All posts by Hendrik Mentz

A hidden geography

The longer I live alone here, off-grid in Suurbraak, managing my son (Matt) and daughter-in-law’s (Sasha) small Niche Unity farming operation, the more absorbed I become in what I call a hidden geography, captured also in a short film by Green Renaissance:


Ostensibly, the film is a creation of Justine du Toit (producer), Michael Raimondo (director), Warren Smart (cinematographer), and Jackie Viviers (editor) all of Green Renaissance.

Back left clockwise: Jackie Viviers (editor), Michael Raimondo (director), Justine du Toit (producer) and Warren Smart (cinematographer)

My sense, however, is of deeper processes at work. Let me try to explain.


For me the film was uncanny, as I had been looking for both pairs of my glasses up until minutes before Justine and Michael’s arrival to show me the rough cut of their movie. While searching, the question popped into my mind: ‘Hendrik, what aren’t you seeing?’, and then as if to reinforce the question halfway through their movie hanging in the barn were my glasses.

Déjà vu

For me seeing my glasses hanging in the barn evoked a sense of déjà vu, but what of the viewer?

The film opens in darkness, with nothing to see, just the sound of milking: ‘whoosh, whoosh’, cut to (narrative text is indicated in italics): And there’s nothing else, just you in this goat world, cut to Daisy’s eyes looking over the gate at the three of us inside the barn (Daisy is the matriarch) followed by the piano score and movie title, What actually IS superimposed over a close-up of a rather sinister image of one of the goat’s eyes (see the screen grab below),

What aren’t we seeing?

perhaps reminding us that goats are intimately associated with the occult – as in that which is hidden.

My sense is that the tension set up by the goats’ eyes juxtaposed with the glasses hanging in the barn lie at the heart of this little movie.


So if the movie is about seeing, what should we be seeing?
Is it a case of WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get): photogenic goats, an old man sounding off, footage of the luscious Suurbraak valley or is what we should be seeing invisible: as in that from which the visible emerges (the surrounding darkness out of which the goat’s eye peers, comes to mind)?

Certainly it’s not WYSIWYG, as the tight edits, narrative and voice-overs signal: It’s deep, deep stuff (Kashkha looking back into the camera). Humans have lost respect for animals (Daisy looking into the barn). Batteries and feedlots… If we don’t look after our animals and we just turn them into food factories … (aforementioned glasses, fade to antique Chinese urn, fade to transgenerational photographic image of Matthew glass raised as if toasting his father, fade to steaming clay and ash espresso cup from the Camino, referencing Sasha, born French, fade to barometer indicating stormy).

For me the movie reaches into what is below the surface and has been lost.

Hidden geography

So what has been lost?

I spend most of my day caring for and thinking about the needs of all the animals on the farm. They, in turn, are continuously conscious of my presence.

Each provides a gateway to other, or what might traditionally be described as God. I provide the animals with a sense of security, governance and routine. They put me in touch with that which is primordial (William Blake’s The Tyger comes to mind). This mutuality is the hidden geography.

This self-same geography Justine most likely sensed when she interjected: “If only we had had a camera here to capture your saying that.” Michael’s searching interview questions that evoked my responses helped articulate it. Warren’s saturated, pregnant footage conveyed it. Justine and Michael’s brief to Jackie must have spoken to it. Jackie’s uncanny, David Lynchian edits framed it.

All mentioned above, as also the goats, sensing something important was happening, helped us see: if we don’t respect them …the animals are lost, and their loss is our loss.

Suurbraak rolling mass action: a commentary

Commentary on the march held in Suurbraak Sunday 14 May, 2017.

This report provides:

  1. commentary on the march
  2. commentary on the period shortly after the march ended
  3. commentary on the handover of the list of demands
  4. update on the racial incident
  5. ruminations about  where this is all heading

To read about and see footage and images of the march for housing, upon which this report is based, please go to: Ons soek huise’: Suurbraak march for housing

1. The march itself

Politics vs the community: Whereas earlier I had had grave misgivings about the possibility of party political interference in community affairs and/or the stoking of pockets of discontent within the Suurbraak community the march was, instead, from the outside, community driven; kudos therefore to the organisers for getting the community behind them on the matter of housing.

Posters tell me that Myburgh is the enemy of the people – but is he? It is clearly apparent from the posters that the Swellendam Municipality and the mayor, Nicholas Myburgh, are perceived by the organisers and the marchers to be the baddies. As far as I can make out, other than Myburgh’s imperious attitude at the start of the initial meeting he chaired, he and Swellendam Municipality have acted in good faith (see my earlier reports in this regards and, particularly, the section headed ‘Swellendam Municipality to blame? ‘ in Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest).

Housing: As mentioned in previous reports, it’s unclear why the organisers are targeting Myburgh and Swellendam Municipality, which operates within the constraints of a financial housing allocation determined by central government.

Update #01: Louis de Villiers in private correspondence pointed out that raw numbers mean little without relative population data, so I’ve removed a table that indicates waiting lists of residents in various towns in the Municipality until such time as I can source the population figures.

Update #02: Apparently the word has gone out that I am against houses being built in Suurbraak which, given everything I’ve written over these four blogs, is bizarre and mischievous (see my ‘State Capture’ in Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest). Here’s what I’ve been saying: money for housing raised by taxes is distributed by treasury to each province, which is required to spend the allocated funds honestly and fairly which, I believe, Swellendam Municipality is doing. My expressed concern, however, was why is there insufficient money allocated to Swellendam Municipality to build houses for all those on the waiting list? My conclusion was that money that should be going to housing and the poorest of the poor has, instead, been syphoned off (refer: Betrayal of the promise: how South Africa is being stolen) while, additionally, a trillion Rand is required by many of these same people to build nine nuclear power stations. This being so – and my suspicion is that there might be some truth in my conclusions – why then are Myburgh and Swellendam Municipality being blamed for the non delivery of housing?

2. Shortly after the march had ended

I mentioned in my previous report that sandwiched between the march and the handover (of the list of complaints to a member of Swellendam Municipality) there was an unfortunate incident in which the name of a member of the community was chanted, which I experienced as unnerving and ominous.

The law of numbers: I thought to myself at the time: who were the individuals chanting this man’s name? Was this orchestrated or spontaneous?  How would these residents feel about themselves afterwards? How does this man whom they’re taunting feel? Safe? What mustn’t all the children witnessing this be absorbing into their psyches?

No matter what this man might or might not have done in the eyes of community, did he deserve such a public humiliation?

Today it’s this man but who might it be tomorrow, and what form might a crowd use to express its point of view?

3: Handover of the letter of demand to an official of Swellendam Municipality

Although the letter Beukes read out articulated a number of problems and demands, I shall comment only on four issues. However to note that as far as the last page of Beukes’s letter is concerned I’m talking from memory as my camera card was by that time full and because I do not have a copy of the SCA’s letter as requested of Beukes, via email. (You can view footage of Beukes reading his letter, including a translation into English in: ‘Ons soek huise’: Suurbraak march for housing)

Representivity: Beukes argued against a Suurbraak #01 and a Suurbraak #02 (see the embedded video below). Therefore I trust that the newly formed SCA includes representatives living on both sides of the river – particularly as it seems that the SCA has assigned to itself a public watchdog role aimed at a geographically identifiable sector of the community (as in north of the Buffeljags River or oor die rivier). If the SCA, as currently constituted, does not include representation from oor die rivier (I’m dubious because I, for one, as far as I can tell, did not receive an invitation to join this newly formed civic association), then that doesn’t reflect well on Beukus’s earlier call for a unified Suurbraak and, I suspect, the legal standing of the SCA and/or its watchdog-related demands, which seem to apply only to one sector of the Suurbraak community.

