A Red-Headed Rooi-Nek In Early Smithfield

Jennifer Anne (Jenny) Vorwerk, now living in Spain, was born in the Transkei, spoke Xhosa as a kid and came to Smithfield with her family as a very young girl. She recounts some of her childhood experiences here and obviously retains a deep love of South Africa while actually living in Spain.


By Jennifer Anne (Jenny) Vorwerk

Once upon a time (all stories must begin this way), a little girl and her two sisters arrived in a village called Smithfield in the Free State.

The little girl was a skinny little, freckled, rooikop. Her name, because she looked so much like her oupa, was Klein Japie.

Well, when Klein Japie and her sisters were sent to the girls’ hostel in Smithfield, because their oupa’s farm was a bit far away for them to commute, their adventures began because the newcomers were Engelse, Rooinekke, and could not speak Afrikaans.

Once the three girls managed to speak the Taal life became almost normal, and these Engelse started integrating and joining in.

Klein Japie remembers the Nagmaal weekends, when everyone in the district would come in and camp around the old church, some of them still in oxwagens and horse carts, and it was a wonderful spectacle. And a great time for everybody to meet and talk and exchange events with one another.

The old junior school, which of course is still there, had a small quadrangle where we all used to gather before school, and form lines, so as to attend assembly in the little hall on the side.

We would march along to delightful old Afrikaans and Dutch tunes, just a short way and into the hall, where prayers would be said, announcements made, before going back to our classes.

Once a month, we would all attend Debat, an evening meeting in the big school hall, where all the students, high and low, would not only practise the art of debate, a very good thing to do, but also, enjoy performances by all and sundry. Some kids played the piano, or the guitar, or sang. Sometimes an entire class would stage a performance, dancing and singing their heads off.

Once, my middle sister and I had to dress up, (being Rooinekke), and sing ‘Billie Boy’ - I have forgotten most of the words, but a very silly little English song. And another time, the whole class acted and sang ‘Vat Jou Goed en Trek, Ferreira, Jannie met die Huppelbeen.’

Great stuff.

And, middle sister was a crack sportsman. Still is. And a huge Bokke fan. She played netball, softball, everything except rugby. She was bigger than I was, too. I was just a boekwurm, into everything in print.

Some twenty or more, years ago, I explored the junior school, and my old classrooms, and discovered some of my own graffiti on a lovely old schooldesk. I was thrilled!

However, in the old days, being a Rooinek and a boekwurm and a Know All, I was inclined to be a nuisance in class, and was often in trouble.

In one of my more junior years at the school, I was again being cheeky, so the teacher sent me to the Big Headmaster at the Big School just down the garden, to get into Big Trouble.

I was terrified. Crept into the headmaster’s office, and stood there, trembling.

Mnr B…..    said to me, ‘Ja jong, jy is alweer in die moeilikheid, en jou onderwyser is net mooi siek en sat van jou gedoentes. Sien jy daardie portret daar op die muur agter jou rug? Wie, dink jy, is dit?’

I shook my head.

He said, ‘Dit is jou pa se foto, daardie. Hy was hoofseun van hierdie skool, weet jy. En daarby, het hy ook ‘n Rhodes skolierskap gewen, om die Reg te studeer op Oxford in Engeland.’

Something I had never known about, and at that age, (about 11), did not really understand either, but the incident has never left my head.

My ouma and my oupa had never said anything about that, never talked about our father, either. He would occasionally come down from Pretoria, where he was working, but these things remained in the past.

Later, in the last year before High School, I guess Std. Vyf; middle sister and I joined the class run by Ou Bok. Now, Ou Bok Prinsloo, is famous, he even taught my Dad and his brothers. He was a superb teacher, a superb human being, and quite a character, to boot.

There was a saying, and thank goodness, that saying did turn out to be almost true, to the end.

‘Almal Vrek Behalwe Ou Bok.’  (Appropos AVBOB).

To Be Continued

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