The white farmers in the White River area at the time I lived there resembled fairly closely conservative white Americans in the South, and there remain ties between various conservative and fundamentalist organisations in South Africa and in the US. Attitudes to guns found among white South African farmers are often similar to those held by right-wing Americans. These men, the Gallup organisation tells us, tend to believe that the Second Amendment is the most important part of their Constitution. This Amendment reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” When we lived at Luitingh’s Guest Farm, only white people were allowed to own guns.
Guns are useful instruments of dominion over humans, but they are in fact mostly aimed at other species, and it is through the barrel of a gun that humans have conquered and now rule the natural world. Although they had guns, neither Archie Hopper nor the successive Anton Luitinghs had the resources to eliminate from their territory all the animals that they deemed undesirable. These included mambas, boomslangs, puff-adders, pythons, scorpions both large and small, and a vast repertoire of spiders, moths and stinging insects. All were considered fair game and killed on sight. Anton used a sjambok, a pistol or a hunting rifle with two barrels (one of which delivered a point two two bullet, the other birdshot), to kill snakes. This weapon was the most effective, especially the birdshot barrel at close range.
The killing of a snake was a charged affair, carrying as it did the real possibility of sudden and painful death. When Anton went out with his weapons to dispatch a snake, I was expected to stay out of the way, and gladly did so, but would traipse along behind at what I considered to be a safe distance. The rustling grass, the thrashing coils, the raised head spitting venom, the flailing sjambok or the loud crack of the rifle echoing in the valley, the smell of cordite (if that is what it was), the floods of fear transformed into excitement: Anton was St George.
The dragons that he could not slay were small and many. They included schistosomes, small flatworms that lived in the water and sought human hosts for the completion of their complex life-cycle, mosquitoes, and all of the very many insects and still smaller life-forms – the aphids, cut-worms, weevils, ticks and spiders – that dined on the crops or sickened the stock. He sprayed, dusted and fumigated, but the undesirables kept coming. We burnt sulphur tablets to fumigate our rondavel for a pest I can no longer remember.
At night, we burned a creosote lamp to help with the respiratory difficulties I had developed after leaving Cape Town. I lay propped up on pillows to ease my wheezing breath.
While Anton waged war on the natural world, Lesley was turning it into art. The reptiles and exotic insects on the farm afforded a fount of endless variety, and she drew, painted and photographed them with what seemed to me loving fascination.