Etienne van Heerden (1954) is a South African writer. He was raised in a family where the Afrikaner language was the lingua franca. His mother was a teacher in mathematics and his father raised sheep.

I do not know if this life near a sheepfarmer has inspired him or influenced him in writing this book “Die stoetmeester”. The protagonist of this novel is Seamus Butler, who farms on his ‘Fata Morgana’. The Butlers breed ‘caper timidus’, a special breed (by accident) that faints with imminent danger. Due to this talent these animals are desired by animals farmers all over the world who need to protect their animals from wild animals. Sean Butler is the Stoetmeester, the breeder.

Seamus is from a long line of British settlers and he is proud of it. His is married to Sarah, from a Boer ancestry. Her brother Siener Wehmeijer is still unmarried and lives on the old homestead. He is a lawyer who has an office in the rundown part of town. Another one of the main characters is the medical doctor Ayanda Thandani, a divorced lady, whose father was praise-singer to the ruler of Ciskei.

When Ayanda Thandani is at the office of Siener, to talk about the possibilities of the release of her father who has been arrested by police, an enormous explosion rocks the town and the legal office.  The explosion at the centre of the town is caused by Zola, the former husband of Ayanda.

The explosion reveals an oilwell. This causes a major change in town. Richness is at hand. People from far and near come to town. Who will benefit from this sudden well of cash? What will the reverberations in the different communities and the people who represent these communities? 

We live in the new South Africa, where people try and avoid living together. Where people have their own institutions and traditions to uphold.
Where some see the new wave of money.
Where others see the decline in community. 

Seamus want to sell his farm, so he may invest in the new developments in the boomtown. The mother of Ayanda thinks the Afrikaners are the embodiment of evil, they built the nation on the foundation of greed (later on in the book Seamus and a local priest discuss evil as well). The settlers are like the ‘caper timidus’, at the slightest sign of danger they faint. The ‘caper timidus’ is linked to the scape-goat (Bible : Leviticus 16).

Seamus’ father committed suicide, he fainted in a mortal way. His son Seamus is likewise, he lives on the edge of life and death. Will he faint as well and take his life? He is convinced of the deep sense of guilt. He knows that power has brought the community he belongs to to the edge of the abyss. 

The different communities cry out for forgiveness in order to deal with the new situation. Only with a new sense of community will people find hope in the new setting, caused by the explosion. But it is clear not everyone wants to travel the road of forgiveness and hope. 

An impressive book as a window on a new society and a window of hope. 

Etienne van Heerden – Die Stoetmeester – 1993 

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I enjoy reading about Africa. New books. Old books. By African writers. By non-African writers. Novel. History. Travel. Biographies. Autobiographies. Politics. Colonialism. Poetry.

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