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June 24, 2024

His Grandfather's Garden

By KK Brown

During the couple of years since his arrival in Johannesburg from Cape Town, Jannie Jaacobs had become fairly well known, in and about the capital industrial town of South Africa's highveld.

Or -- to be slightly more specific -- he had become fairly well known to the policemen based at the Hillbrow Police Station in that metropolis.

This was not the cause for any great satisfaction to Jannie, however, because one of the main reasons for Jannie's departure from Cape Town (which was accompanied by a certain element of haste) had been a similar interest shown in his automotive engineering activities, by those gentlemen from another law enforcement establishment, situated at Sea Point.

That the Johannesburg law enforcement officers had become interested in Jannie's commercial activities was, in part, due to the fact that Jannie had brought with him from the Mother City, his automotive engineering skills. For Jannie Jaacobs was in the second hand car business (almost), in a manner of speaking. That is to say that he specialised in the particular skill of getting cars started when, for one reason or another, the keys were not always available.

The progression to his currently elevated level of self-employment had its roots in the activities of his early teens, when Jannie had seen how busy another coloured gentleman was, selling shiny hubcaps at the side of the road. Jannie's youthfully active and enquiring mind had immediately conceptualised the financial potential of such an entrepreneurial operation.

South Africa's roads -- always extensive in view of the huge distances that had to be negotiated -- had, in those days, been somewhat rough and potholed. And such disrepair inevitably led to numerous vehicles becoming parted from one or another of their hubcaps as they negotiated myriad bumps and irregularities in the road surfaces.

Motor cars were, of course, expensive in those days (a standard Chevrolet bakkie setting a man back by as much as £ 240), and Jannie soon realised that the white folks who drove the vast majority of such vehicles, were inordinately proud of them.

These rich white folk would think nothing of parting with two-and-sixpence to replace a missing hubcap in order to return their pride and joy to its original showroom condition, and Jannie cast himself vigorously into the industry that sprung up in order satisfy that particular demand.

Jannie's grandfather, 'Ou' Piet Jaacobs (a good man, who had once worked at making tea in a police station), never entirely approved of Jannie's selection of employment, but 'Jong' Piet (Jannie's father) was more than happy with the commercial efforts of his son, particularly as the regular revenues therefrom ensured a continuous supply of good (although cheap) Cape red wine at their humble residence in the Cape coloured suburb of 'District Six', outside Cape Town.

From the very beginning, Jannie did well.

He came almost to be regarded as the 'Henry Ford' of the Cape Town second-hand hubcap industry when he realised, fairly early in his career that -- in order to prosper -- a service provider had, efficiently and in a timely manner, to satisfy the requirements of potential customers. And in order to do so, the industry had to be more streamlined and automated.

It soon occurred to the bright young Jannie Jaacobs, that rather than waiting for hubcaps actually to fall from moving vehicles (which often caused them to become scratched and dented), it might be better to remove the looser ones from stationary vehicles, thereby preventing such unnecessary damage. There was, of course, the added commercial advantage that each vehicle normally had four hubcaps, and if one was loose, then the others probably would be as well; considering the dreadful state of the roads, you see, and the obvious fact that all four wheels would almost certainly have borne such disrepair in roughly equal proportion.

This observation, and the fact that Jannie vigorously implemented the solution, resulted in a continuous supply of hubcaps; and hubcaps, indeed, from a wide variety of the newer sort of vehicle that was plying the appallingly bumpy Cape roads in those days.

Jannie had, by this time, employed several other youths to assist him in the thankless task of collecting loose and wobbly hubcaps, and it was then that another problem arose.

Certain ill-informed and officious members of the Constabulary began taking unnecessary interest in the endeavours of Jannie's collectors, which often resulted in longish periods of time during which these youngsters were unable to perform their duties.

One sunny Sunday morning, Jannie was ambling down Church Street in his best finery, with his latest 'skattie' upon his arm, pondering the problem, when he noticed a shiny new convertible VW, with ornate and sparkling hubcaps, parked outside a coffee shop.

Jannie never really knew what mischance had drawn him to glance within the vehicle, but having done so, he could not help but notice that the keys were still in the ignition.

And, at that moment, the solution to Jannie's problem struck him like a bolt from the blue.

If he were to remove the vehicle to a quiet garage in 'District Six', he could test for any loose hubcaps at his leisure, and without fear of being disturbed by the ill-informed. Then, later, he could return the VW to its original parking space outside the coffee shop, and nobody, surely, would be offended.

"Hop in, chick ..." commanded Jannie, glancing around him briefly "... you an' me is goin' for a jawl, ek se !"

Jannie had previously, upon a few occasions, driven his elder brother's old jalopy up and down the dusty strips that passed for roads in 'District Six', and after a little initial gear-grinding but no serious incident, the VW was soon progressing merrily along the Sea Front highway.

As confidence grew, so did the grin on Jannie's countenance, and presently, he even rested his elbow nonchalantly on the door sill (as he had seen the rich people do), and turned on the radio. With the wind in his hair, sunshine upon his shoulders, an adoring 'skattie' in the passenger seat next to him and cash in his pocket, Life was good.