Playing the man: I mentioned earlier that I felt the demonization of Myburgh and Swellendam Municipality during the march, to have been inappropriate. As far as Myburgh’s open letter to the Suurbraak community is concerned I agree with Beukes that it wasn’t proper for Myburgh to have played the man – as in Beukes (dat die hele aksie nie wentel oor sekere individue nie maar wel die gemeenskap); this being so, it was surely equally improper for Beukes then also to have played the man – as in Myburgh – in his letter of demand.

(You can download a scanned version of Myburgh’s open letter to the residents of Suurbraak written in Afrikaans here.)

Zoning: Maybe the best place to start is with my son, Matthew Mentz’s dissertation towards his M.Phil (Mentz, M. (2013) Unearthing the determinants required for off-grid subsistence: a case study. Stellenbosch, University of Stellenbosch [available online]) in which he posed the research question: whether it was possible to live sustainably on a small plot of ground. The plot in question was oor die rivier in Suurbraak which, perforce, required him to look into the whole matter of zoning. What he learnt and reported in his thesis has a direct bearing on the current impasse.

Apparently almost the entire village of Suurbraak and the allotments across the river were (provisionally?) zoned Residential 1 (R1), which would have meant that Matt’s vision and that of his spouse, Sasha, to grow their own food and to farm with goats and chickens would have come to naught. Not only would R1 zoning have affected their farming operation and that of others oor die rivier, it would also have put paid to Stan Gaffley’s farming operation and others in the village.

Deeply concerned, Matthew then pointed out to Willie Hattingh, Town Planning and Building Control Swellendam Municipality, that R1 zoning was at odds with the original intention of the London Missionary Society who ceded the 2755 hectares of land to the inhabitants of Suurbraak in 1812, and that the land, therefore, technically, belonged to the original owners but held in trust by the Municipality. (Mentz 2013:154)

Matthew noted in his dissertation that Swellendam Municipality was well aware of the contradictions and open to discussion throughout.

Meetings with the head planner of the Overberg area in 2011 and 2012 highlight the key issue, see appendix 4 (Hattingh 2011). The outcome of meetings with Mr Hattingh is that the residential 1 zoning being applied in Suurbraak is not in actual fact strictly correct. As yet the zoning scheme for Suurbraak has not been approved by Provincial Government, this means that Suurbraak falls under Section 14(1) of Ordinance 15 of 1985 that zones land from 1 July 1986 onwards, based on lawful utilisation on that date (Hattingh 2011). (ibid 182)

And that:

in my latest interaction with the municipal planner Mr. Hattingh (2012), I was informed that the municipality was in the process of revising the zoning of certain areas of Suurbraak to extensive residential zoning, this zoning would facilitate the ‘niche’ settlement approach. (ibid 186-7)

On telephonic enquiry by me, Friday 20 May 2016, an official in Town Planning and Building, Swellendam Municipality confirmed that the allotments oor die rivier and, I assume, all or most of the plots in Suurbraak village are zoned ER.

What exactly is ER? Pages 134-140 of Provincial Gazette Extraordinary 7300 of Friday, 22 August 2014 set out the purpose of ER zoning, which is to:

  • protect the transitional urban fringe area i.e. the area between urban and agricultural uses from being further subdivided and in so doing protect the rural character of the area
  • control and accommodate rural residential landholdings on the urban fringe and smaller erf subdivisions within existing rural settlements and thus promoting rural lifestyles, market gardening and related cottage industries
  • provide for activities, uses and associated infrastructure and buildings that are in keeping with the rural character of the area (ibid 134)

ER zoning therefore allows for agriculture (as in the ‘cultivation of land for crops and plants, or the keeping and breeding of animals’), the erection of agricultural buildings, the running of B&Bs, etc.

Clearly the Municipality had a challenge to blend and regularise iterative customs and legislation (the original Khoikhoi in 1809, the British occupation of the Cape at the time, London Missionary Society in 1812, Apartheid legislation, a new Democratic South Africa, and the Suurbraakoorgansraad) and has, it would seem, done an admirable job in zoning parts of the village of Suurbraak and the allotments oor die rivier RE.

Had the zoning for the town and/or the allotments oor die rivier remained R1 then neighbours could have complained about Matt and Sasha’s goats, Stan Gaffley’s horses, oom Boeta’s beeste (cattle) and all the roosters in town. Now that Swellendam Municipality has zoned much of Suurbraak and oor die rivier RE they cannot.

During the protest on the braak on Sunday 7 May 2017 Beukes stated (translation):

‘Two years ago, to my understanding, that was zoned agricultural (points across the river). No one could build houses there (general agreement). Two years ago the agricultural zoning was unilaterally converted to residential; in other words, an area where people can live. Do you know this? (calls from the audience) Do you know this? (calls from the audience). No one discussed this with us. Not a single person asked our permission. So (holds his hand up for silence).’

Click on the window below to view the footage:

Apropos, Matthew pointed out to me that the village owners of the allotments oor die rivier were always in their rights to sell the title deeds to their land and therefore never required permission from anyone. Furthermore, that agricultural zoning allows for the construction of dwellings. So it seems to me that some of Mr Beukus’s assumptions and conclusions are not entirely accurate and, therefore, a call by the SCA to halt all construction oor die rivier (and in the village?) is problematic and would most likely be challenged.

From my side (and I’m sure others will join me) I’m grateful to Swellendam Municipality (and, historically, Matthew for his difficult questions and his dogged participative persistence) for a legislative framework which legalises the farming activities on both sides of the Buffeljags while simultaneously ensuring its rural ambience.

In balance: Above I complimented the organisers for amassing a march which, from the outside, seemed to be community driven. I’m less sanguine about the letter of demand. Here’s why. If this march is about the non-delivery of houses by Swellendam Municipality, why now involve the Minister of Local Government and Traditional Affairs, the Minister of Land, the Human Rights Commission and Public Protection, public leaders (??), national parliamentarians, and the media? Is it to put additional pressure on Swellendam Municipality or are there perhaps  other reasons? And what comes to mind is the focus in the letter on those living across the river. And I think back on that very first Sunday I attended the protest on the braak and experienced the anger in the community (see ‘These are some of the reasons for the protest’ and ‘Report of what happened and was said during the protest’ in Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest), much of it understandable (see also my report below about the racial incident), and some of it unsettling. This is why Suurbraak needs a leadership which is responsible, and doesn’t fan hatred and split our community.

