Snoekies (Hendrik Cornelius) Groenewald of Baardskeerdersbos, a very small village on the road to Elim via Gansbaai, really is quite a character! People either “love him or hate him”. He was born in 1939, the youngest of the 10 children of Christoffel Hendrik Groenewald and Susanna Elizabeth Lourens. He grew up on a farm in the area and when in his teens and early twenties roamed the Strandveld as a shepherd, earning 14 shillings per month. At the age of 24 he married Beulah (Elizabeth Maria Fourie) and they have four sons.
Not everything one hears about Snoekies is good, but on the other hand, here in the Overberg there are as many sides to every tale as there are people telling it! And with each retelling a little more flourish is added. The first time we met Snoekies was on 31 July 2004 while on our way to Elim for their 180th anniversary. Snoekies was also on his way to the festival in his beautiful, old-fashioned “kap-kar” (horse drawn carriage).
The second time was when, on my way home from L’Agulhas, I was driving through Baardskeerdersbos and on the spur of the moment went looking for Snoekies myself. I had been told to look out for the skeletons against the fence – that would be where I’d find him. Snoekies was in his yard and very happy to see me. Told me all about his horses who he says are descendants of the horses that survived the HMS Birkenhead wreck in 1852. Whether that is true, I don’t know, because Snoekies seems to me to be a born “teller of tales”!
Soon after I arrived, his wife, Beulah, and one of their sons joined him and after some friendly bickering between the threesome, it was feeding time for the dogs, chickens, many cats and kittens. My, my, my! It was the first time in my life that I had seen cats, dogs and chickens eating together, absolutely relishing their meal of cooked squash!
Snoekies, Beulah and son
Then I was invited to listen to Snoekies reading some of his poetry. Was I surprised! He really writes beautifully and has a masterful command of the Afrikaans language.
Snoekies himself will also tell you quickly about his altercation with the “Engelse rooikop” who had him in jail for five hours. And all about two donkeys!
Here is the “Engelse Rooikop”, artist Amanda Jephson’s side of the donkey-story: “…a ‘new comer’ called Van Rensburg had bought two donkeys from an old local man called Snoekies and the two donkeys were giving him untold trouble jumping his fences to get back to the bigger herd owned by the old local. …So I found this ‘new comer’ and he gave me a price and I duly paid him for the donkeys (I had won R250 on the national lottery and was thrilled to use this money to save them). The problem was I had to fetch them running wild in a large herd from a huge field. I knew nothing about donkeys, horses or any large animal and so I garnered the help of another local in the village called Flip. Flip who works in the one and only shop and milks cows for the farmer who owns the shop is also known as the ‘donkey man’ and he and his family use a donkey trap as their form of transport. One Saturday before 3.00 pm, as this was when Flip was on milking duty, I met him and his young son on the gravel road outside the field where the donkey herd could be seen far in the distance. Van Rensburg had told me I could collect the donkeys there. Flip and his son said they knew which two donkeys they were and went off into the field with a bit of rope. After a short while they returned with the two tethered together. This all seemed to be going relatively well. The donkeys were pretty wild and they had tied them together to herd back to our farm which was as the crow flies about 3 km. The logic of tying them together is one can’t run away in front of the other so they have to walk at the same pace. And so we began the journey, me in the bakkie (truck) behind, the donkeys in front with Flip. After a hot slow walk we arrived at the neighbouring farm to ours where our friend Ros who is an Appaloosa breeder lived, and she knows EVERYTHING there is to know about horses. We got the donkeys into the crush (race) and untied them and gave them some water as they were sweating from anxiety and stress. Ros, meanwhile began preparing the syringes to inject them for worms.