Until the police car pulled them over.

As a 'first offender', Jannie was, fortunately, charged only with 'Joy Riding' (it was a description with which he could find no fault), and sentenced to a paltry three months of legal incarceration. With remission for good behaviour, he was out again in forty-five days. The releasing Cop told him to 'voetsek', and not come back.

Jannie left as instructed.

He remained convinced that his new hubcap-collecting concept held certain merit, but determined never again, to be caught.

His grandfather, 'Ou' Piet, had been disappointed in the lad; but Jannie, who loved the old man dearly, had promised that he would never again bring down such shame upon the family of the grand old man whom had, once, made tea for those constables in a Cape Town Police Station.

It was largely as a result of this solemn commitment (although partly due to the arrival of a 'new broom' Commandant at the local police station), that Jannie decided -- some two years later -- that he should speedily relocate both himself and his commercial interests, from Cape Town to Johannesburg.

Jannie prospered in the Big City over the next couple of years, but he never forgot his old Grandpa.

Every week, religiously, Jannie sent the old man a letter containing money, and never, on a Monday evening, did he fail to telephone to enquire after the old man's health, and to appraise him of his own progress in the company 'Midnight Engineering', of which -- Jannie had proudly informed his ancestor -- he was now the Managing Director.

It was, then, with great sadness that Jannie learned upon that Monday evening towards the end of last March, that 'Ou' Piet had fallen, and broken his hip.

The old man had sounded uncustomarily whiny and dejected upon the telephone, that night.

"I am a crippled old man now, 'Jongtjie', and can no longer dig my vegetable garden in order to sow the sweet potatoes that will feed us next winter. The 'geld' you send me is too good, but can you not come back to the Kaap for a little while, my "klenitjie", to help me dig my garden ?

Jannie was, at the time, negotiating a serious business merger with another engineering concern (which specialised in supplying second-hand car radios and CD players to less discerning members of the cash-paying public), and simply could not spare the time at that particular juncture. Nevertheless, he could not let his grandpa down.

"Moetnie worry nie, Oupa. Ek sal vir U 'n plan maak !" ("Don't worry, Grandpa, I'll make a plan for you.")

Jannie sat, deep in thought, for several minutes after replacing the telephone's handset, and it was during this time that an idea began to formulate in his mind.

He remembered hearing of a recent burglary from an house in a rich Capetonian suburb, when substantial quantities of cash and jewelry had been removed by a couple of coloured gentlemen, who were observed escaping the scene of the crime, and heading off -- at high speed -- in the general direction of 'District Six'.

Although the stolen car had subsequently been discovered -- burned out -- on a little used District Six back road, the report had stated that there had been no sign of the thieves, nor of the 'swag', which the police assumed had been buried somewhere, until the initial furore had receded.

Eventually, Jannie leant forward and flipped through his copy of the Cape Town telephone directory, then again picked up the telephone receiver. He made another long distance telephone call; this time, to the Police Station near his Grandpa's house in the Cape. For reasons of hygiene, he held an handkerchief over the mouthpiece as he spoke.

As an upstanding manner of the community -- Jannie informed the policeman in Cape Town -- he felt it to be his duty to inform the forces of Law and Order of the precise location where the stolen goods had been buried.

The policeman jotted down the address that Jannie had given him, and thanked him profusely, fully understanding Jannie's insistence upon anonymity.

The following morning, Jannie answered his ringing telephone and was most relieved to hear that his Grandfather's voice had regained its normal happy tone.

"Dankie, Jongtjie," the old man had bubbled immediately "Six of your maaties from the police came round to my 'plaas' just after you had 'phoned me last last night, and they dug up all my vegetable patch for me. I'm so PROUD of you, Jannie. You must be a very important man up there in Johannesburg to be able to call on your Police pals here in ,b>Kaapies to come and dig your old 'Oupa's' vegetable garden.'

"It was a pleasure, Oupa," replied the Johannesburg motor executive. "... And how is your hip, by the way ?"

-- KK Brown

"Bakkie" - (Afrik.) : An utility (pick-up) truck
"Dankie" - (Afrik.) : Thank You
"ek se !" - (Afrik.) : "I say" (literally: but, in fact, merely linguistic punctuation)
"Geld" - (Afrik.) : Money
"Jawl" - (Afrik.) : Party (Coloured slang)
"Jongtjie" - (Afrik.) : Youngster
"Kaap" or "Kaapies" - (Afrik.) : The Cape, or Cape Town
"Klenitjie" - (Afrik.) : Little one
"Maaties" - (Afrik.) : Mates, Friends
"Ou" - (Afrik.) : Old
"Oupa" - (Afrik.) : Grandfather
"Plaas" - (Afrik.) : (literally) Farm (but often used as "Home" or "Place")
"Skattie" - (Afrik.) : Girlfriend (Coloured slang)
"Veotsek !" (Afrik.) : Piss off !

Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2008-01-28
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