Although Suurbraak is a microcosm of South Africa as a whole, Suurbraak has also been blessed in its own way. For instance the original Attequa Khoikhoi inhabitants of the valley never lost their land to colonisers (see the section headed ‘Xairu’ in Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest). The London Missionary Society (LMS) intervened on the request of Attakwa-kaptein Hans Moos, and when the LMS withdrew the original owners received title deeds to their plots and homes in the village and their allotments oor die rivier. During the Apartheid period it was the white people who were forcibly removed. Now plots and allotments are being voluntarily sold by the original families and there’s discontent. Why? I have asked this and other questions throughout these reports within a context of someone who loves this valley and wants to live in harmony with nature and its people.

4. Report-back regarding the racial incident

In my previous report: Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest (refer in particular to the following sections: ‘Race’, ‘A perfect storm’ and ‘Racial tension’) I shared a worrying incident in which a white man oor die rivier used racist language against two brown men in the village and how one of the men from the village subsequently laid a charge of crimen iniuria against the white man and how, in return, the white man laid charges of assault against both men from the village.

Although this incident didn’t emerge directly in the march, save for one poster (see the feature pic to this post), at the time the incident aggravated an already tense situation thus heightening my concern that the community might split along racial lines. Therefore I feel that the following update is relevant also to this report.

Geography: There are three bridges over the Buffeljags linking the village of Suurbraak with the allotments oor die rivier and to grazing. The first is in the vicinity of the pump station, the second at the municipal camping site, and the third services an enclave of settlers beyond the town. The white man lives in the third enclave.

The men in question: Both the two men who were insulted have had streets in Suurbraak named after their forebears, thus signalling their long association with Suurbraak. I haven’t mentioned their names nor that of the man oor die rivier as I am unsure of the legal implications and I don’t believe it would be helpful in the present circumstances. I would, however, like to mention that when I mentioned to a neighbour that one of the men was facing an assault charge as part of the legal tit for tat, my neighbour exclaimed: “But he wouldn’t hurt a fly!”

Modus operandi: As I was the only person present during the protest from oor die rivier, and because I am white I felt responsible for a situation that had the potential of polarising the community along racial lines. Unsure of how to proceed I contacted my attorney buddy, Louis de Villiers, for advice, which was to try to avoid tit for legal tat and instead opt for mediation. Louis’ suggestion was to call in a friend who specialises in conflict resolution. Unfortunately the man in question did not reply to our email exchange or to my SMS so I thought it best to try to understand exactly what had taken place, trusting that the answer to the question ‘what to do?’ was embedded in the situation itself.

To that end I shot and the three of us shared a video with the Control Prosecutor at the Swellendam Magistrates Court that captured the geography. After viewing the video and during her meeting with the three, the Control Prosecutor managed to convince the white man to withdraw his assault charges, which then opened the way for the charge of crimen iniuria also to be withdrawn thereby diffusing what might, within the current context, have ended messily and/or tragically.

 5. Now what?

While doing my inkopies (shopping) in Swellendam, Allison (a shop assistant in one of the shops I frequent) asked how it’s going in Suurbraak, as she reads on Facebook that the people need houses, and di’s ‘n jammer (it’s a shame). I pointed out to her that in her town almost 3000 people need houses and how must the Municipality decide. And then I thought that if in the court of public opinion (which seems to be Facebook) Swellendam Municipality is guilty of not doing what they are in fact doing, namely, providing houses for Suurbraak and the other towns that fall within their jurisdiction, then what is going on? And then I thought about the SCA’s letter of demand in which a section of the Suurbraak community is singled out and I thought to myself, why?

Suurbraak has problems. These I discussed in an earlier post (Refer ‘These are some of the reasons for the protest’ in Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest). Therefore, it seems to me, that communally and individually we need to establish which of these problems are critical, given the country as a whole, and, importantly, within our zone of influence to solve. Then it is up to each one of us to do whatever she or he can to help solve and not grow these problems in our day-to-day intercommunication with one another.

My concern is that, given the volatile and already polarised country in which we are living, an ‘us and them’ will harm and is therefore irresponsible. Consequently I believe that the present leadership must use their power to guide wisely in a way that will heal the valley and all who live in it.

This report is part of a series that documents the rolling mass action in Suurbraak and attempts to understand the causes. Previous posts include:

My intention in covering what seems to have become rolling mass action is to see things as they are. Please, therefore, suggest corrections or alternative interpretations in the comment box.

‘Ons soek huise’: Suurbraak march for housing

This report gives you a taste of the day as it happened and is divided into three sections:

  1. The march itself
  2. Shortly after the march ended
  3. Handover of the letter of demand

For commentary on the day please go to: Suurbraak rolling mass action: a commentary

1. The march itself

The organisers of Sunday’s protest march in Suurbraak (14 May 2017) were the SYM (Suurbraak Youth Movement chaired by Donovan Julius) and the SCA (Suurbraak Civic Association chaired by Burton Beukes). Both these organisations can feel justly proud of what they achieved. Apart from one troubling incident, about which I’ll report below, the march was efficiently managed and executed.

The organisers amassed an impressive Suurbraak-style turnout comprising children, young men and women, middle aged and the elderly following in cars, bakkies and on a truck. In fact I felt quite sorry for the kids who must have been forbidden by their parents to take part and who watched the passing cavalcade with longing.

Click on the window below in order to see footage of the march.

2. Shortly after the march had ended

After the protesters had completed their route there was a general milling around with attempts by the organisers at maintaining the focus of protesters. Whether it was spontaneous or engineered I cannot say but at one point the protesters en masse started chanting the name of a community leader with whom they seemed to be at odds. This combustible incident, which I intentionally didn’t capture on video left me troubled.

3. Handover of the letter of demand to an official of Swellendam Municipality

The march culminated in a handover of a list of demands by Burton Beukes, chair of the recently created Suurbraak Civic Association (SCA)

Click on the window below in order to see part footage of the handover. Below is a translation


This is the message which I have sent to the (Swellendam) Council (or Municipality, as in raad). OK this comes from the Suurbraak Civic Association or the abbreviation SCA, and the letter is dated 14 May 2017 and addressed to Municipal Manager, Swellendam Municipality, Swellendam, 6740. The heading is Suurbraak Community.

The above organisation with the support of the overwhelming majority of the resident of Suurbraak requests you within 14 days to investigate the demands of our community and to respond in writing or verbally within 14 days.

The Civic Association wishes first to inform you that:

  • we have noted that the mayor doesn’t really want to solve our problems (calls of assent from the protesters), we therefore choose not to negotiate further with the mayor as individual but, instead, with the full Council (assent)
  • the organisation is prepared to deliberate with the Council regarding our problems
  • in the meantime the organisation will continue preparing by deliberating with the Minister of Housing (assent), the Minister of Local Government and Traditional Affairs (assent), the Minister of Land (assent), the Human Rights Commission (assent) and Public Protection (openbare beskerming) (assent), public leaders (assent), national parliamentarians (assent), and the media (assent)
  • the mayor hasn’t divulged the whole truth in his open letter to the community of Suurbraak (‘exactly’ – from a member of the audience)

For a copy of the Myburgh’s open letter to the community in Afrikaans, click here]

  • the mayor regards the community or part thereof as un-Christian, seekers of attention (audience: ‘Yes’) and in his own words that sections of the community cannot think – in his words – as real human beings
  • that this action isn’t about certain individuals but about the community
  • the municipality hasn’t been prepared to negotiate with the organisation
  • the majority of the community supports the action of the squatters on Rousseau Plein and that they not be removed until the council has replied to this letter (list of demands) (“Viva squatters viva!”)

