Adventures on the River
Copyright 2022 by Ezra Azra
Image by dae jeung kim from Pixabay
word Umtwalume, or, Mtwalume, is the name of a tall tree that grows
on the banks of a river in Zululand. The Zulus named the river after
the tree. The Umtwalume river is one of many rivers flowing
eastwards across the Province of KwaZulu-Natal, into the Indian
in the region of Ifafa, the Umtwalume flows through part of my
family's hundreds of acres of farm. This story is about when I lived
there in the 1950s.
warm weather all year round was the main reason I spent a lot of time
in the river. The only sections of the river banks that were not
impassable because of dense vegetation, were the sections cleared by
the soil on the banks and on sections continuous with the banks, was
most fertile, the farmers avoided planting there because of the
frequent flooding of the river.
floods were most destructive. Only the sturdiest trees survived. Most
undergrowth vegetation were uprooted and washed away; all of it grew
back within weeks, as dense as ever. This was subtropical Africa; all
river vegetation grew aggressively, and defiantly.
short stretches here and there, the river was ankle-deep and only a
few steps wide.
of all, the river bed was made of sand found on shores of ocean
beaches; ranging in color from light beige to white, so brilliantly
reflective in full sunlight that for full personal comfort a person
needed to wear shaded spectacles.
spent a lot of time walking barefoot in the river in two of such
sections that were on our farm.
only curse of the river was that poisonous snakes swam around in the
deeper sections. There were no snakes in the shallow sections. We
continually cleared the banks of undergrowth vegetation attractive to
snakes. We knew of the existence of snake-eating snakes, but never
and small wild animals drank at those shallow sections. Most of the
time those creatures showed no fear of us walking about in the
shallow water. We did everything we could to protect the tall trees
growing on the banks of the river. Unfortunately, we had to cut down
the trees at the shallow sections because that is where we had to
cross with heavy machinery and our bicycles.
of the adults had an ancient but in perfect condition, Norton
avoided, as much as we could, walking about in or near the river at
night because occasionally we found the footprints of more than one
of the same very large animal.
midday, on a sunny day, I was walking casually along the shallow
river, when, suddenly a huge wild cat dashed across my path, chasing
a small animal. I do not believe that small animal deliberately sort
my help, but when it scurried into the water, it changed directions
and ran straight for me.
froze. The small animal ran passed me, and kept course in the river.
It did not try to get to the other bank. The wild cat confronted me.
stopped, and hissed. Perhaps it was hissing at me to get out of the
way. I instantly complied. Strangely, it kept looking at me, even
after I was out of the river and turned to watch the chase.
right there, it gave up the chase and, instead, sat on its haunches
in the water, and began grooming itself.
was a wild cat, even if it began looking cute. I wasn't about to
gamble. I went home.
left our farm when I was eighteen. I never returned. I lived in the
City of Durban. On an occasion, I happened to mention that a sweet
lemon was my favourite fruit; nature's lemonade. I was scoffed at.
everybody had heard the term, sweet lemon, everybody understood a
sweet lemon to be a deliberately cultivated cross between two other
fruit; and that there was no such tree possible in a wilderness. I
was both amazed and puzzled. On the bank of the Umtwalume river on
our farm, in a wilderness, there was a sweet-lemon tree. It was a
favourite tree of the family.
July we would walk along the river to the tree and pluck all the ripe
sweet lemons; usually a large basket-full. Within two days, all the
lemons would be eaten. A group of us would make the trip so that we
could make a lot of noise to chase away any wild animals, especially
me, a sweet lemon is a fully fledged natural fruit that exists in its
own right. Nature's first and truest complete lemonade!
thunderstorm weather, we went hunting for edible mushrooms, up and
down the river banks.
yet, there is no adequate explanation in science why mushrooms spring
up full-grown during a thunderstorm. On the other hand, just about
everybody knows there are more kinds of poisonous mushrooms than the
our farm at Ifafa there was knowledge of only one kind of edible
mushroom. Nobody knew where or when the knowledge was first applied.
