When the Cows come to town - a South African Short Story
East Cape Cattle
When the cows come to town.
The township is conveniently tucked away behind the hill, out of sight but not out of mind of the big luxurious holiday homes on the other side of the hill. The popular holiday hamlet of Lagoon Bay overlooks the Indian Ocean and the beautiful estuary on the Changa River. The township looks back over the sewerage works and the rolling hills and valleys of this part of. the Eastern Cape The streets on which the houses of the holiday hamlet stand have interesting names like Barracuda, Jacaranda or Kingfisher Lane. The township is a collection of traditional huts, informal shacks and more modern structures with their Jo-Jo water tanks and occasional solar heating panels. The township streets may also have names, but not many who live on the other side of the hill would know that.
In the African culture, that most of the people in the township still follow, cattle means wealth. And in keeping with this tradition the chief resident in the township, Sakili Booi, owns a large herd of cows. There is some confusion as to how Sakili became the chief resident of the township and also how he got hold of this large herd of cattle. Some feel that the two situations run hand in hand. Many a mystery seems to puzzle the new South Africa with its mix of old and new cultures. At the same time the presence of these animals is a reality and a source of great pride, not only to Sakili, but also to the rest of the residents of the township.
The cows provide undoubted wealth for Sakili and also milk for the community. When a really big celebration takes place and meat is needed, they are the obvious source. The trouble is that a growing herd of hungry animals needs food and the grazing area in and around the township is very limited, especially as more shacks are built on a regular basis as families grow and others move from nearby tribal areas looking for a better life and possible job opportunities.
The surrounding farmers in the area guard their property very jealously with appropriate fences. Because of this the roadside and open spaces in the hamlet of Lagoon Bay provide the feeding area for the growing herd of cattle. Unfortunately cows cannot be trained to stay out of the attractive gardens in the hamlet or off the roads leading to it.Some have suggested (tongue in cheek) that the settlement residents plant cattle feed rather than flowers and shrubs in their gardens, but that is not likely. So serious conflict has arisen.
“Where must I feed my herd?” is the question an irate Sikili is asking the village committee with anger and frustration in his voice and heart. The meeting has been called by the township elders after complaints from a similar committee in the hamlet. “Yes my cows will feed in the gardens and eat the plants and flowers, but surely the owners must fence off their property if they have a problem!” “What about the three youngsters who were killed ten days ago in the road accident when a Toyota hit one of your cows? Local bye-laws make it the owner’s responsibility to keep their animals off the road.” The wise old Induna Ganiso Peters speaks with a quiet authority.
Sakili does not seem to be deterred by a mere tragedy that still had the hamlet in shock. “The Toyota was racing along the main road well over the 60km per hour speed limit when it hit one of my favourite cows,” he complains. One could see the looks of amazement on the faces of some of the members of the committee who knew that Sakili was well known for the way he raced in his own 4x4 vehicle. They also were still in shock because of the tragedy and obviously thought that their influential citizen was being insensitive, even though they would not say so. When Sakili continued, “What about my cow that was killed?” heads were shaken and mutterings heard in the meeting.
As the meeting was not going anywhere the chairman suggested that they adjourn until some solutions could be suggested. Everyone agreed that something had to be done but no real solutions were forthcoming. Sikili led a group of supporters to Lekata’s Tavern to discuss the matter and also the important match coming up on Saturday between Kaiser Chiefs and Sundowns.
About ten kilometres away in the comfortable lounge in their farmhouse, Jan Vermaak was making an important announcement to his sons, Klein Jan and Stoffel. “If you see any of those cows from the township coming onto our property shoot them!” Then he added as he opened another beer, “and if you see anyone cutting our fence like happened two week ago you have my permission to shoot them too”. The boys knew that what their Dad said was out of line, but at the same time realized that he was getting to the end of his patience. While in the Old South Africa in which their father grew up you may have been able to get away with some vigilante action it certainly was not possible today. It seemed that in today’s world the rules and regulations that controlled society had disappeared and farmers could no longer control what happened to their own property.The police certainly did not seem interested when incidents like the fence cutting was reported and had bigger problems to deal with than stray cows.
A third meeting was taking place in the Lagoon Bay Country Club where the local council members were discussing the problem of the cows that seemed to be out of control. Jack van Reenen, who had lost his grandson Luther in the accident only last week, was trying to bring his emotions under control as he pleaded for a solution. “It is not the cow’s fault that they are a danger to the public. I don’t care a damn about the flowers in my garden, but when one of your grandsons is killed then you realize that action is needed. For God’s sake, we need to do something!” In the minds of some of the members the words spoken by Jack only a month ago about how upset he was about the cows ruining his garden were a stark reminder of what death can do to change one’s perspective.
As Sikili drove home late on Saturday night after a visit to his family in Queenstown, the problem of his growing herd of cows was in the back of his mind. It had been a challenging meeting with his family and the Sandile family as they thrashed out the details of his latest marriage to their beautiful daughter Nomawhetu.The lobolo he was going to have to pay was going to cost him many cows. The lights of his car seemed to pick up something moving in the grass next to the road as he raced down the long downhill towards the township. Then suddenly his senses and full attention clicked in as he realized that it was a cow moving onto the road. At the speed he was travelling there was nothing he could do to avoid the impact. The last thing he could remember was the thundering impact of metal on flesh and the sky and earth spinning out of control.
In the nearby farmhouse Jan Vermaak woke with a start. “What was that noise?” he asked his wife Martie as she also sat up in their bed. Grabbing their clothes they rushed out of the house to the fence of their garden. About a hundred meters down the road they could see flames coming out of a motor vehicle lying on its side. Jan ran towards the scene while shouting to Martie to call the emergency number next to their phone. As he reached the car he saw that someone was trapped inside but that the car was beginning to burn violently. Struggling with the door he managed to open it and pull the driver out. It was a large black man and they collapsed on the grass verge with blood pouring out of the man’s mouth. Feeling for the man’s pulse Jan doubted that there was any chance that he would survive. He managed to drag the man away from the car as the heat became unbearable.
Sometimes it is only tragedy that brings about solutions to the problems of life. What would be said at the next meetings of the three committees as they searched for solutions to the cows from the township?
Postscript: The home owners have hired a cow-ranger to control the township herd and gave him a bicycle. He was beaten up by some young thugs reported to be from the farming community, but the reasons are clouded in the mists of speculation and rumours..