What follows is our list of demands of the Municipality:

  1. the municipality must come with a date when they intend upgrading the infrastructure (calls of agreement)
  2. that thereafter all planning with respect to housing be finalised so that the requests will reach the applicants (this bit was unclear to me). It be noted that the last houses to be built in Suurbraak happened more than 20 years ago (applause). That the people of Suurbraak have for years been marginalised and oppressed by the Apartheid government (agreement), and that the community’s sense of self-worth can only partially be regained through the basic right of housing. We draw your attention to the fact that the waiting list now stands at 520 – an unbelievable number for such a small community. In fact this is more than the existing number of house in Suurbraak (agreement). That Council must inform the community what the eligible age for housing is: 40, 35 or 18 (calls for 18!)
  3. that a sub-committee of the Council be formed to work with the SCA to investigate the financing of the (Suurbraak) plantation. We reject the contention that the Council (Municipality) is not responsible for repaying these funds to the community (for the harvested trees). The Municipality is therefore legally obliged to honour undertakings of the previous Municipalities particularly taking into account that the plantation was harvested twice. In this regard, the SCA has in its possession a letter written by a previous municipal manager in which he acknowledged that the community of Suurbraak is owed more than R900K by the Municipality (of Swellendam). (“Pay back the money!” chant led by Beukes)
  4. that the Municipality must investigate the demand (opdrag) for a Youth Centre. The SYM will supply data in support of this dream. It is pointed out that the only facility available to the youth is the Suurbraak Community hall which is too expensive for functions (agreement). In the meantime, therefore, the SCA asks that in the meantime the Municipality provides the Community Hall free of charge (agreement)
  5. that the rates for the Suurbraak Community Hall be lowered for the community. The SCA reminds the Municipality that, technically speaking, the hall was handed over to us (ons) by a previous government department in terms of a previous dispensation (agreement). In the view of the community a permanent worker is not necessary in the hall and that the task can be handed to two (currently) unemployed women (agreement) for a day or two or when necessary [the last bit was drowned by calls from the crowd, followed by Beukes addressing the assembled company: “Let me clarify that we have nothing against oom George but one person is not necessary. Oom George can still do other jobs.” – agreement)]
  6. that the Municipality halts all further construction across the river (oor die rivier) until the legality of the construction work is investigated by the Municipality with the assistance of the SCA. We wish to point out to the Municipality that the current or previous Municipality or Municipalities unilaterally changed the zoning of the land from Agricultural to Residential for the purposes of Agricultural purposes. [The next section which wasn’t all that clear to me seems to point to a document which an official from the Municipality provided them which speaks to the zoning across the river] That the SCA points out that there’s a big difference between a residential area and what is contained in what the aforementioned document proposed. The SCA has also investigated similar documents from other Municipalities. That all further sale of land (across the river?) by the Municipality and the Community be halted until legislation around the transformation of agricultural areas has been completed. The SCA points out that this decision or demand has twice before been made by the community in community meetings with the Municipality

[Unfortunately at this point my camera card indicated that it was full. An emailed request to Beukes for a copy of his letter went unanswered.]

Images taken during the protest

What follow are the images of Sunday’s protest arranged into three categories.

The march

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The march (more images)

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The march (and more)

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

Shortly after the march had ended

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

The handover

(click on any image below to enlarge it)

This report forms part of a series that documents the rolling mass action in Suurbraak and attempts to understand the causes and should be read in conjunction with:  Suurbraak rolling mass action: a commentary.

Previous posts include:

My intention in covering these protests is to see things as they are. Please, therefore, suggest corrections or alternative interpretations in the comment box.


Reasons for, report on, and thoughts about the Suurbraak protest

I reported earlier how I came away troubled from a meeting I had attended two weeks back called by the Swellendam executive mayor, Councillor Nicholas Myburgh, to address a host of community-related issues.

Flowing from that meeting was a protest action this past Sunday 7 May 2017, which ended in the symbolic burning of a banner depicting Swellendam Municipality.

As has repeatedly been demonstrated, Suurbraak is a microcosm of the whole. This being so, I believe this current protest enables us to understand why this country is imperilled. I therefore urge you to read my earlier post (Canaries in the Suurbraak coalmine) as background to this report.

In order for this all to make sense I shall:

  • briefly describing Suurbraak, its history and its people
  • provide some background to some of the issues that surfaced during the protest
  • provide a synopsis, from memory, of what happened during the protest
  • try to pull together all the threads and show, as I see it, why this process holds significance for Suurbraak and South Africa as a whole


I attended the protest in order to understand and to capture the process digitally (still and video). I acknowledge that this report might be incomplete, biased, inaccurate, and/or flawed in some way. If so, please suggest corrections in the comment box and I’ll do the necessary.


Suurbraak is a former mission village nestled peacefully in a valley, hence its original name, Xairu, meaning place of paradise, given to this area by the Attaqua Khoikhoi people. The Khoikhoi, who were herders and farmers, and the San people, who were hunter gatherers, each formed a subgroup of the Khoisan. The Attaqua Khoikhoi must therefore have grazed their cattle, sheep and goats in the fertile valley of Xairu, very much as is done today.

In 1812 the mission village of Zuurbraak was established by the London Missionary Society at the request of Attaqua Kaptein (captain) Hans Moos via the Governor of the Cape at the time, Graaf Caledon, to the London Missionary Society (Mellet. E. (2012:1-2) Vetlampe se Tyd: Die Dorpslewe in Zuurbraak/Suurbraak 1912-2012. ATKV, Suurbraak) According to this SABC report, the mission station was in fact run by Germans. In addition to their homes in the village, certain families – many or most of whom must surely have been members or relatives of the Attaqua – were allocated allotments for which title deeds must have been issued oor die rivier (on the other side of the Buffeljags River, which flows through the valley). The name Buffeljags, meaning hunting buffalo, gives us some idea of what it must have been like more than 200 years ago when the settlement was created.

In 1948 the National Party defeated the United Party, and as part of their policy of Apartheid, enacted the Group Areas Act which resulted in Zuurbraak (or Suurbraak as it was renamed) being proclaimed a ‘coloured’ village. ‘White’ people were therefore moved out. (I’ve used inverted commas on these two occasions to indicate racial classifications but shan’t do so again as that would become mechanical and contrived.)

After a long liberation struggle a treaty was signed, which transformed South Africa into a constitutional democracy. The African National Congress (ANC) won the 1994 election and has since ruled South Africa.

About ten years ago families in the village were given permission to sell their allotments oor die rivier.

I live and farm on one such allotment (or plot) purchased by my son and daughter-in-law more than five years ago. All the plots around me have been sold and fenced. This has meant that the space originally used for grazing and recreation was reduced. I am white but three neighbouring families are brown (you will understand later in this report, why I mention this). My father was Afrikaans. The home language of most of the families in the village is Afrikaans.

The people in the village of Suurbraak are good people. Those whom I know personally are salt of the earth. On this side of the river five of my neighbours are or were teachers. I too was once a teacher. My neighbours are also good people.

