Continued from Chapter 5 Part 2

In the meantime the running costs of the farm as well as the conservation levies of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin made it necessary that, in one way or another, income had to be generated.

As has been mentioned the landowners of Renosterhoop and the surrounding small farms made money through hunting. The individual pieces of land were too small for hunting licenses for the “Big 5”– the term “Big 5” refers to lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and buffalo, the most dangerous of wild animals to hunt - to be granted, so the owners would pool their pieces and cooperatively share licenses and revenue.
In about 1986 Piet and Tilman heard of a piece of land, named Gowrie that was up for sale. It was 2 500 hectares just north of the Sabi Sand Wildtuin boundary and was the remaining portion of greater Gowrie. It had been used for commercial hunting since the 50s. Piet was living in San Francisco at the time and suggested that Jurie and I should go up and take a look at the farm. For us it was a historic journey in many ways, although at the time I was not wholly aware of the significance of our trek.
It was the first time since the van der Merwe incident that Jurie had been back to Renosterhoop, where we were to camp while viewing the land to the north. Not only was this my first visit to the exclusive Sabi Sand Wildtuin, but I was also to gain new insight into the family of which I was becoming a part. I had heard stories, and about adventures, that hardly seemed credible, and now there I was, about to sow the seeds of an interest that would colour a lifetime ahead. I think I could sense a certain sadness in Jurie: he had so many warm memories of better days at Renosterhoop, prior to his parents’ divorce and to the van der Merwe incident that had so changed the relations between the three families.
When we arrived at the camp I was gob-smacked by the awesome deserted buildings: they seemed to hover over the shimmer of a mirage rising from the heat of the baked white clay soil. The camp staff seemed rather disturbed by our arrival, but set about sweeping the earth clean of leaves and thorns and starting a fire to boil the cast-iron kettle for a cup of tea. They were really only accustomed to refugees coming to camp, and seemed very subdued. I later learned that this submission was how they reacted to being around white people.
The main building was empty and so seemed far larger than it really was. It was its huge proportions and geometry which caused it to seem to hover above the ground. The volume contained by the deep pitch of the roof provided a cool retreat from the unrelenting heat outside. Apart from the large indigenous trees and a huge bougainvillea propped up by the rickety pantry, nothing seemed to be able to cope with the rock-hard substrate and harsh atmosphere.
On the upper deck, in an alcove above the kitchen on the lowest level, was a pile of foam mattresses in fairly good nick, considering how long they must have been stored there. The afternoon was spent on our bellies and backs trying to get an old Coca Cola paraffin fridge running so as to have somewhere to store our provisions safely away from all manner of predators, which I was surprised to learn, could include anything from ants to hyenas! We opened up one of the chalets to use its bathroom, but opted to sleep in the main building. When night fell we spread mattresses out on one of the open decks, under the stars.
Our first visit to Gowrie, as the new farm to be considered, was strange, to say the least. I have mentioned that there had been a lot of hunting on the land and this was quite apparent as we drove around. In fact, I don’t think we saw any animals at all! The bush was also very thick, and had very few open areas. One of the open areas, called Quarantine, was just to the west of the existing camp. Many years before this fenced-off area had been used to acclimatize cattle to various local diseases. However, tsetse fly, foot and mouth, anthrax, marauding lions, and malaria made cattle ranching impossible so that only game farming could be undertaken. One thing for sure, it was wild!
The camp was nothing short of an eyesore. The six derelict rondawels (round thatched huts) were dark and damp, with stick-down carpet squares peeling off the concrete floors. The bath fittings were of the deep-green fibreglass variety and not at all appealing. The staff accommodation was a dismal array of shoddy huts, among which remains of long-forgotten hunts lay scattered. There were a couple of other old buildings dotted about, but there was nothing that tempted us to stick around for long. When recalling that first visit I cannot even remember the dam in front of the camp. Either it had been bone dry or the camp itself absorbed all my attention.
The large farm of Gowrie was completely fenced off from the Sabi Sand Wildtuin to the south and west, Kruger National Park to the east, and another hunting concern, Buffelshoek, to the north. Piet and Tilman knew that in its current state the asking price could be negotiated and the land bought for a fraction of what it was potentially worth. They knew that with a further bit of negotiating, and by stopping the hunting, Gowrie could be incorporated into the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, thus inflating its value enormously. There also were plans to start removing the fence between the Sabi Sand Wildtuin and the Kruger National Park, which again could only increase the value of the land. For thirty years this fence had been defining the park’s western boundary and obstructing the east/west game migration routes. In 1987 Piet and Tilman bought Gowrie.


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Our African Way