Day 14: But we didn’t know

Marabelle de Wet, a much appreciated fan of my book. To her right is a photograph of her late husband Herman, one time mayor of Keetmanshoop and Springbok jukskei player.

We are at Aardklop, the Afrikaans cultural festival in Potchefstroom this week. This gave me the opportunity to meet a few interesting people that have been the following the Kaiserbird for some time. Before we departed from Pretoria I also attended a reading club meeting where the Afrikaans version was discussed.

For the past three days I was confronted by one ringing refrain from the readers of my book, But we didn’t know… On Monday night, at the book club meeting, on Tuesday morning at a Potchefstroom book seller and again yesterday when I visited my greatest fan, Tannie Marabelle de Wet, here in Potchefstroom, I heard these ominous words.

What few people know is that those exact words had been the working title of Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland, translated as The Scourge of the Kaiserbird, for a very long time.

But we didn’t know…

Those were the words I chose for a title. The publisher didn’t like the title and I came up with the Keiservoël/Kaiserbird one. I like it very much and prefer it to the But…one. However, it strikes me every time when readers utter those words to me when discussing the book.

Obviously, or perhaps not so obviously, the first title refers to the paradigm of normal people who have lived normal lives in close proximity to atrocities like Nazism and Apartheid, with myself as suspect number one. It is an excuse as old as the world and I am guilty as charged.

That is exactly why I wrote the book. To inform the world about what happened in German South West Africa 120 years ago. To rid the world and myself of the ignorance of the genocide of the Nama and Herero people, so that it would not happen again. I know that it is a vain hope, but at least I tried.

On a more pleasant note I want to relate the story of my visit to Tannie Marabelle, a long time resident of Keetmanshoop. She was one of the first people to buy the book, placing her order well before the publishing date. A few months after the delivery I received a very courteous note from her asking why I had not signed the book. I consider it preposterous to scribble in someone else’s book without an explicit request from him or her and so only do it when asked. I then apologised to Tannie Marabelle and wrote to her that I would pay her a visit when next we attended Aardklop. Yesterday I had my chance and we finally met.

She and her husband lived in Keetmanshoop from 1955 to 1997 when her husband Herman passed away and she relocated to Potchefstroom. Her husband was an exceptional person. He obtained his Springbok colours in jukskei and was an accomplished artist as well a successful businessman. He also became the mayor of Keetmanshoop. At one stage he had a shop in Lüderitz as well. Tannie Marabelle told me how the room where they often stayed during his visits to Lüderitz had a view of Shark Island. “But we never knew what had gone on there.”

To her old Namibian friends I want to say that she is alive and well with a brain a few degrees sharper than my own. She is the most gracious host and now she says, “I know the truth.”

The Scourge of the Kaiserbird,” originally published in Afrikaans as “Die Keiservoël Oor Namaland,” is available from all leading bookstores in Namibia, through Namibian Book Market, and in South Africa from Upper Case, formerly Graffiti, in Menlyn Maine. Copies can also be ordered from  It is available on Kindle and worldwide in paperback from Amazon.