The DA (Democratic Party) runs the Municipality of Swellendam, which comprises a number of Wards. Suurbraak forms part of Ward 3, which is controlled by the ANC.

These are some of the reasons for the protest

These seem to me to be the reasons for last Sunday’s protest action on the braak, based on my observations during the protest.

Land: If this protest is about housing then it must be about land, shelter and ownership. This being South Africa it has also to do with precedence so it’s surely significant that the protesters have built structures in some ways reminiscent of the original Khoikhoi Attequa people. However, most of the surnames in the town and many of the street names as far as I can tell are European (Dutch, Irish and, I assume, German). Then there’s the architecture in the town which is largely Cape Dutch. But there are also RDP-type houses (Reconstruction and Development Programme) on the hill overlooking the village. There are title deeds registered in the deeds office, probably in Cape Town. There are Chass Everitt for sale signs everywhere, crowding out Trader Equity. There are allotments across the river sold to a new wave of settlers some of whom are farming as of yore. And each family has its history. It is significant, I believe, that the chair of Suurbraak Youth Movement has as his Gmail avatar an image of an early Khoikhoi or San. My sense, therefore, is that nostalgia for what is being lost, and an archetypal longing for roots and a connection with the soil and therefore a registered title deed to a home in order to raise a family in Suurbraak are feeding into the protest.

Race: A second reason for the protest has to do with race. Legislation over the past hundred or so years, including the aforementioned Group Areas Act, has meant that skin colour was and probably still is a determinant of power or disempowerment, and therefore informs many interactions between racial groups in South Africa. Add an actual racial incident, as took place here in Suurbraak a short while ago when a white man oor die rivier directed sick racist language at two members of the village, then, understandably, the community is up in arms.

Conspicuous wealth: You will read over and over in my report below that money, class and entitlement are at issue here in Suurbraak particularly now that house and property prices have shot up and newcomers with their apparent or real wealth move in and Suurbraak becomes increasingly unaffordable for younger local families here in Suurbraak.

Work (or, more exactly, the lack thereof): Automation and AI (artificial intelligence) mean that work is increasingly difficult to find. In fact we face the prospect in the very near future of there being no work for the majority of humans. Consequently young families in Suurbraak are discovering that they have no way in which to improve their lot. So it is hardly surprising that those with nothing will question the legitimacy of the status quo. It is therefore, I believe, significant that the Suurbraak Youth Movement is one of the prime drivers of this protest action.

State capture: The primary demand of protesters is for houses. But their demand must also be seen against the backdrop of the State of Capture report (which President Jacob Zuma has taken on review), which might implicate individuals who might have benefited at the expense of the poorest of the poor. In any case, to my mind, it’s disappointing in the extreme that Government spends millions on the President’s home, billions on new locomotives and plans to spend a trillion on nine nuclear power stations which the country doesn’t need but doesn’t have the money to build a house for Donovan Julius and Nolan Theodore, two of the young men at the forefront of Sunday’s protest action.

Party politics: Is it paranoiac to fear that the ANC’s coming electoral conference in December to select a successor for Jacob Zuma and the general election in 2019 when the ANC might lose their majority are reasons for last Sunday’s protest action? My gut tells me that this suspicion isn’t far-fetched. These are my reasons. The strategy of Zuma and his premier league in the run up to December and, if successful, 2019 seems to be to appropriate Black First Land First (BLF) and EFF thinking and slogans such as white monopoly capitalism (WMC) (allegedly attributed to Bell Pottinger, the PR company employed until recently by the Guptas), radical economic transformation and land restitution. If so then my concern is that so-called WMC and calls for BLF will be used increasingly to stoke pockets of discontent within communities thus creating buoyancy for a Zuma-aligned successor. You will read in my report below, of anger expressed by individuals in the Suurbraak community aimed at white people with apparent means (i.e. WMC) for buying houses and land in Suurbraak and, in so doing, pushing locals out of the market (BLF). Despite the fact that it isn’t only white people buying property in Suurbraak, a WMC and BLF narrative is temptingly easy to exploit for party political ends – which might be the case in this instance and, therefore, might be a cause of the protest.

Complaints to the Swellendam Municipality emanating from oor die rivier: Certain residents from oor die rivier (the allotment side where I live) complained to the Swellendam Municipality about inadequate supervision of the municipal picnic spot on the bank of the Buffeljags River. Apparently a similar complaint was lodged, also by a relative newcomer to the village, about the municipal camping site further down the river. When the Swellendam Municipality (reluctantly, I would imagine) complied with the demands of the various complainants, as could be expected the village was up in arms about encroachments on their historical rights. You will note again and again in my report the anger expressed by the original residents of Suurbraak towards newcomers for occupying land oor die rivier which residents have always assumed was commonage. Anger has turned to outrage now that these selfsame newcomers – in the eyes of the community – have assumed for themselves the right to dictate terms for those in the village.

Swellendam Municipality: The ostensible reason for the protest was generalised unhappiness about Swellendam Municipality, which extended to the Swellendam executive mayor who was accused during the protest of being insensitive to the mood within the community, as also the municipal managers for recreation and for housing, both of whom were threatened. Additionally the Municipality was accused of corruption relating to money apparently earmarked to build a sewerage system for Suurbraak allegedly used, instead, to upgrade Swellendam’s municipal sewerage works, and of money from harvested pine from the Suurbraak plantation allegedly being used for Swellendam, and not Suurbraak. I do not know whether these accusations have any merit. I suspect they might not in view of the fact that Swellendam municipality received a clean audit for the past two years but here’s an interview conducted by the Cape Times with Donovan Julius, chairperson of the Suurbraak Youth Movement, as background to the pine plantation affair. Below the video is a transcription of the interview:

Transcription: ‘About 30 years ago Suurbraak in collaboration with the Department Rent Affairs, planted our first pine plantation in the mountain. Now eight years ago we gave permission to the (Swellendam) municipality to cut down the plantation and a contractor stopped two years ago, gave the plants a chance to grow bigger and what happened now, everything is done, all the plantation has been cut down but we told the municipality that they should give the money to us, to our people, the people of Suurbraak, so we can develop the infrastructure here. It’s a year ago, that the job has been done and still no cent has been paid to our community. We want to know, where is our money? Pay back our money!’

[What has just come to hand is an information sheet from the mayor, Nicholas Myburgh,which speaks to this point (translated): ‘This council has had nothing to do with the sale of the pine plantation. As far as we can ascertain in 2007 a tender was awarded (34/2007) to Southern Sawmills to harvest the pine plantations in our municipal area. An amount of R3,7M was received for the Swellendam plantation and R350K  for the Suurbraak plantation. All these funds were deposited according to regulation in the municipal account. This was 10 years ago and there is nothing that anyone can now do about it! Why continue with insinuations and gossip?’]

Fault lines: It seems that resentment or a general cynicism has built up over the years within the Suurbraak community itself against certain individuals and/or factions that, allegedly, benefit unfairly from development aid, land and/or funds meant for community development. It’s not clear to me the extent to which the aforementioned informed Sunday’s protest but I would guess that this issue wasn’t entirely absent.

