overt racism fresh in their minds they came across a Shangaan family in a modest khaya (small homestead). The family opened their hearts and home to the weary travellers and made sure they got a good meal into their bellies and a warm dry place to sleep for the night.
In the morning Jurie managed to arrange for a service station in Nelspruit to send out a recovery vehicle and take the VW to a mechanic for repairs. However, the meeting with the van der Merwes left a bitter aftermath which coloured Jurie’s subsequent account to his shocked father, Piet, and his godfather, Tilman. This started a series of events that resulted in the souring of the relationship between the Moolmans and Ludins, on one side, and the van der Merwes, on the other.
Piet and Tilman refused to supply any further finance for completing the camp, and so Renosterhoop stood unfinished and deserted, haunted by unpleasant memories, for without money and Moyan’s practical participation the camp could not be completed. The Moolmans stopped going there. Before long they started looking for another piece of bushveld that would not bear the indelible memory of that chance meeting near Gowrie Gate. Rifts like this were commonplace in those times, but somehow one thought they happened among those other people who did not know better. When such matters came close to home one had to make plans for dealing with reality and moving on. Within a couple of years the Moolman and Ludin families had bought out Moyan’s share of Renosterhoop.

To be continued....

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Our African Way