Karoo Herbs, Karoo Wisdom

Antoinette Pienaar, Johannes Willemse

By Julienne du Toit

Photographs by Chris Marais

Antoinette Pienaar, one of the Karoo’s most extraordinary daughters, was born in Carnarvon, which once boasted almost as many windpumps as residents.

Living on the edge of town with the “open veld for my back yard”, a young Antoinette would often escape into the semi-desert and melt into the landscape.

And when the family visited a neighbouring farm of a Sunday, she would go down to the workers’ cottages and listen to the stories of the Karoo water snake and the mermaids that inhabit the secret springs of the heartland.

Antoinette Pienaar became a story teller herself, weaving the art into her career as a singer and dramatist. She has that incredible ability to turn a Saturday afternoon in a Loxton church hall into a New Orleans club in Frenchmen Street, with her presence, her voice, her stories and her passion.

Antoinette doing a show in the Loxton church hall.

In 2000 Antoinette went to Mali on an adventure and was stricken down with cerebral malaria. She was eventually flown back to South Africa in a shocking state with kidney failure and liver damage. The singer returned to her family’s Karoo farm to recover. She certainly did not expect to fulfil a prophecy she had made as a young girl:

“One day I am going to stay in the veld with an old shepherd and learn everything about the plants from him…”

Enter Oom Johannes

The first time Johannes Willemse knew he had the gift of healing was when he was 12 years old. With an infusion of steenbokbossie, he brought his ailing mother back from the brink of death.

As a young man, Johannes fitted his bicycle out as if it were a camper van: it had a place for water containers, his bedroll, his food box and even a small chicken coop. And when his father, by all accounts a hard taskmaster, hinted that it was time for him to make his own way in the world, Johannes responded immediately.

Johannes, who had no formal schooling to speak of, is a natural engineer, an expert on the subject of donkeys and their carts and a master varmint hunter who also came to develop his power to heal, using Karoo veld plants.

He eventually settled at Theefontein, one of the Pienaar-owned farms in the Beaufort West area. But he knew that his greatest challenge was yet to come. Nearly 40 years back he had had a vision.

So when he finally met a broken woman who arrived at Theefontein like a sick old lady, he simply said:

“You have come at last!”

He lives in a labourer’s cottage with a pretty little garden. She lives nearby, also in a labourer’s cottage – with a random collection of batteries, wire leads and a solar panel for a front yard.

He calls her ‘Juffrou’. She calls him ‘Oom’.

  • Read more in Karoo Roads – Tales from South Africa’s Heartland by Chris Marais & Julienne du Toit, which will be available as a First Edition Author-signed Print Book from November 2020 at R350 including taxes and counter-to-counter Postnet service. To order, contact Julie at julie@karoospace.co.za and she will put you on this exclusive list of Karoo Lovers – and Karoo Space supporters.
  • To contact Oom Johannes and Antoinette directly: info@karookruie.co.za or WhatsApp: 083 273 9659.



18 thoughts on “Karoo Herbs, Karoo Wisdom

  1. Caroline Hurry says:

    I can’t tell you how much reading this BEAUTIFUL story gladdened my heart. Superb writing, Julienne …. makes me want to pack up and visit right now! Loved the bit about Oom Johannes lashing the driver … serves him right! It makes me very sad to think that humans still think it’s ok to whip horses and donkeys. And that dagga is illegal – a health-giving plant – ffs!! Oh I love this story … well done!

  2. Suki says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this article. Not only could I see everything as written but could hear the sounds of my Africa that I miss so much.

    I would LOVE to visit them as I am very interested in the “back to nature” plant medicines and here in the UK my daughter and I go to regular Hedgegrow courses, four seasonal plant in the wild courses and just lately I have been to a course with a Shaman – she is well into nature plants and keeps her own bees.

    The lesson Oom Johannes gave will not be forgotten I am sure. I had a good laugh over the horses busting more people than the Police.

    Thank you for a colourful article that I read, enjoyed and got lifted by on this Monday morning. I wish you all a good week.

  3. Wendy Dold says:

    So very beautifully told Julienne – thank you for sharing the privilege of you and Chris spending time with these two remarkable people.

  4. Riaan Niemand says:

    Mev my vrou het fibromelgia. Ek hoop ek spel dit reg. Sy het party keer so seer dat sy nie kan op staan nie . Kan mev asb raad geen . As ek by mev kruie kan koop sal ek dit doen . Ek soek net bank besonderhede asb . Dankie mev

  5. ismail says:

    I truly enjoyed this article my friend a meneer moosagie we are not knowledgable but love any healing properties about herbs. If only man would take the time to learn how rewarding it is. GOD BLESS OOM JOHANNES AND ANTOINETTE great article.

    • S Viljoen says:

      Julia – A friend and I did – we stayed over with them. A wonderful visit and we left with wonderful herbs. A soul enriching visit.

  6. shireen says:

    How can i become an agent to sell herbs and herb plants. Where can i get cancer bush from i’m located in a small town in the free state called WINBURG.

  7. Alma de Bruin says:

    Liewe oom Johannes en Antoinette
    Wat ‘n wonderlike voorreg om met jul te kan gesels. Ek lees baie op oor die kruie en die genesing wat daarmee kom, maar ek kry nerens wenke/advies van waar om die produrte te kan koop nie? Ek kan nie Karoo toe nie (Al sou ek hoe graag wou gaan kuier). Is dit moontlik om asseblief vir my ‘n winkel of webblad uit te wys waar die produkte te koop is asseblief?
    Baie dankie.

  8. Pingback: Water Stories of the Drylands - Karoo Space

  9. Suki says:

    I managed to get my chance to visit them. What an experience. I would recommend it to anyone. Sadly only 2 days as my time in Africa was very limited. I came away with loads of stuff. I had hoped to spend more time with Oom Johannes but he felt that my best friend who was travelling with me, needed him more. He said I would return to them again and this time be able to walk from the gate. I hope so. It is on my wish list with the universe.

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