A perfect storm: Take the build-up over centuries of transgenerational trauma resulting from racial classification; place it in a context that triggers shame or painful memories (outsiders claiming our land and driving us out) and which, additionally, throws into stark relief the chasm which separates those who have (money, 4x4s, designer apparel and a house in the country) from those who don’t (live in a shack, no work, and little prospect of ever bettering themselves); add to this mix demands from the interlopers or colonisers that encroach on traditions going back centuries (family picnics by the river or a jol at the camping area), and racist abuse from a white newcomer to Suurbraak and you have the perfect storm, which erupted last Sunday (see the next section).

Images taken during the protest

The protest action itself is brilliant in concept. The photos I took in the run-up to Sunday’s protest (see Housing protest in Suurbraak) of families constructing their homes, I believe, attest to this fact. The shacks constructed to draw attention to the protesters’ plight are alongside the main road and send powerful statements to passers-by and on social media.

What follow are the images of Sunday’s protest arranged into four categories.

Residents attending the protest

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Protest organisers

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People called to the front to pray or testify

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Members of the audience who took the mike

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Ward councillors, party officials and volunteer marshals for this coming Sunday’s march

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Report of what happened and was said during the protest

Burton Beukes (school principal), opened the protest stating that the protest was not political, that it is, instead, community-driven; furthermore whites were not the enemy, as white people had come out in support on social media.

I was the only white person present (as far as I could tell) and therefore suddenly felt somewhat conspicuous. At no time during the meeting did I however feel targeted.

He then called on Jan Stout to open the meeting with prayer

After prayer Beukes explained to the residents that they are all descendants of the original Khoisan people who once lived here in Xairu and so they should feel proud of their heritage, hair, and who they are.

Donovan Julius and Nolan Theodore, representing the Suurbraak Youth Movement, both spoke of the plight of young families in Suurbraak

However, it became apparent from their words that this was, in fact, about white people. Theodore believed Die witmense verarm ons (white people lead us into poverty). Hulle is besig om ons mense te onterf en verarm (they are dispossessing us and making us poor). (This last statement, I assume, is a reference to white people buying plots and homes in Suurbraak thus raising house prices beyond the reach of local young people.)

They called on Matthuisen (I do not have his first name) who apparently hails from Swellendam and who was also critical of white people: die witmense het geld en ons het nie, en dan is ons in die pad (whites have money and we don’t, and then we’re in the way). Either this gentleman or another said: Ons het die wit mense uitgesit en nou is hulle terug (we expelled the white people and now they’re back again – a reference to the Group Areas Act).

Julius reported an altercation in which a man who lived oorkant die rivier (over the river) allegedly hurled sick, abusive and shockingly racist language at Stanley Gaffley and Gerhard Marais, from the village.

Julius, whose rage was by this time palpable, threatened to take their placards across the river in order to protest what alle wit mense van ons afvat (what white people are taking from us).

I then jotted these words down in my notebook: ‘This is becoming a race issue’.

Julius accused the audience of complaining but doing nothing when it comes to taking action (for instance joining them in the their daily protest or vigil by also building structures on the braak).

The next speaker, Basil Sakoor (curriculum adviser with the Western Cape Education Department) introduced himself as Khoisan Basil.

I suspect in response to the previous speaker’s report he stated: As hulle ons push dan vat ons die fokkin grond (If they push us then we’ll take back the fucking ground (across the river)). The local shop owner also came under fire: ons het nie Pakistanis nodig in ons winkels nie (we don’t need Pakistanis running our shops). He also stated that no one must pay attention to Myburgh when he posts on Facebook.

Sakoor then called upon a mother of two – who had reportedly been told by a local farmer to pack her belongings and leave the home (on the farm) in which her (deceased?) mother had once lived – to testify.

This farmer also told her that she wasn’t eligible for the pension that had been promised to her mother. Again the issue of rising house prices was in the spotlight because the mother then asked where would she afford to live, to which Sakoor responded: Ons gaan nog steeds onder die druk van die witmense (we are still being oppressed by white people).

The next speaker was Reinette Heunis who ratcheted the emotion still higher by stating: Die IS die politiek (this IS about politics) As jy vir die boere stem dan … (if you insist on voting for the boere – or Afrikaners or white people – then …).

In the meeting references were made to the aforementioned alleged corruption by the Swellendam municipality, related to sewerage systems and the Suurbraak pine plantation.

Sakoor again spoke and accused Myburgh of not answering any of their questions during the meeting (see the aforementioned report, Canaries in the Suurbraak coalmine, on this point).

If I heard correctly, Sakoor also warned James Engel (responsible for housing) and Keith Stuurman (responsible for community services) not to set foot in Suurbraak. Mention was also made of Andy Harmse (PA to the mayor): Waar is hy? Waar is hy? (Where is he? Where is he?)

Sakoor also accused Myburgh (or members of the municipality) of hiding from the people of Suurbraak (hul kryp weg), hiding things from them or being deceitful (hulle maak ons oë toe), and for not understanding (respecting) the culture of the village.

Here’s a short clip, followed by a translation of Sakoor’s allegations:

Translation: ‘They hide away. They hide things from us. And then they come to us with pious words. Because he doesn’t understand the culture of this village. He knows nothing about this village. The last thing I wish to mention …’

Sakoor announced that no houses would be permitted to be built in Suurbraak unless all of the contractors were from Suurbraak and that, regrettably, those who had been promised houses would have to wait for their homes until the protesters’ demands had been met.

Also at issue was the top structure at the Swellendam municipality which Sakoor allegedly was more than ninety percent white.

Beukes again spoke and referred to the relationship between those in the village and across the river.

Here’s a video clip followed by a translation:

Translation: ‘…building, and I must tell you, many of them makeshift (general agreement from the some members of the audience). Our demand – and the municipality finds this unacceptable – is: we are looking to form a committee in Suurbraak that can determine (or recommend) what gets built on the other side of the river. It’s our right to decide (on these matters) (general agreement). Two years ago, to my understanding, that was zoned agricultural (points across the river). No one could build houses there (general agreement). Two years ago the agricultural zoning was unilaterally converted to residential; in other words, an area where people can live. Do you know this? (calls from the audience) Do you know this? (calls from the audience). No one discussed this with us. Not a single person asked our permission. So (holds his hand up for silence). Remember, we’re not here at enmity with our white residents. But white residents mustn’t think that they can make decisions on our behalf. They have no right to decide for us. They must regard themselves as part of the community of Suurbraak. Not so? It’s not a Suurbraak #01 (points to the audience), and Suurbraak #02 (points across the river). This is one Suurbraak (his arm sweeps back in a semi-circle). OK’.

When introducing her, Beukes mentioned that the ANC provincial councillor, Melanie du Plessis, who was present, preferred not to speak and that a colleague (name to be provided) would speak on her behalf.

Her colleague made references to radical economic transformation and land restitution, two concepts which recently inform President Zuma’s campaign in the run-up to the ANC’s conference in December when his replacement will be elected.

Some of the other points raised during the meeting had to do with temporary appointments and problems related to social grants and electricity being blocked.

There was a call to action which includes a planned march through Suurbraak this coming Sunday (14 May 2016) and mass attendance of the next municipal meeting in Swellendam.

Residents were asked to volunteer as marshals.

