Lying on the floor, Bekker looks to his right and spots his dog, dead from a single gunshot to the head. All the robbers had taken were guns to commit more crimes. He reflects that last robber to leave had turned around and faced him. Bekker recognized him as one of his family’s farm workers, who, thinking Bekker dead had spat on the floor and left, in his hand a piece of cheese snatched from the fridge on the way out.
For five generations, Boet Bekker and his family had been farming in an area once known as “the Western Transvaal.” Four generations earlier, in 1838, the family had left the Cape in the south to go eastward beyond British control with the first wave of what would be known as “The Great Trek.”
When the Bekker family arrived, the land was unoccupied by African tribes. The Zulu tribe had killed the able-bodied men of the Tswana people, who had previously occupied the land, and enslaved their women and children. Most of the rest of the Tswana people who survived moved into the Kalahari Desert in what is today called Botswana. The others eked out a hard and famine-prone existence in the hills just beyond the land that the Bekkers and their fellow travelers settled. The Tswana living in the hills welcomed them, because the Afrikaner presence defended them from further Zulu attack. Despite what would later be called a “conquest” of the hinterland, the settlement brought peace and prosperity to the region. The Afrikaner Boer farmers provided protection to the region, and the small remnant of the Tswana population worked the Afrikaner farms for pay and food.
When some of the Tswana wanted to work for the Bekkers they were welcomed for the help they brought to the growing community. The Bekker family spread Christianity among the black families who lived on the farm. The Tswana welcomed the good news.
Many of the Tswana workers integrated into the community deeply and grew to love Boet Bekker’s great-great-grandfather and called up his wisdom in settling disputes among them. He became, in effect, their “Nkosi,” or chief, with the elders seeing the benefit of his oversight in their affairs.
Despite a generation of peace, this organic union of two peoples into community was not to last. Neither the Tswana nor the Afrikaner Boers could have anticipated the global forces that would break the harmony of their farming community. To the west, the British had discovered diamonds; to the East, gold. The natural resources became a curse to the Bekker family. The promise of prosperity for their poor but sufficient farming nation turned into a nightmare as mining claims were made. People from all over the British Empire began moving to Afrikaner lands, staking claims and moving across farms as if they were unclaimed.
War quickly came to their land as tensions between the British colonizers and Afrikaner Boer farmers reached a breaking point. The number of casualties reached near genocide when the British eventually won. After their victory, the British unified all the colonies and nations of the conquered tribes, including the Afrikaners, into one South African colony. It was an artificial nation forced from the beginning.
Boet’s great-grandfather wept at the site of his burnt down house, which he was unable to defend during the war. His fields were charred, and his once proud Afrikaner steers were simply carcasses in the veldt. His wife and children were dead. He had to start over. Pain, hurt, memories, and hate clouded his vision as he tried to pick up the pieces.
The Afrikaner nation was usurped by the new Union of South Africa, a country shared by many tribes. It was deemed a “rainbow nation.” In this new context the Afrikaners, including the Bekker family, went about building a nation.
Bekker chose to uphold his father’s values and stay on the farm. As the youngest son he was last in line to make this choice, but it was in his blood. Bekker preferred a simple life where his sweat mixed with the red ochre soil of his beloved farm, doing what he could to help his neighbours. Sunday was the day for rest and reflection on the word of God. No one on the farm would touch any tools until 5 a.m. on a Monday morning for the first workload shift of the orchard.
This peaceful way of life would not last. The rainbow nation failed. What was once a relatively peaceful land where tribes of people worked as they wished, interacting with whomever they chose, was now a forced and false unity. When Apartheid ended, so too ended the ability of the Afrikaner minority to defend themselves in their own land. From an independent nation, to minority leadership over a federation of nations, to simply a minority, Bekker and the Afrikaners had no recourse to control their lives. “Death to the white farmer, death to the Boer” became the state of race relations in the false Union of South Africa.
As Bekker lays in the pool of blood on the linoleum kitchen floor he thinks back about how he met his wife, Sarah. She was the only woman he ever knew. Together they reared five healthy children on the farm. Sarah is lying face down near him. He reaches towards her and the pain sets in. They had stabbed him in the side. Bubbles appear, the wheezing sound of his lungs increase. He tries again and touches her hand—lifeless. He is alone now. There is God of course but here He seems so far away. He closes his eyes and starts his prayer, “Dear Lord take me with her. Don’t let me walk the farm on my own. Don’t let me sit alone at thy table without her soft hand in mine as I say grace over the Sunday stew.”
The ones who killed Sarah call themselves Freedom Fighters, Economic Freedom Fighters. “What is this freedom they proclaim?” Bekker wonders. Was freedom not a full stomach, the blessings of God, and family? Playing in the farm lake, throwing mud at the end of reeds and falling asleep under the willow tree, that was freedom. Bekker wanders off to those memories as he closes his eyes.