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Nuwe skryfwerk | New writing > Artikels | Features > English

Ouma Grietjie Adams of Garies gets an award


Herman Lategan - 2007-08-24

On Wednesday evening 22 August, I attended an awards ceremony of Ouma Grietjie Adams from Garies at the District Six Museum in Cape Town. She received the 2006 Annual Reconciliation Award from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.

According to the programme the award celebrated a humble and gifted woman, who maintained her soul in the harsh, often brutal circumstances of a small plattelandse dorp and who has taught others what it means to be human.

Ouma arrived quietly in her signature pink kappie (bonnet), all smiles, with her beautifully folded face. The audience was a motley bunch: I spotted some academics, journalists and some strange-looking young men in suits. I could hear from their accents that they were American.

In front of me sat a large woman in a shirt that looked like a sunburnt curtain, and a man with hair caked in dandruff. They, too, were American. Later, through eavesdropping, I discovered that they were a group of anthropologists.

Right next to me stood veteran politician Kader Asmal, talking loudly to another American, one of the young men in suits. His eyes were wide and he was obviously mesmerised by Asmal.

“Who is this Grietjie?” asked Asmal loudly. “And where is Garies?” I wondered where the fuck he’s been over the past few years. It shows you, I thought, how some politicians, brilliant as they might be, are completely removed from the grassroots in our country.

I will never forget that one day, at some press junket, I was in the loo quietly having a leak next to Asmal. In a loud voice he told the man next to him, “There are no decent hotels in Cape Town you know! The only decent one is the Mount Nelson.”

I digress. The programme started in muted tones with Professor Jakes Gerwel saying a few words, then an introduction by Dr Charles Villa-Vincencio, followed by a tribute by Valdi Van Reenen-Le Roux, Project Leader: Memory, Arts and Culture of the IJR.

Then Ouma got up. This was the moment the audience had been waiting for. She received a standing ovation, a kiss and a bunch of flowers much larger than herself. The microphone was lowered considerably so that she could address the audience.

Suddenly she gave a loud yell directly into the microphone, her voice reverberating through the District Six Museum, right through the reconstructed alleys of the old neighbourhood, past the old street names hanging in the museum, bouncing off Kader Asmal’s shiny forehead.

The Americans fell back on to their seats.

Cameras flashed à la Hollywood as the press went mad. This was Ouma’s moment. Who would have thought that a small person like Ouma could make such a loud sound?

Asmal looked around uneasily. This man who loves the Mount Nelson clearly has never seen or heard anything like Ouma before.

And then … Ouma lifted her hand, the size of a fluttering mossie. “Dankie,” she said. Her voice the sound of old sorrow. The Americans were lost, exchanging conspiratorial glances.

“Dis deur die Here se genade, ja die liewe Here Jesus God in die heeeeeeeeeeeeeemel, dat ek vanaand nederig hier voor julle staan. Ek dank God, ek dank julle. Om te dink dat daar waar ek vandaan kom, uit my ou klein huisie, ek vandag voor julle staan.

“Ja, daar waar die mense so suip! Ek dank die liewe Here Jesus God in die heeeeeeeeeeemel. Maar wag, ek het ‘n raaisel. Raai raai … Hoe hang ‘n M dan in die hemel?

“Ja, hoe hang ‘n M in die hemel?" She left the riddle hanging …

I did not hear the answer. Suddenly I caught on to the Americans. They were there to view a spectacle. She was an anthropological curiosity, with all the nuances of an 80-year-old Namaqualander lost on them.

“Raai raai," I heard Ouma asking, "Hoe hang ‘n M in die hemel?” Indeed, Ouma, it hangs like a cross. As I left, without hearing the answer, I could see the ghost of Sarah Baartman dancing in front of the Americans … as they licked their lips, eyes glazed over.