Heunis proclaimed that today they would burn a banner (symbolising the Swellendam municipality) but if they weren’t listened to they would then burn tires.

Below is a video of the banner being set alight

The protest ended with everyone holding hands in a large circle and prayer.

Some thoughts

Because most of the issues that fed into Sunday’s protest are huge, and because the next two years in the run-up to the general elections will be fraught, and because we need to find a way forward in South Africa that doesn’t result in a Zimbabwe or, worse still, a Rwanda, I share where I stand with respect to some of the causes for Sunday’s protest in the hope that they might evoke some form of resonance in you or dialogue (please use the comment section below), so that we can understand one another better and grow closer.

Racial tension: Round about 12 people addressed the meeting, and race featured either directly or indirectly in what most of the presenters said or reported. However, despite being the only whitey attending the protest, I never once felt tangible animosity directed at me. The same can be said for my three years in Suurbraak. Sure once or twice someone in the town would choose not to greet me, but this I accept as his or her right. Sometimes I also don’t feel friendly. This tells me, rightly or wrongly, that all is well in Suurbraak as far as race relations are concerned. I think this sense of being able to be who I am and to let be, has to do with a shared sense of us all, on both sides of the river, being fellow toilers. However this clearly doesn’t mean that there isn’t at least one white racist in Suurbraak, as the shocking report of racism above demonstrated. Unfortunately it is the actions of individuals such as this man that will ignite dormant rage. In a case like this my sense is that we need to pinpoint and deal with the specific person or situation and not allow the atavistic behaviour of one individual to destroy (what I experience as) racial harmony in Suurbraak.

Oor die rivier: As has been pointed out, people of colour live on both sides of the river as do white people. So it can never be us and them. So why was the issue of land raised over and over in the protest? Surely it’s disingenuous to speak as if it’s possible to wave a magic wand that will return the valley to its undiscovered past. While I’m about it I wish to offer my halfpennyworth with respect to BLF ideology, which is, as I understand it, that because all land once ‘belonged’ to the original hunters, foragers and herders who roamed or farmed the South African plains until it was ‘stolen’ by white colonists, it must be returned to the original black owners. Full stop. No correspondence shall be entered into. BLF absolutism, although seductive to some (or quite possibly many), isn’t to my mind helpful as it’s a false narrative premised on error, as the original Khoisan people who were dispersed throughout southern Africa – possibly as far as central Africa were ‘yellowish’ (nor black), and then assimilated or displaced by black Bantu colonial expansion southwards and white European colonial expansion northwards (Diamond, J. (1998:380) Guns, Germs and Steel: a short history of everybody for the last 13 000 years. Vintage, London). In any case, in my view, BLF is a symptom of something bigger and far more frightening, namely, the inevitability of a jobless future. So my sense is that we should focus rather on what is indisputable. I, like most everybody else, do not have the answer to the looming crisis of a jobless future beyond BIG (a universal basic income grant) as a means of staving off a revolution.

Swellendam Municipality to blame? Other than Myburgh’s imperious attitude at the commencement of their report back (See my aforementioned post: Canaries in the Suurbraak coalmine), personally, I cannot for the life of me fathom what Swellendam Municipality has apparently done wrong and why individuals in the Municipality are being hanged, drawn, and quartered. The Municipality receives a series of letters from residents hammering them for not managing municipal recreation areas, they comply with the residents’ demands thus triggering uproar from the community, so the Municipality convenes a meeting at which their top management is in attendance to answer questions from the community. None of the officials is permitted to answer one single question without constant interruptions; they are accused of corruption and then are howled down by a faction within the meeting before they can answer these accusations, and then the members of this faction rudely walk out thus effectively shutting down the meeting. The Municipality then becomes the focus of a protest on the braak purportedly about lack of progress in the delivery of housing, and during which the Municipality is unaccountably accused of not answering a single question in the meeting. Not only are the facts twisted but the Municipal Manager for housing and the Municipal Manager for recreation are warned (if I heard correctly) not to set foot in Suurbraak. That not being enough, unilaterally, impossible conditions are set for the delivery of houses, which will effectively stall or prevent the promised houses from being built and which will then impact negatively on the elderly and those with disabilities, whose houses have been prioritised. This means no houses can be built, and, therefore, rolling mass action, which brings me to my next point, namely politics.

Politics: The impression I gained over these past two weeks and particularly during Sunday’s protest was that this roll-out is not primarily about houses. I say this because surely the organisers are aware of the real situation, namely, that funding for housing comes from central government and that, as Pravin Gordhan told us before he was fired, there is no money. Surely they also concede that the reason there’s no money is because it’s all been used up during years of corruption, a lot of it, it would seem, at the centre.

So if it’s not about houses then I believe it’s political – as confirmed by Heunis during the protest on Sunday. If my conclusions are correct and if party politics is behind this protest action and if the party concerned is the ANC then to my mind it’s cynical in the extreme for the ANC to be exploiting a negative situation – as in the lack of funding for houses – for which they are more than just mildly responsible. It’s also, to my mind, reckless to take grievances real or fabricated, whip up communities and thereby channelling anger into scapegoating, thus fanning racism and xenophobia.

If I’m correct then I pray that this divisive scenario being played out here in Suurbraak won’t become the pattern in villages and towns across South Africa, otherwise South Africa will burn.


Beukes says that we are not Suurbraak #01 and Suurbraak #02. We are one community and must act accordingly. I couldn’t agree more. Beukes says that those of us oor die rivier must not assume for ourselves the right to tell those in the village what they can and cannot do. I couldn’t agree more. However, if I interpret his suggestion correctly, I do not agree with his unilateralism that a local committee be formed that would usurp the functions of the Swellendam Municipality, as that would amount to insurrection.

I acknowledge that to become one we have to face head-on all of the issues that Julius, Theodore and the others of the Suurbraak Youth Movement have showcased for us as part of their protest, particularly racism, and the insensitivity that sometimes comes with money, class and privilege.

We also, I believe, must guard against political parties hijacking local causes for their own ends.

Housing protest in Suurbraak

A demonstration is planned (at 14:00 on Sunday 7 May 2017) on the Suurbraak braak (village green) to which the press has been invited in order to protest the non-delivery of housing because (as I understand the talk) of alleged routing of sums of money meant to be utilised for Suurbraak (an ANC-controlled ward) for use in Swellendam (run by the DA), to the detriment of the people of Suurbraak, and of housing.

Insinuations along similar lines were levelled during a report-back called by the Swellendam mayor, Nicholas Myburgh, on Monday 24 April 20917, to respond to a range of Ward related issues (see an earlier post).

Yesterday afternoon I took a look see, was warmly welcomed by members of the Birds of Xairu who, when asked who was the boss and from whom should I seek permission to take pictures, replied that the community was in charge and that I was welcome to take these pictures of preparations for Sunday’s protest:

I’ll be attending the mass meeting on the braak.

Canaries in the Suurbraak coalmine

I came away troubled from a meeting I attended on Monday 24 April 2017 in the Suurbraak community hall called by the Swellendam executive mayor, councillor Nicholas Myburgh, to address a host of community-related issues.

After prayers the meeting immediately turned ugly when Myburgh laid down the rules: only three questions allowed for each point on the agenda, the meeting would end promptly by 21:00, if we didn’t abide by these rules he would pack up and drive off.