There was, probably, more than one kind of edible mushroom on our
farm, but we ate one kind only. Perhaps, because this one kind was in
such plentiful supply, we did not care to learn if there are other
washed them before frying them in oil. A mushroom snack included
only bread; no other food.
among the many, many photographs of kinds of mushrooms, I have yet to
see a photo of the edible kind on the Umtwalume river on our farm.
looked like an alien flying saucer space ship.
the mushrooms were not cooked and eaten within short hours after
being plucked, there were disastrous consequences of smell and sight.
That is what people said. In our family, we loved our mushrooms too
much to bother to find out.
animals fighting in mating competitions was a regular site all over
our farm. So regular, in fact, that our pet dogs ignored them. There
were no hunters among our family. All herbivores were safe.
Throughout the Ifafa region beyond our farm, there were no animal
predators large enough to be a threat to deer and other herbivores.
Although I do not know enough of those animals who occasionally left
huge footprints in the shallow sections of the river bed, I am
guessing they were not meat eaters because we never found pieces of
bloody remains anywhere.
meat-eating wild animals are messy eaters, always leaving more than
enough evidence of their having eaten.
course, there is a possibility that those mysterious huge-footed
creatures swallowed their prey whole, leaving absolutely no evidence
of their having eaten.
were taken aback when we saw two unhorned herbivores fighting in the
river in one of the shallow areas. At first, we wondered if they
were, in fact, two males who, somehow, had no horns.
hastily moved out of the river to be far away enough to not distract
either of the combatants. That's when we accidentally stumbled on the
cause of the fight.
discovered a baby deer tucked away in some high bush vegetation. The
baby let out a barely audible squeal. The combatants sensed we had
made the discovery. They broke off fighting each other, and came for
us. We scurried away like Olympic sprinters.
unhorned females have hard hooves that can deliver painful kicks.
our farm family, there were no hunters. We cooked and ate meat, but
only of animals killed in fights with other animals. Animals that
died of illness or from injury, we buried. Only one animal in my
years was struck dead by lightning. We cooked the remains and ate
kept chickens for eggs. When a chicken died, we buried it.
kinds of nameless small predators attempted from time to time to kill
our chickens and pet dogs. Happily, they never succeeded, and we
chased them off.
we found ourselves in circumstances that obliged us to kill wild
animals. At those times, we delayed for as long as we dared. One of
those rare times was when a huge snake arrived on our farm, and did
not take the opportunities we provided for it to leave, alive.
of us discovered the snake when we were crossing at a shallow place
in the river, barefoot. By sheer chance, a section of the snake was
spotted high up between two trees. At first sight, the snake's green
skin blended in so well with the surrounding foliage, it was not
recognized. It was seen only because it slowly slithered along from
one tree to another.
had read about the existence of snake-eating snakes, but since we had
never encountered any such good snakes, we always opted for the
choice of regarding all snakes encountered, as poisonous.
alarm was raised. Within the hour there was a crowd of persons from
other farms who came to help. Four of them had long guns. That snake
could have easily escaped in that time.
large snakes were not uncommon. They came out during windy weather,
and were seen moving speedily. This snake was all that more
frightening for not moving speedily in sunny, windless, weather.
armed persons could have easily shot that snake dead, but, instead,
two of them fired into the trees immediately under the section of
snake's body that was visible.
loud shots did not scare the snake.
would have objected had those two persons shot the snake dead.
the first time, the snake showed its head. It swung out of the trees
and landed in the shallow water of the river. It was longer than
seven feet. Its head was its thinnest part. The tail was thicker than
all the unarmed persons scattered, screaming in fear, four guns
roared their missiles into the beast. Even after it was dead, its
head shot into a bloody pulp, its body, throughout its whole length,
slowly writhed and twitched as in slow-motion, to a dead stop.
buried it far away from the river.
flooding was unpredictable. Even animals were caught unawares. It
could happen day or night. The only safety was in its happening
rain up river was the cause. The level of water rising gradually in
our farm, gave us about an hour before it reached about six feet
high, and roaring along angrily and mercilessly.
would see, being tumbled along, dead bodies of animals that were
caught unawares. Frequently, there were small animals still alive,
struggling to stay afloat as they were recklessly forced along.
