Three mornings a week, the Cart Horse Protection Association of Cape Town opens the doors of their Epping premises to offer veterinary and farrier services to the cart horse community of the Cape Flats (see previous post). As this is not sufficient to deal with all the horses who have to be shod, dewormed, tetanus-injected, and otherwise treated every couple of weeks, and as not all of the carties can make it to the clinic, inspector Diana and her crew of farriers – Ashley and his two apprentices Chadwin and Lincoln – hold mobile clinics in other areas too.
Every Monday and Wednesday afternoon, they pack the bakkie and the horsebox chockablock full of feed, shoeing equipment and veterinary supplies, and drive down to the Boland scrap yard, which is located in Portland Road, Philippi.
On Wednesday, 27 June 2012, I am allowed to ride along. And like the first time I visited (see previous post), it turns into another exciting and eye-opening experience. I arrive at the Epping premises just after 13h00, as Diana and the farriers are packing up the horsebox and getting ready to leave.
Suddenly, a loud “hee-haw hee-haw” echoes through the shed – but no donkey is to be seen. Ah! It’s Diana’s cellphone.
A couple of minutes later, she rushes into the office, where Carl and Megan are busy with the day’s paperwork.
“There’s been an MVA, in Khayelitsha. The cart’s badly damaged, the driver is hurt, and the horse has run away. We need to go and look for it,” she explains, short and to the point.
The pace of packing accelerates. Lincoln and Chadwin, and a bicycle, somehow manage to squeeze themselves into the horsebox, among bales of oathay, fodder and farriery equipment. I climb into the back of the cab, Ashley leaps into the passenger seat, and Diana takes the wheel. Off we go!
As we leave Epping and turn right into Valhalla Drive southbound, I ask my companions to tell me a bit more about the horse: “His name is Boeta, he’s a stallion, strongly and solidly built, dark bay, with a bit of white on one of his hind feet. He belongs to Bushie Adams, who has a stable in the community of Netreg, where he keeps a couple of horses. He is a really good owner, and Boeta is a very well looked-after horse.”
The next day, consulting Google Maps and the ever-helpful Google Streetview, it takes me a while to trace – roughly – the route we probably followed that afternoon. I have never been in these areas before. As I don’t take any good photos on route, I have used screenshots from Google Streetview instead to give you an idea of what the areas look like.
We continue along Valhalla Drive and cross the N2 freeway, entering the suburb of Gugulethu, to find ourselves surrounded instantaneously by a sea of informal housing, in amongst numerous government-built “RDP huisies“, with fruit and vegetable sellers plying their trade on the pavement. The place is bustling.
(RDP, incidentally, is the abbreviation for the Reconstruction and Development Programme, created after 1994 to, among other things, provide affordable housing to poorer communities – ambitious and necessarily idealistic, the provision of such housing has been fraught with problems, ranging from corruption, mismanagement and the fuelling of community conflict to downright incompetence, shoddy workmanship and major structural defects in the actual houses.)
As we approach a Caltex garage on our left, Diana asks, “Do you remember the story of Amy Biehl, who was killed here some years ago?”
“Yes,” I nod.
It had been one of those defining moments in South Africa’s history. Amy Biehl was a young white American graduate student, who came to South Africa to study at the University of the Western Cape. She was a bright and passionate anti-apartheid activist, at a time when our country was racked by racial violence and vicious conflict, in those difficult days before the 1994 transition to democracy. On 25 August 1993, the day of her murder, she drove a friend home to Gugulethu, stopping at this Caltex garage.
She was attacked by a mob of angry black residents, who assumed that, because of the colour of her skin, she had to be a racist white woman; they stoned her car, smashed the windows, shouted racist abuse at her, before hitting her on the head with a brick, dragging her from the car, and stabbing her to death. She was only 26 years old. Not surprisingly, this story made headline news.
In 1994, the year after her death, her parents, Linda and Peter Biehl, founded the Amy Biehl Foundation Trust, whose mission it is to develop and empower youth in the townships. Four of her murderers were eventually sentenced, but were, incredibly, pardoned by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1998 – and even more incredibly, her parents decided to forgive the murderers. In August 2010, on the 17th anniversary of her death, a new memorial was unveiled at the site in honour of her memory.
And this is the garage Diana is indicating: “Up there, on the left, there is a memorial to her. She was shot right here. I’ll try to slow down to show it to you.”