There was an immediate outcry slamming Myburgh’s attitude. Somewhat chastened, Myburgh adopted a more conciliatory approach although his persona slipped at times within a context where it appeared that there was at least one individual present whose goal seemed to be to stoke emotions.

The dark mood of the meeting constellated around five issues: heritage, services, oor die rivier (over the river), housing and fluisteringe (whisperings)


There were repeated references to Suurbraak’s heritage. For instance, the aforementioned gentleman complained about hideous Eskom electricity poles which he believed detracted from the character of Suurbraak. Heritage or precedent underpinned many of the other issues raised, as in: this is the way it has been for generations why these incursions, fences and/or rules?


On complaints from certain ratepayers about the two municipal picnic spots, the municipality apparently tightened their procedures and, in the process, have antagonised large sections of the community. This anger again erupted during the meeting. A second service-related issue were hiring costs for the community hall, and dissatisfaction that the hall needed also be cleaned afterwards.

Oor die rivier

There was unhappiness about the allotments on the other side of the Buffeljags River which had for generations been regarded as commonage for grazing and recreation and which were now being sold – by members of the community, Myburgh reminded the meeting – and fenced off. For instance, the question was asked: can someone own (by fencing off) a waterfall?


My sense was that the majority was there to hear about housing, so when Myburgh announced that there was no longer money to build the promised 180 plus houses and that, instead, only 30 houses were to be built and that these would be allocated to the elderly and those with disabilities, and that the remainder would only be receiving serviced parcels of land (sewerage, power point and water), there was an outpouring of disbelief, disappointment and anger.

Despite numerous interruptions what I did manage to piece together from the reply of the municipal official who manages the housing portfolio are the hurdles before land can be expropriated. These include: EIAs (environmental impact assessments), terrain (some of the sites identified proved to be unsuitable as they were too steep therefore alternate land needed to be identified), and protocols (for instance, the names selected for housing had first to be advertised for comment).


There were insinuations of corruption (money earmarked for Suurbraak has been appropriated for Swellendam). When raised Myburgh looked confused, mentioned that the municipality had had a clean audit for the past two years and asked the aforementioned gentleman suggesting the allegations to bring him written proof and he would investigate. Another person in the audience got up and mentioned three sums of money, but before Myburgh, his director of finances and a third man (all three of whom had gone into a brief huddle in front, I assume,  to confer)  could reply there was a howl from a core group at the back of the hall (as if, I guess, to suggest collusion). This group then staged a walkout thus effectively shutting down the meeting.


Communication: A hallmark of the meeting was that the residents were adamant that they would be heard thus leaving little opportunity for Myburgh and his team who had been lined up to respond to complaints and queries to be heard. This, I felt, was an opportunity lost because rumours doing the rounds weren’t able to be countered and a general sense of discontent still prevails. It waits to be seen how Myburgh will now deal with these rumours and the discontent.

Canary in the coalmine: During the meeting I thought to myself that if there was this level of discontent in the top municipality in the country, what mustn’t be welling up elsewhere in South Africa.

The micro is in the macrocosm: What was also reaffirmed for me was that Suurbraak is a local instance of global problems: joblessness, tragedy of the commons, land grabs, agroecological farming versus global corporate agribusiness, the haves and the have-nots, gentrification, and that because most of these problems are intractable, our planet is in trouble.

Danger: certain individuals – perhaps working in concert or perhaps not – give me cause for concern, because deep down I fear that he and/or they might not have the community of Suurbraak at heart but is/are, instead, fabricating or inflaming issues for his/their own or factional ends. I do not deny that there are real issues – one being gentrification – but why, for instance, if housing is an issue, complain about the aesthetics of Eskom poles and why insinuate and ask questions without waiting for the reply?

The poorest of the poor: Finally, and this is for me the big worry, is the question: why are there now insufficient funds for housing? My unavoidable conclusion is that funds that should have been available for the poorest of the poor have, instead, been squandered, for instance: the Arms Deal, Nkandla, Sassa, Prasa and the mooted nuclear deal, and that all our futures are now imperilled.

Facebook and me

I posted the following to my Facebook timeline:

Hi, if you arrived here and don’t find much, this post tries to explain why I’m using Facebook as a placeholder rather than a space to share my life:

I find Facebook creepy

Whenever I’m on Facebook (Fb) I feel I’m being observed and analysed by computer code (AI/artificial intelligence) or the faceless programmers behind that code. It’s like being on the wrong side of a one-way mirror in a psychiatric ward.

Facebook makes me feel manipulated

When I respond on a friend’s feed, I’m conscious that strangers will also read my comment. So how I might normally communicate becomes mediated by a mostly invisible audience: another one-way mirror. So the question is for whom am I doing this?

Facebook makes me feel cheap

I resist posting to Fb because then you’ll get a message announcing ‘Hendrik updated his status.’ This is frankly embarrassing: my ‘status(!?)’, nothing less. I find the whole business patronising and coercive.

I find Facebook depressing

Is it the shade of blue or the font, or that we’re all crammed in there desperate for affirmation? I want to run a mile!

Facebook is changing the nature of relationship

To communicate is to be with someone. By being, I mean listening carefully from a place of silence. Otherwise, what’s the point? How can I or anyone else do that on Fb?

Facebook’s now calling the shots

The last time I logged onto Fb I learnt important news from a good friend’s feed. It came as a shock as I wouldn’t have known otherwise. The implications are that I must dutifully log on to Fb like everyone else for news that might formerly have been shared directly. But it’s logical that if everyone’s on Fb why have a conversation with only one. It’s economics.

A matter of principle

Many of the over one billion people who daily ‘do their Fb’ have apparently never used a Web browser and therefore assume Fb is the World Wide Web (WWW), which it isn’t. Fb is an app – as in application – which (together with the other Fb-owned apps: Instagram and WhatsApp) is luring and then locking the world behind its walls. So I’m walking my own path, thereby supporting the WWW by blogging instead (see below)

Where I post

Please visit me on the WWW at the following URL where I try, as in this post, to understand what’s actually going on:, alternatively email me:


The following two Medium posts suggested I do likewise, namely, analyse and share, on Facebook and elsewhere, my fear of and aversion to Facebook:


There’s rustic and there’s rustic

“Rustic is in,” Lianne assured me. “You must see the rustic bed made from pallets and lights in Pinterest” (see below)

The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest
The rustic bed that Lianne loved in Pinterest

Continue reading There’s rustic and there’s rustic

No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

My written submission objecting to the proposed plan to put into effect the first stages of a plan to build approximately eight nuclear power stations for South Africa

I thank you for the opportunity to comment on the above.
History has shown that:

Continue reading No! to the proposed SA nuclear build programme

‘Enter’ wins a South African Independent Publishers Award

Friend and writer, Ken Barris, put me onto Darryl Earl David, language lecturer at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and initiator of a number of literary festivals that are helping keep reading, writers and publishers alive in South Africa.

arryl Earl David co-organisers of the Booktown Richmond Literary Festival
Darryl Earl David co-organiser of the Booktown Richmond Literary Festival

Continue reading ‘Enter’ wins a South African Independent Publishers Award