Sometimes the dead animals would be adult monkeys.
corpses were our only evidence that somewhere up river, there were
monkeys. No living monkeys came down the river as far as our farm. We
guessed it was because the number of tall trees everywhere on our
farm never amounted to a forest.
a flood, we found fish entangled in the vegetation that was not
uprooted by the turbulently rushing waters. Those fish, we cooked and
ate. Those fish were evidence that somewhere up river people could
fish. There was no fish and so no fishing in the Umtwalume river on
our farm, children walked to school at the town of Umtwalume. It took
us at least an hour. I remember two teachers who everybody knew to be
criminals. Mister Daniel Lubbe, and mister Gilbert Goldstone. For a
few years, both were teachers and close friends at Umtwalume at the
Lubbe was not married. The rumour was that he had to leave other
schools as far away as Durban, more than fifty miles away, north,
because of his shameless affairs with women.
stood out always because of the hair on his head. His hair was
basically Negroid-Zulu. But because to his primary Zulu ethnicity was
added one or more of Xhosa, Griqua, Khoi-Khoi, his hair, when treated
with the oil from the berry of the Syringa tree, had the capacity to
be grown high, resembling a top hat. From there, it could be shaped
variously in minor ways.
Zulu-ethnicity hair did not respond to Syringa berry oil.
children at school who qualified, did not wear their hair Syringa
high because it hampered activity in field sports. Because of his
hair, Daniel Lubbe was the only teacher who never coached field
sports; his friend, Gilbert Goldstone, always substituted for him.
Lubbe shaped his hair differently in subtle ways every few weeks. We
would request to get close enough to detect his tinkerings. He always
happily granted permission. He was, easily, our most favourite
Lubbe, definitely was a most effective teacher. He taught us
Mathematics: Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry.
definitely, is not in my genetic deoxyribonucleic acid. And yet,
after the first of the two years in Daniel Lubbe's class, achieving
100% in tests was usual for me, and for many others. His method was
to teach a rule on Monday, and to spend the rest of the week giving
us exercises requiring the application of that rule. We had
Mathematics every day of the week. I was not the only one who looked
forward to our Mathematics classes.
was another aspect of his teaching that endeared him to us. He was
the only teacher who never required us to do homework. He said
homework was an unfair extension of a teacher's job.
Lubbe's hobby was fishing. On school vacations he would travel as far
as Port Shepstone to fish in the Umzimkhulu (Mzimkhulu) river, the
largest river in South Africa that flows eastward into the Indian
Police arrived at the school at Umtwalume one day, and served Daniel
Lubbe with Law Court documents. I never found out what those
documents required of mister Lubbe.
next Saturday, mister Lubbe showed up at our farm early in the day.
He was river-dressed; knee-length trousers, and firmly strapped open
sandals. He wore a backpack stuffed with stuff. He had a short
factory-made fishing rod.
spent a few cheerful minutes with us, and asked for permission to
explore the river upstream, and do some fishing. As with everybody on
the farm, his speech alternated haphazardly between English and Zulu.
