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The Tankwa-Karoo is an area described as the vast tract of dry land roughly to the north of Ceres in the Western Cape, and to the south of Calvina in the Northern Cape. Briewe uit die Tankwa, published by Protea Boekhuis (2016), vividly captures the landscape and the people who have always lived there.
“Hierdie ongenaakbare mooi, bitter eensame, donnersvêr- in-die-niks-in-plek, alkante van die R355-grondpad tussen Ceres en Calvinia, dít noem hulle die Tankwa-Karoo.”
Dr Leti Kleyn writes that Briewe uit die Tankwa came to her when she was asked if she is the kind of writer who can wear her underwear on both sides. Both sides? Because in the area she writes about, there
is no water (the district receives less than 100 mm per year), no electricity, cellphone reception only on some farms, and thousands of kilometres of gravel road that eat tyres and shoes and everything else that passes over it.
The book became an attempt to document ‘the invisible people’ of a deadly quiet place. A forgotten community that stretches over two provinces more than 100 km each from the two nearest towns. Passing between Ceres and Calvinia on the R355 dust road – the longest gravel road between two towns
– you will find nothing but a single farmstall and three or four farm houses visible from the roadside. On a lucky day, maybe a donkey cart going to visit, going to the ‘shop’ or just taking a little drive. Yet, in this non-commercial farming community there are people, with fantastic stories, memories of the past, exceptional innovations and survival techniques,
and some incredible challenges. And for that you need to drive thousands of kilometres to find them – sometimes with the photographer, sometimes alone, just getting lost in the nothingness between farms trying to find people and document their stories.
The project attempted to create a book that tells three parallel narratives: The beautiful photographs of Adriaan Oosthuizen; Kleyn’s historical overview of the area, combined with the information obtained from interviews; and the well-documented childhood memories of farmworker Dawid Slinger. Slinger documented his memories a few years earlier, archiving a copy at the Togryers Museum in Ceres. These writings were published in the book in a special typographical fashion to ensure that his writings, as well as a short narrative on its own, can clearly be identified as part of the broader project. It is deliberately a book within a book, rather than just making use of his information.
The project led to a variety of community engagement initiatives such as the annual Community Day and the Tankwa Community Projects initiative:
Leti Kleyn is a documentary writer who also manages the Open Scholarship Programme in the Department of Library Services at UP.
“Between the border of the Roggeveld and the Cold Bokkeveld lies a solitary and inhospitable region which the farmers of that area call the ‘Karoo’. In the southeast, it is bordered by
the mountains of the Small Roggeveld. In the northwest, it imperceptibly merges with the Southern Bokkeveld and the Hantam. The region is about 100 to 120 km long and 60 to 70 km wide. The highway from Ceres to Calvinia runs diagonally through the ‘Karoo’; the highway from Ceres to Sutherland runs right through the south-eastern part of the ‘Karoo’. [...] From Karoopoort, where the Ceres road enters the Karoo, to Calvinia the world remains flat for
the first part of the journey. However, the plain gradually goes over the low hills, with here and there a loose mountain to break the monotony of the relief. Further on, the landscape becomes totally mountainous, and eventually, the traveller climbs the Roggeveld edge at Bloukrans” (freely translated from Van der Merwe, 1945: 121).
         Leti Kleyn, Die Burger, 28 January 2017
UP Research Review 2016 | 49
Vaalbank – Adriaan Oosthuizen

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