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The Boers

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As a hormone-controlled youngster in the late 70s, every one of my friends despised afrikaans, afrikaans music and boer history. Everything English was better. In those stormy university days I lived with my grandparents. I remember my grandfather watching me with sad eyes as I rushed off to class wearing a union jack t-shirt. He never said a word about it.

I learned later that he ferociously fought the English and often paid with his own blood, being wounded in the fight for his language culture and country. He was a member of the "stormjaers" (storm chasers), a radical faction of the Ossewa Brandwag, the revolutionary anti-English boer movement. A big, powerful man, he was known as "Cat Mitchell" for his amazing agility. He was a mean fighter and some stories tell of him taking on 3 men at a time.

He eluded capture by the English many times - every time except one. When caught, he was placed in an internment camp and later exiled to St. Helena, a remote British outpost where Napoleon was kept for 5 years (1815-1820) as well as Chief Dinizulu (1890-1897). There, my grandfather spent the years patiently carving tiny wooden objects, many of which I saw later in my grandmother’s "showcase", a heavy 6-foot cabinet with glass front and mirror backing.

He was kept at St. Helena with some of South Africa’s later political leaders, and I remember being introduced to John Vorster in the late 70’s (then prime minister of South Africa) at a reunion and being introduced as "Klein Kat" (Small Cat) Mitchell.

After returning from St. Helena, he had an encounter with God and became a rough-and-tumble boer preacher. Refusing on the basis of his faith to be incorporated into the government echelons by the broederbond - an elite and secret afrikaans society which then ruled South Africa - he became a menial worker instead of accepting a well-paying bureaucratic post and living in luxury.

I never understood his motivation and sacrifice.

Now, a grandfather myself - and many years later - I am beginning to see with great sadness what a great man he was and how much I missed.

Slowly, I am beginning to see the beauty of the culture and the courage, faith and perseverance of the boer heart that still flows in our blood today.

Mitch Mitchell is a bow hunter, outdoorsman and the author of several books on African wildlife and survival

It took many years, and although my heart has long ago turned to his God, my mind is turning to the great men they were and what they were protecting then. I have become a reformed anti-afrikaans backslider.

I have come across a collection of essays some afrikaner wrote about my grandfather almost a hundred years ago - and I will attempt to honour the memory of the boers with articles in issues to come.

• The Boers •
• Do it now •
• Survival of the fittest •
• Stupid hunters? •
• Keeping Resolutions •
• Live! •

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