There was kibitzing about Zulu nicknames.
persons on the farm had a Zulu nickname, some given by others, others
adopted. Daniel Lubbe's was Ndlelalani. It meant, loosely, in one or
a combination of African languages, "a good road ahead." It
was not an uncommon name.
was "Zdeleli", loosely meaning, exceedingly loosely
meaning, "lazy good-for-nothing." I do not remember who
saddled me with that name. I have never known anyone else to have
was gladly given Daniel Lubbe, whole heartedly, to venture upriver.
members volunteered to accompany him if he gave them few minutes to
dress appropriately and to pack backpacks. He gracefully declined the
offers, saying he did not intend more than an hour-or-so exploring,
and taking photos. And fishing.
showed us his box camera, and packages of extra film. He looked at
his fishing rod winsomely, with a tentative smile, and said quietly,
mostly to himself, "I named her Emilia, for luck."
was light-hearted ribbing about his high-hair. Someone suggested he
use the reflection of his hair in the water to frighten fish to
death. He graciously said he would try it, if all else failed.
left, cheerfully and alone.
was never seen, or heard from, or heard about, again. That was the
first time, and the last, he visited our farm.
we children began speaking about mister Lubbe's absence from school
after a few days, our family agreed to not speak about his visit to
us for permission to walk upriver. There was no official
investigation into mister Lubbe's disappearance that involved us
although Police did come to our farm and asked questions.
Police had been to the Umtwalume school. In their investigation into
Lubbe's disappearance, they found out he intended to go fishing up
the river. They asked the teachers about this and other matters
related to Lubbe. Gilbert Goldstone was Daniel Lubbe's closest
associate at school and in life, in general. He was surprised, but
did not show it, that Lubbe had not apprised him of the intention to
go fishing in the Umtwalume river. Neither of them had ever done
guessed accurately that our section of the river would be where Lubbe
would go fishing. He came to us and asked. He warned us of the
Police. He was told everything about Lubbe's visit to us.
some days passed, two uniformed Police Officers on horseback came to
our farm. They asked about fishing spots on our section of the
were told there was no place suitable because there were no fish in
our section of the Umtwalume River. The only fish we ate from the
river were the fish that came with the floods to be trapped in
vegetation on the river banks.
in our family studiously avoided mentioning Lubbe had ever visited
us with his Emilia companion. The Police did not ask a direct
showed us three photos. One was of Lubbe's head and shoulders,
displaying his spectacularly attractive high hair. We identified him,
was a group picture of him and his fisher friends in Port Shepstone.
All of them had high hair. None of us had seen that photo before the
Police showed it to us.
third was a photo, barely hand-palm size. It was an old photo, with
many chaotic creases. The Police found it tucked away among fishing
gear in a small metal container in Lubbe's home. It was of a young
woman with high hair. None of us had seen that photo before the
Police showed us. None of us recognized the young woman.
were careful to not mention that Gilbert Godstone had visited us and
asked about Lubbe's visit.
later, in my first year at the University of Natal in Durban, there
was a student in some of my classes, Hugh Paul Ndlelalani Africa.
outward appearance, mannerisms of speech, he could have been Daniel
Lubbe's identical twin. After a few weeks we struck up a close
friendship when we discovered both of us had Zulu ancestry.
had fun comparing our Zulu names. I casually noted to him that he
reminded me of one my teachers at Umtwalume school. Daniel Lubbe.
told me his Dad's name was Daniel Lubbe. His Dad and Mom were born in
the inland City of Pietermaritzburg in the Province of Natal, about
seventy-four miles from Umtwalume. They attended the same schools.
They had intended to be married to each other.
intention was interrupted by his Mom being pregnant with Hugh. His
Mom died in childbirth. His Dad left the City and enrolled in a
Teacher's College. Hugh said, he never knew his Dad.
was brought up by his grandparents, both Zulu. His grandfather's name
was Ndlelalani Africa.
attended the same school in Pietermaritzburg as his parents had. He
remembered reading, in the school's student newspaper, a program of a
play the school had staged. "Romeo and Juliet", written by
William Shakespeare. His Mom and Dad had played the two protagonist
roles. The play's program listed his Mother's name as Emilia
had not seen any photos of his Dad and Mom.
other than his outward appearance, there was no evidence Hugh Paul
Ndlelalani Africa was Daniel Lubbe's child.
told Hugh a little about Daniel Lubbe. Other than telling me the name
Lubbe was around in Pietermaritzburg, Hugh showed no interest in
learning more about Daniel Lubbe than the little I provided.