“The next minute we heard a grinding of gears and a roaring car engine and up the long bumpy gravel driveway sped a red car. Out of the car burst four men. The driver was short, stout, old, grey-haired and dirty looking, wearing a red, hand knitted jersey with a grey cap on his head. This we discovered was Snoekies Groenewald and the three rough looking characters with him were his sons. He [Snoekies who by then had already had a few to drink] stomped up to Ros and I and started bellowing two inches away from us …while he shouted expletives in Afrikaans. …We gathered from what he was yelling that these were his donkeys and we had stolen them from him. As much as we tried in a reasonable way to explain the situation of how I had bought the donkeys from Van Rensburg, he would not hear of it. One of his sons became very violent and attacked Ros with a large fence pole trying to hit her. She escaped and ran to the house to phone the police, whereupon I was left alone with these lunatics, Flip having long disappeared to do his milking and lets just say my significant other had also melted into the background. The sons meanwhile were tying the donkeys together again and proceeding to march them back down the driveway. Snoekies spat some interesting insults at me in Afrikaans…. before drunkely stomping back to his car with his posse of sons as they slammed the doors and drove off, one ahead on foot herding the donkeys.
“I was left in a quivering terrified state. I am a nicely brought up girl, not used to this appalling behavior, but most of all I was so anxious about the donkeys and what would now become of them as Snoekies kept threatening to sell them for meat. The police arrived and took our statements and we laid a charge of theft, trespassing and attempt to do grievous bodily harm. A very cooperative station commander took charge of the situation and said they were going to arrest Snoekies for having an unlicensed firearm. As apparently he had also threatened someone with a gun. The next day I wrote a statement for the police so they could verify the facts that I had not stolen the donkeys from Snoekies as he claimed, and check that I had legally bought and paid Van Rensburg for the donkeys, who also wrote a letter to this effect. We were told Snoekies had gone to Bredasdorp to consult his attorney… We heard little more of it until a couple of days later when I received a phone call from the police commander to say I could collect the donkeys from Snoekies.
“…On the rescue day I met the police officer outside Snoekies smallholding, which has an entrance filled with skulls and bones of numerous dead horses and cows draped over the fence and gate, and looks worse than something out of the film Deliverance. I drove past it just the other day and the bones just grow and grow in numberand it is now looking like an animal grave yard. We drove up this ominous driveway to where the donkeys were corralled… There was no sign of Snoekies. One of his younger sons was there and proceeded to help Flip catch the stressed donkeys and tether them ready to bring to our farm. When lo and behold, there was a grating of gears and a roaring of tyres and this time up the narrow driveway sped a clapped out white Bantam bakkie, going at about 100 km and stopped in a swirl of dust and stones. Oh no, I thought I don’t believe it, here we go again, a repeat scenario! The cop was very laid back sitting on a step avoiding the sun, the animal welfare officer was sweating and I was staring in disbelief as the older son of Snoekies stepped out of the bakkie dressed to the nines. Sporting full stetson hat, cowboy boots, cowboy trousers and shirt, and holster with guns on either side… stepped onto his front door bakkie step to raise himself in height and started screaming and shouting at us while waving his guns in the air above his head. I turned to the cop and heatedly asked him what he was going to do about this intimidation. He just shrugged, mumbled something and ambled off ignoring the situation. Someone later told me he was related to this family, as were so many of the police in the area. After the lunatic had vented off for a while we decided to ignore him as well, and slowly and with as much calm as we could muster walked the donkeys down the driveway with Flip herding them and me behind in the bakkie as before. The welfare officer drove off rapidly and the policeman vanished, but not before I said if he did not stop the lunatic following us I would report him for not doing his duty. I drove on with bated breath. The poor donkeys by this stage had wrestled themselves out of Flip’s grasp and were racing along the road for the remainder 2.5 kms to our farm.We got them up the driveway, shut the gate and locked it, injected them, fed and watered them and set them onto grazing and new home.
“I phoned the police commander to tell him what had happened and that we had got the donkeys back safely. Most pressing on my mind was what we should do if they came and stole the donkeys back again. He said we must put a No Trespasser’s sign up on our property and if they come again he would have them arrested. I slept with pepper spray next to my bed, every night for a year, fully expecting another bad situation. Thank goodness the matter seemed to settle and nothing happened. Pablo and Luna settled down and loved the freedom of their new home. I henceforth became known and the ‘donkey vrou’ (donkey wife). Some years later I learnt that Snoekies still called me the ‘f’….ing Engelse rooikop’ because I had put him in prison for five hours on the night of that awful first day when he and his sons stormed onto property. His attorney had, by the way, advised him to give back the donkeys promptly, as he was guilty of theft.”