As a hormone-controlled youngster in the late 70s,
every one of my friends despised afrikaans, afrikaans music and boer
history. Everything English was better. In those stormy university
days I lived with my grandparents. I remember my grandfather
watching me with sad eyes as I rushed off to class wearing a union
jack t-shirt. He never said a word about it.
I learned later that he ferociously fought the
English and often paid with his own blood, being wounded in the
fight for his language culture and country. He was a member of the "stormjaers"
(storm chasers), a radical faction of the Ossewa Brandwag, the
revolutionary anti-English boer movement. A big, powerful man, he
was known as "Cat Mitchell" for his amazing agility. He was a mean
fighter and some stories tell of him taking on 3 men at a time.
He eluded capture by the English many times - every
time except one. When caught, he was placed in an internment camp
and later exiled to St. Helena, a remote British outpost where
Napoleon was kept for 5 years (1815-1820) as well as Chief Dinizulu
(1890-1897). There, my grandfather spent the years patiently carving
tiny wooden objects, many of which I saw later in my grandmothers
"showcase", a heavy 6-foot cabinet with glass front and mirror
He was kept at St. Helena with some of South
Africas later political leaders, and I remember being introduced to
John Vorster in the late 70s (then prime minister of South Africa)
at a reunion and being introduced as "Klein Kat" (Small Cat)
After returning from St. Helena, he had an encounter
with God and became a rough-and-tumble boer preacher. Refusing on
the basis of his faith to be incorporated into the government
echelons by the broederbond - an elite and secret afrikaans society
which then ruled South Africa - he became a menial worker instead of
accepting a well-paying bureaucratic post and living in luxury.
I never understood his motivation and sacrifice.
Now, a grandfather myself - and many years later - I
am beginning to see with great sadness what a great man he was and
how much I missed.
Slowly, I am beginning to see the beauty of the
culture and the courage, faith and perseverance of the boer heart
that still flows in our blood today.
Mitchell is a bow hunter, outdoorsman and the author of
several books on African wildlife and survival
It took many years, and although my heart has long
ago turned to his God, my mind is turning to the great men they were
and what they were protecting then. I have become a reformed anti-afrikaans
I have come across a collection of essays some afrikaner wrote
about my grandfather almost a hundred years ago - and I will attempt
to honour the memory of the boers with articles in issues to come.