in the City of Pietermaritzburg there is evidence?
asked him if high-hair was around in his school days. He said he
remembered a few. When I asked if his school library had year-book
records, his interest was piqued. He had not thought of checking the
school library for photos.
thought it best to not tell Hugh about the last time I saw Daniel
Paul Ndlelalani Africa went on to have an illustrious career as
university teacher, scholar, administrator. He and I graduated with
our first two University degrees in the same years, at the same
University. He gained his third at the University of Leeds in
England, and his fourth, a doctorate, from the University of Toronto
his prestigious achievements: at different times, Vice-Chancellor of
in South Africa; a Dean at the University of Namibia; a consultant
with the United Nations. After he retired, he was offered and he
accepted to serve on an advisory Council at the University of Natal,
the University where his University education had begun in 1956.
most heartening fact is that after Hugh died peacefully of natural
causes in his seventies, in Natal, he was awarded, posthumously, an
honorary doctorate degree in Education by the University of Natal,
the University where the University education of Hugh Paul
Ndlelalani Africa, had begun in 1956.
were rampant rumours about mister Gilbert Goldstone's crimes.
mister Daniel Lubbe, mister Gilbert Goldstone lived a long life on
his farm in inland Umtwalume. He was married happily and had
children, some of whom we knew at school. He continued a teacher at
the school in the town of Umtwalume until he reached the retirement
age of sixty years. He retired and lived a long life, and eventually
died peacefully in bed of natural causes.
first rumour was that Gilbert Goldstone inherited his hundred-acre
he was young, he lived with his parents in the district of Ifafa
which was contiguous with the district of Umtwalume to the north.
When he graduated from the Umtwalume school, he left the Province to
attend a Teacher College in another Province, the Transvaal, where he
qualified as a school teacher.
some time he deceived his old and blind father, William Goldstone,
into signing all his hundred-acre farm to Gilbert, disinheriting
William's other five children from his first wife, Maria Goldstone.
Gilbert's mother, William's second wife, was never legally married to
William. This made Gilbert, legally, a bastard child. In other
words, he had no natural legal right to Goldstone inheritance at
Ifafa and Umtwalume.
of Gilbert's crimes was not merely a rumour. It was a fact in which I
unwittingly as a teenager, aided and abetted him.
Goldstone was very, very generous freely providing us with produce
from his farm: pumpkins, watermelons, yams, sweet potatoes, maize,
Goldstone's farm was contiguous with ours at our northern boundary.
The Umtwalume river flowed from our farm through a part of his. Only
in our section of the river, mysteriously, was the river sand of
ocean-shore texture and color.
the permission of our family, Gilbert dug our river sand and added it
to bags of beans he sewed closed, and sold by weight to merchants in
towns on the south coast of the Province of Natal, from Durban in the
north to Port Shepstone in the south, a distance of about
seventy-seven miles, as the crow flies.
was one of the family members who helped Gilbert dig up river sand
and put it in drums he transported to his farm by his half-truck
motorized vehicle. That modern engine was not the only one by which
Gilbert Goldstone, teacher, conducted his dishonest commercial
farming enterprises. All the people I knew at that time, held Gilbert
Goldstone in awe; in our eyes, he was this close from being a god.
was his only farm produce that Gilbert never sold in Umtwalume, which
is situated on the Natal coast about halfway between Durban and Port
he afraid Umtwalume natives would instantly recognize the taste of
the river's sand? Or, was there, really, deep down in his evil being,
an atom of moral conscience?
other words, up to about one-quarter of the weight of a bag of
Gilbert's beans was made by our farm's river sand.
a teen, I unwittingly helped Gilbert Goldstone dig up and load that
in future years, one family member, old, retired, and dying in a town
far away from our farm, told me of Gilbert Goldstone's treachery. By
then, Gilbert had been long dead.
there were other family members who knew, their silence must have
been bought by Gilbert's excessive generosity to farmers hundreds of
miles around in matters of construction, fixing machinery, ploughing,
sowing, harvesting, the free lending out of his farm workers.
farmer was refused our river sand. He wanted too much. The sand, the
farmer said, was the right composition to be mixed with cement to
build walls and patios, and other structures.
one occasion in the month of July, the flooding occurred at night.
