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Life at Table Mountain

When the thunders of the heavy African storms resound in reverberating echoes from the slopes of Table Mountain, it seems as though the end of the world has come. Flash after flash of lightning strikes the ground and illuminates the night with uncanny light. And woe to you, if, on Table Mountain you are caught in the mist after the quick falling sunset has snuffed out the daylight. It will enclose you like an impenetrable wall blotting out everything from view and confusing the senses. However, if you keep your head and give your horse the reins, you may still reach your home (or that of a neighbour) in safety. You must, of course, be able to place implicit trust in your horse.

Our home, which stood beneath towering blue-gums and lofty pine trees, had been a stable until my parents, returning from concentration camp life had moved in with their five remaining children. The residence itself lay in ruins – victim of war. But with that inborn gift of home-making and ceaseless toil, typical of pioneering people, they set about transforming the stable into a suitable home. But never for a day could the young couple forget the two sons buried in the camp.

Very soon, however, the load was lightened in the gift of a daughter, the second and last. Then I followed, and after me a little brother, but we had to hand him back again. His small grave lies in the old churchyard. Next ‘Esau’ arrived, followed by ‘Jacob’, and last of all, another boy.

We played together under the oak trees by the veranda of the house and often watched the weaver birds skilfully building their nests in the tallest gum trees. These trees we loved, but the cypresses behind the cattle kraal were, for us, baneful and sinister. We seldom dared to go near them for there lived a poisonous green mamba, long, and swift as lightning. Yet we delighted in romping about the big, deep, ‘Donga.’ This rift extended down the mountain and into the valley like an ugly, painful laceration. But it was, for us children, and ideal playground, fragrant with the smell of fresh earth, with its steep, red slopes and caves (which we dug for ourselves). What did we know of South Africa’s danger of erosion? – or of irretrievable soil being washed into the ocean?

Flagstones behind the house invited us to happy play; great granite boulders – smaller ones – served as our fortresses and castles. We had seen pictures of these in the reading books of our older brothers and sisters. Our dark-skinned playmates knew nothing of fortresses, of course, but we understood each other entirely, for they were well versed in the old folks’ stories of caverns and gorges in which their people in times of war found refuge.