We briefly duck out of the flow of traffic, so that I can see the new memorial; it sits right on the edge of the forecourt, with a new plaque.
From here, I think we head eastwards along Lansdowne Road; areas of nice-looking houses alternate with small patches of open ground and densely populated informal settlements, consisting of corrugated iron shacks built almost ontop of each other. Occasionally, there are rows of blue portaloos by the roadside. Dogs are scavenging among the litter lying around, kids are playing games between the shacks, and men are selling things at the side of the road.
We pass stalls selling fruit and vegetables, stalls where meat is being grilled on open fireplaces, barber shops, spaza shops, car repair shops… Building materials are on display – the four walls of a single-room shack, with a large opening for a door in one wall, a small opening for a window in another wall, corrugated sheets for the roof, strips of wood to secure everything, even window frames, wooden doors… Furniture shops have arranged comfortable sofas and mattresses on the pavement. It is quite extraordinary.
We cross the R300, and curve southwards, then eastwards, skirting a railway line, with informal housing on the left. The fence along the railway line on the right is used as an impromptu washing line – on such a pleasant sunny day in midwinter, it is important to take full advantage of the sun to dry the washing, even if the sun is not very strong.
“Aren’t they afraid that their washing will get stolen?” I ask, curious, because it doesn’t look like there are any people doing guard duty next to the colourful washing lines.
Ashley and Diana chuckle. “No, no one will steal it. The people here tend to sort out such things very quickly, they don’t go to the police, they just sort it out themselves.”
We are approaching a train station; dozens of taxis are parked next to the road, others are hogging the road, reluctant to move out of the way. We squeeze past, dodging potholes and pedestrians. We seem to be approaching our destination, and from the handy roadsigns, I am guessing that we are almost in Macassar!
Ashley is on the cellphone, trying to get more information from the people involved in the accident. Where on earth are they?
“He said something about a Metro store…. Ah! There it is on the left….”
“Turn right!” he urges Diana suddenly.
I think we’ve turned into Spine Road, and I think we’re somewhere in Khayelitsha, but that’s about it. I feel a little disoriented, and am relieved when I can see the familiar friendly silhouette of Table Mountain in the far distance.
“Ah, yes, the bridge, he said something about the bridge,” mutters Diana, trying to remember what she’d been told on the phone.
“There they are! I think that’s them, they’ve got the cart on the back of the bakkie,” declares Ashley, gesticulating. He evidently has excellent eyesight. He gets on the phone again, to the driver of the bakkie.
“Hey, are you guys driving up over the bridge, down to that traffic circle? … Yes, we’re behind you… just turn left there… we’ll be there now…”
At the traffic circle, Diana swings the bakkie into Ntlazane Road, and we squeeze into a gap at the side of the road. The guys leap off the back of the bakkie, where they have been partly perched ontop of the cart, and come over to speak to Diana and Ashley. One of the youngsters on the back must have been there when the accident happened, because he looks very shaky and still in shock. Diana gently, compassionately, coaxes the details out of him.
She is worried about Boeta. Where in heaven’s name did the horse run to? The guys haven’t had much luck, driving around, asking people at the roadside, getting conflicting reports… Diana thinks the horse may be trying to make its way back home to the stables, but she’s not sure how hurt it is, or how confused and frightened it is. And he’s a stunning horse, in excellent condition, so there is always the risk that someone may decide to keep him.
At least, they finally have the facts of the accident. The guys had picked up a fridge for scrap; a couple of residents of Khayelitsha decided they wanted the fridge too, so they tried to steal it off the cart and confronted Bal, the driver, and his companions (I guess it might have been the two youngsters). All the noise spooked Boeta, who bolted; Bal lost control of the horse and cart, and they were hit by a car. The cart was badly damaged, and the horse ripped itself loose, and took off. Bal was taken to the nearest hospital (thankfully, he was discharged that night, so his injuries are probably not too serious).
We continue west along Spine Road, turn north into Swartklip Road, and eventually find ourselves back on Lansdowne Road, travelling west.
We are driving slowly, keeping our eyes peeled for a horse on the loose. This isn’t ideal terrain for a horse… these are densely populated housing settlements, and it’s unlikely that the horse may have tried to go through such unfamiliar neighbourhoods. Nonetheless, when we see a paddock with a couple of horses in it, Diana stops at a nearby fruit seller to buy a large bag of oranges from them, and to ask whether they have seen a horse running loose on the road. No luck.
