'Remittance Men' were once myriad in Southern and Central Africa, and derived their collective title from the fact that their wealthy families (in far off Europe) were prepared to expend very substantial sums of money on them -- in the form of monthly remittances -- upon the clear understanding that the various recipients never again darkened those shores containing their ancestral homes.
During my wanderings through this Dark Continent over the past half century or so, I have had the good fortune to meet any number of such fellows.
And what a fine bunch they are!
So much so, that it is difficult to know quite where to start, when listing them for you.
But I shall begin with an African of original Hollander extraction: by the name of Johannes Bezuidenhout.
Ahhh ! Jannie Bez !
A legend in his own lifetime, Bez is indeed one of the last of a dying breed.
His ample body covered by more fur than your average baboon, he has a belly that would put any Buddha to shame, and a natural temperament that is more devious (and unpredictable) than those of any barrel-full of monkeys that one could possibly imagine.
'Bez' is a white Swazi.
Rumour has it that after leaving the Netherlands (under something of a cloud, which -- to this day -- remains undisclosed), he gravitated gradually southwards through Kenya, The Congo, Tanganyika, Nyasaland, the Rhodesias (both North and South) and the South African Colony, before finally finding an home on a farm that he bought -- again under somewhat cloudy circumstances -- near the small town of Bremmersdorp, in what was then the British Protectorate of Swaziland.
Such international travel caused no problems to Bez in those days, for he had (and still -- I believe -- has) a drawer full of passports. Some of these 'official' documents might not pass all the current tests of electronic border scrutiny, because some of them are not even made out in his own name, and few of them are even correctly spelt . One that I have seen is actually hand-written, upon what appears to be part of an old cardboard box with the legend "Mazoe Oranges" stamped upon it.
But that is of no current importance, for Bez now only uses three or four of them.
Of only minor side-interest, one of his current 'passports' shows his image (on page two) to be what looks much like a very black Masai warrior, wearing little more than long fat-smeared 'dreadlocks', and a wicker penis cap.
This does not seem to concern the Swazi immigration officials unduly, but possibly that is because they do not know that Bez's head is -- in reality -- very white beneath his felt hat, and almost completely bald. (There may also be some relevance in the fact that local currency notes invariably change hands at the border posts.)
But that, too, has little significance in the context of this brief recounting of my meeting with Bez.
I had the life-changing experience of this chance encounter when Bez so kindly stopped to assist me on that very hot afternoon in the first week of January, 1974.
My battered old Land Rover had overheated between Manzini and Lavumisa (on the Swazi / South African border) and I was in serious discomfort, with the thermometer mercury approaching 112 degrees Fahrenheit -- and my beers finished.
A very decrepit and rusty old Mercedes Two-Five truck -- towing an equally aged caravan -- slowed down, and eventually came to a stop a couple of hundred yards further down the road, in a cloud of dust and smoke. (I later learned that the reason why they had gone so far past me was because the Two-Five's brakes were a bit suspect, and that having disconnected the caravan's brakes so the truck would not be jerked backwards in any emergency, Bez had been pushed forwards by the 'van, far past where he had intended to stop and assist me.)
Whilst his good wife (Mo Bez) and her two charming young daughters were locating some rope in the deck of the Two-Five, and re-arranging an old canvas tarpaulin to protect the girls from the oppressive heat, Bez and I wee'd on the overheated connection between the Two-Five and the caravan, then had some of Bez's (warm) 'witblitz ' whisky, and attached the Land Rover to the caravan's axle with the piece of rope that the girls had found. I think the rope was part of Bez's camping set-up, but he assured me that the ladies would be able to sort it out when we finally got to Cape Vidal, where he had generously invited me to join them for a few days.
Well, the first part of the trip was fairly stressful, because the Landie was inclined to slew left and right quite alarmingly as the rope shifted on the caravan's axle, but after a few more stops (with 'witblitz' to assist with the mechanical adjustments) we finally arrived at the Swazi border.
The problems encountered there would fill a book, primarily because the front and back number plates on the Two-Five did not correspond exactly (or even closely) -- and that one of them was the same as the one on the caravan.
But (eventually) we all agreed that the blame must lie with those silly bastards who worked for Bez on his farm, and we were (finally and fairly expensively) on our way again.
By this time, though, it was getting dark, and it had just begun to rain. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Africa, the temperature can plummet alarmingly under such conditions.)
Thus we approached Mkuzi as the sun was finally disappearing behind a glowering and cloud-framed horizon, and Bez once again pulled carefully onto the veld at the road's shoulder, for another brief discussion.
It appeared that there was something wrong with the Two-Five's headlights, which -- annoyingly -- kept going off every time the lorry hit a small bump in the road.
But necessity is the mother of invention, and -- hastened by those first drops of cold rain -- it did not take Bez and I long to engineer a solution.
And the basic facts of this solution were that I should join Bez in the cab of the Two-Five (with a torch and the witblitz) whilst the kids returned beneath the tarpaulin in the back, and 'Mo Bez' was relocated into the Land Rover; to steer it, and to prevent it from hitting the back of the caravan in the darkness.
Under these tiresome conditions it took us almost five more hours to reach St. Lucia, where Bez sensibly suggested that we take a short break for a hot hamburger or two (and a couple of warming double rum-and-cokes) whilst Mo Bez and the girls replaced the frayed rope, and strapped their camping mattresses and pillows between the Landie and the caravan, in order to prevent any further damage to the back of the caravan, and the front of the Land Rover.
To be totally honest, I do not recall a great deal about the final 35-odd miles. I suppose they must have been pretty awful, having been undertaken over dreadfully rutted and pot-holed dirt roads, but a mixture of 'witblitz', rum, and beer often has this benevolently numbing effect upon one's memory.
When we finally arrived at Cape Vidal, we supervised the two girls in the unhitching of the caravan, and then Bez and I enjoyed a couple more 'witblitz' cocktails on the beach -- the weather had, by this time, cleared -- whilst the girls set up the campsite.
Exhausted, we finally put the sulky kids to sleep in the caravan, and had a final nightcap before crashing onto Bez's camp beds, to enjoy a well-earned night's sleep under the stars.
But -- as they quite correctly say -- there is no peace for the wicked.
For at first light, we were once more back in the Two-Five, and on that bloody dirt road again: to look for Mo Bez and the Land Rover.
But that is another story, for which I do not have time at present.
Because I must nip down to the bank to see if my latest cheque has arrived from London.
Article © KK Brown. All rights reserved.
Published on 2011-03-21