And, unusually, in wildly-churning winds. We heard shouts from the
other side of the river. We could not discern whether the shouts were
felt obliged to brave the bad weather. We went outside. We had
powerful flashlights. All farmers did. We did not switch them on.
of the compulsory precautions on our farm was, never switch on lights
in the dark outside before being sure of safety.
that moment, we were not sure of safety. Why would anyone be out in a
dark raining night? They were on our farm at a place miles away from
other farms. Persons who arrived at night on our farm, and were met,
were expected. Others were avoided in silence, if it was dark.
my years on the farm, all traffic, pedestrian and motorized, on the
road through our farm to Gilbert's, was to Gilbert's farm.
stood still in the dark and the rain and the blustering wind. We
heard shouts from more than one person. We did not respond. We could
not break down the shouts into intelligible words. It could have been
the stormy winds that made the shouts seem to erupt into screams.
Then, no more human sounds.
waited a few minutes more before going back indoors.
daylight, the river was well on the way to returning to its lowest
levels. By late afternoon we were able to walk about on the other
side of the river.
found no signs of people having been there the last night. To this
day, we do not know who those shouters and screamers in the dark,
were. If they were headed for Gilbert's farm, he never mentioned it.
happening on our farm was as soulfully spectacular as the coming of
the Tegwane bird. It happened only once a year, and in the month of
July. July is the coldest month in the Province of KwaZulu-Natal in
South Africa. The sub-tropical weather can be as low as sixty
Fahrenheit! The cold air along the Umtwalume river brought about a
dense white fog that lingered from dawn to late afternoon each day.
This happened for consecutive days.
a day, while the fog was at its thickest and the day its coldest, the
Tegwane bird would appear high up in the sky. It would fly slowly in
circles, lower and lower until it slowly entered the fog, and
disappeared onto the river bed, always at the same shallow end. It
would remain there, hidden in the fog for hours.
was not known if it remained on the same spot, or walked up the
river. When it rose, it would be in the same pattern. It would not
return until the next year.
never knew what the Tegwane did in the fog on the river, for hours.
Some guessed the bird came to lay and bury its eggs. Against this
guess was the fact nobody on the Ifafa-Umtwalume farms had ever
recorded seeing Tegwane hatchlings at any time of the year. Indeed,
nobody had ever recorded seeing young Tegwanes flying; more than one
adult Tegwane flying about.
more credible guess was that it came to feed on food that was
available only at that time of year.
Tegwane is huge. Rust-colored. I do not remember anyone mentioning
differences between females and males. I saw one in flight, only once
in my years on the farm.
is a Zulu and a Xhosa belief it is bad luck to kill or hurt a Tegwane
because it has mythical capabilities: it can call down thunder and
lightning; it can make itself invisible; it can change its form into
any animal, including human; it is kind in nature and a loner, but
can be viciously lethal in defending itself.
have not been able to find a record of the Tegwane's wingspan. The
Tegwane is not on the official list of the world's top-ten birds with
the widest wingspan, the widest being about twelve feet.
in Xhosa-Zulu ancient folk lore holy awe, the Tegwane's wingspan
easily approaches infinity.
fog was seen hovering over the river, people would journey in
reverential silence from far away to the place on our section of the
river. We had originally chosen that spot as a crossing because of
the Tegwane visits.
would wait patiently in holy silence. When the bird appeared high in
the sky, there would be whispered gasps in chorus, and fingers
pointing. Nobody moved unnecessarily. They would remain like that,
more or less, for the whole time the Tegwane was hidden in the fog on
it eventually rose up out of the fog and slowly flew straight up, and
away, the people cheered and sang and clapped.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
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