At a garage/car-repair shop with tyres outside and people clustering around cars, we turn into a small road, zigzagging down side-roads until we reach an industrial-looking area with warehouses. On the other side of a high fence, I see a large crane with its claw-like arm picking up piles of metal scrap. We turn into the adjoining road, passing two scrap yards, and pull over on the side of the road.
“Right, we’re here.”
I see that a horse and cart and some people are waiting at the side of the road, and another group is arriving. I guess this must be the mobile clinic?
We all pile out of the bakkie, Ashley opens the horsebox to let out Lincoln and Chadwin, and they start to unpack their gear. Everyone is greeting everyone else, and when the carties glance over at me with a puzzled look, Diana remarks that I’m Reggie and taking some photos. Luckily, it’s all very relaxed here; they don’t mind me wandering around, and are probably used to being photographed! Diana is sharing out the oranges, and everyone is tucking in; by the end of the day, there aren’t any left.
A cheerful-looking woman with a friendly smile and a ready laugh comes up to me and introduces herself as Naseema, giving me a warm hug in greeting. Aw, sweet!
We chat a couple of times inbetween, and she tells me that she and her family and parents and grandparents before that, have owned cart horses for a long time, since before the forced removals from District Six in the 1970s. She says she really appreciates the work done by the CHPA in their community, and is grateful for the regular veterinary treatment they receive, and for the farriers who make sure the horses’ hooves are well looked after, because it is a tough life on the streets.
I ask her if she still works with the horses, and she says she used to, until she stopped a while back because her family needs her at home, and because it became too dangerous for her – scrap collection is a competitive trade, and many motorists do not like sharing the road with the horse-and-cart people.
A bay pony with four white socks and a white stripe on its face is standing at the side of the road, still harnessed to its cart. The nameboard at the back of the cart identifies him as Boesman. His carties just want to pick up some bags of feed.
“Hey, can you guys take Auntie Reggie for a spin? Just up and down the road?” Diana asks the driver. They quickly make a space for me on the cart, and I hop on, a little nervous. I’ve never sat on a horse cart before!
With some encouraging words, Boesman leans into his harness and starts to move forward. He is walking, but they want him to trot.
“Hey, you, get off at the back,” chides Diana.
And suddenly, his load lightened, Boesman breaks into a sprightly little trot – clip-clop-clip-clop down the road we go… I am sitting near the edge of the cart, and lean my camera out to the left as far as I safely can, in order to blindly take some photos… I have to record this for posterity!
The driver gently swings us into a u-turn, and we make our way back, clip-clop-clip-clop…. I totally love it! And now I am starting to understand the appeal of riding on a horse-drawn cart!
I leap off, thank the guys – and Boesman – for the ride, and they trot off down the road.
Diana is about to give a tetanus injection to Rabia, a cute-looking bay pony with a very bushy mane. She has unwrapped a strange-looking two-part syringe: there is a detachable front bit with the needle, and the medication is in the rear section, which has to be connected, once the needle has been inserted into the horse’s rump. At least that’s how I figure it out.
Taking aim, as though she is holding a dart in her hand, Diana flings the needle at the horse’s rump.
Rabia is not amused and shows it with a flying hoof. Her owner is holding firmly onto her bridle; she is still harnessed to the cart – luckily for Diana! – so her hoof connects with the cart, and not with Diana’s leg.
It takes several attempts until Diana gets the rear section connected to the needle, and the medication is injected.
Rabia is definitely upset now, and has sent both hooves flying in protest. But the job is done.
“Good girl,” she is praised. Wilfred, her friendly owner, squirts a dose of apple-flavoured deworming liquid into the horse’s mouth. They don’t seem to mind it that much, so I guess it must taste okay. Then Wilfred unhitches her from the cart, and takes her across to the farriers who give her a well-earned pedicure.
I ask Diana if she has been kicked or bitten by horses that object to treatment. Yes, she has, she says. But she doesn’t mind if a horse is a bit difficult or lively, she adds, to my surprise: “It’s a good sign,” she explains. “If a horse is a bit lively, then it means it is confident, and in good condition, that it has energy, and that is good.”
Yeah, actually that does make sense.
“Hey Reggie, do you want to come see the scrap yard?” Diana takes off down the road, walking quickly.
