/ 9 April 2015

The trout that lost itself in rhetoric

Kleinfontein holding.
Kleinfontein holding.

I deliberately choose not to divulge Lungi’s real name, because he is a young man with a troubled past.

If you chance upon an escape into the Kleinfontein valley, home to huge tracts of citrus orchards and pumpkin plants, you are likely to bump into Lungi.

Two of my buddies, retired educators, Wendy Morake and Mojapan Setjeng, have been bitten by the Kleinfontein valley bug, and are now part of regular trips to these picturesque farmlands, on the fringes of the North West town of Brits.

The routine is always the same: we leave our vehicles at Nick van der Walt’s farm, and put on wide-brimmed hats and sunglasses to walk down to the dam, home to birdsong and a chorus of bullfrogs.

At the end of the walk we drive to the Rashoop trading store for refreshments.

From time to time the farmers, driving mud-splattered bakkies, stop by for essentials such as a bottle of brandy and tobacco, for a pipe smoke on the farmhouse stoep.

You are likely to see the three of us, Wendy, Mojapan and me, relaxing on camp chairs in the shade of a thorn tree, on the forecourt of the store.

Lungi, he of the deep-set eyes and hairline almost reaching below the forehead, recently used an upturned jerrycan as a chair to talk to Wendy and Mojapan, for he is aware I know too much about his past.

He rambled on about how he could angle the biggest trout, and suggested if my two friends could part with a few rand for his sorghum beer, they would be rewarded with the tastiest trout this side of the English Channel.

When the two wanted to know if he worked for a trout farm, Lungi’s eyes lit up, responding that he worked for a construction company.

The reason he was not at work was because he was not well, and that he was planning to write a note to his employer explaining his condition.

During the discussion Lungi kept on reminding himself that he had to compile this and that document, as assigned by his employer, for whom he allegedly worked as a clerk.

The two men ultimately relented, offering Lungi a handful of coins.

Those who know Lungi from his childhood will tell you that the farmer on whose land Lungi’s parents died had gone out of his way to take the orphan in his bakkie to Kleinfontein Farm School.

But Lungi spent only until mid-morning break there, never to return to learn little things like reading and writing. Never mind the militant rhetoric from the labour movement – because they grew up as childhood buddies with the likes of Lungi – some of these farmers are trying hard to urge the offspring of farmworkers to get an education.

But this is South Africa, the land where rhetoric often wins votes, and Lungi and his proffered trouts slipped through the net.

Johnny Masilela is a journalist and author