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.
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 email@example.com and she will put you on this exclusive list of Karoo Lovers – and Karoo Space supporters.
- To contact Oom Johannes and Antoinette directly: firstname.lastname@example.org or WhatsApp: 083 273 9659.