I run to catch up with her. We arrive at the gate, just as a horse and cart pull in. The nameboard says the horse is “Try Me”, but Diana tells the carties off crossly, “Hey! That’s not Try Me!” The horse is actually Bles, who has four white stockings, and a funky looking sticky-straight-up mane. They shouldn’t be using the wrong nameboard.
We go inside the offices to use their bathrooms. Diana speaks to the Afrikaans guy in charge; he is friendly and forthcoming, and they obviously have a positive relationship.
I ask him how much the guys on the horse carts can get for a load of scrap.
“It varies, depending on the quality and type of metal they bring, and the weight – we always weigh it. They can get about R80 to R100 for a load, but if they bring heavy things, like engine blocks or more valuable metal, they can make about R300 to R400,” he explains.
I want to ask him more questions, but Diana is rushing off – her cellphone has just rung: Boeta has been found!
I hurriedly thank the man and sprint after Diana, who is already instructing the guys to make some space in the back of the horsebox – quick-quick! – and to get ready to leave. One of the appys will stay and continue working. The rest of us hurriedly climb aboard, and we speed off, back to Khayelitsha. This time, our siren is howling, and so our trip goes much quicker, as most of the vehicles give way to let us pass.
“Mew Way! Turn right here,” instructs Ashley, who is on the cellphone with whoever found the horse. The siren is still howling and shrilling and parp-parp-parping, as we drive fast down Mew Way, dodging traffic – and potholes.
Suddenly, at an intersection up ahead, we can see a man leaping into the road, waving his arms frantically. Diana switches off the siren to acknowledge she has seen him, and we swing quickly into the side road (Ntlalo Road, I think).
And there we can already see the bay stallion, standing at the side of the road. His owner, Bushie Adams, is by his side, firmly holding onto a rope that has been wrapped around his head as a makeshift halter. Another guy in orange-and-blue overalls is standing on the other side, trying to keep the horse calm. Boeta is hyper-vigilant and very jumpy.
Diana has made a u-turn, and helps Ashley to open the back of the horsebox. Then she goes a couple of metres down the road, waving her arms to warn passing traffic to slow down, while the guys try to load Boeta. But the stallion does not want to go inside the horsebox, and pulls back against the rope in protest.
“Get me another halter from the back of the bakkie,” Ashley calls to one of the guys. Ever so gently, they manage to slip the yellow halter over Boeta’s head… and with a bit of encouragement, Boeta obediently climbs up the ramp and in to the safety of the horsebox.
“Right, we’re going to take him back to the clinic at Boland, leave him to settle down a bit, check him over, and if he’s okay, I’ll bring him to you, Bushie,” announces Diana, decisively.
We pile aboard, and slowly drive back to the Boland scrap yard, relieved that Boeta looks unharmed, just badly spooked and anxious. Once we are back at the scrap yard, Diana briefly checks over the stallion. He probably has a couple of abrasions, and perhaps some bruises, but thankfully nothing serious. She needs to use a knife to cut away the rope that was tied around his head, but Boeta is extremely jumpy and fearful, stamping his hooves and pulling at the halter rope, so it needs a lot of gentle yet firm handling and some soothing words, before she can cut the rope loose.
Meanwhile, the clinic outside is in full swing, with several horses coming in for tetanus shots and deworming, and to have their hooves trimmed and new shoes fitted. I decide to stay in the horsebox to keep Boeta some company. He is a very beautiful stallion, and it is clear that everyone is extremely relieved that he is okay.
By the time all the work is finally done, it is almost the 17h00 rush-hour. We pack up, and make our way westwards via Klipfontein Road, until we find ourselves back on Valhalla Drive. Time to return Boeta to his home in Netreg (the name means “just right” in Afrikaans), located just south of Bonteheuwel.
Netreg, I later see on the map, is edged along the eastern side by a railway line, along the south by the N2, and along the north and west by a curve of Duinefontein Road.
The arrival of the horsebox in the road where Bushy stays, causes a commotion. More than a dozen kids of all ages – and their parents – suddenly appear from the neat little houses that are built close together in the small dead-end road, and look on with excitement and curiosity. Bushy looks pleased to have his horse back safe and sound. Waving cheerfully, we back out of the road, and drive through to the Epping Clinic, where Megan and Carl are waiting to hear how everything went.
“Well, that was another day at the office,” remarks Diana, displaying a wry sense of humour. Indeed!