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Today is December 13, 2019


Admiration on a distant continent

Admiration on a distant continent

William, left, and Pieter are quite amazing. They have my admiration. Photo: Tony Kinton

Pieter still wears the same hat he was wearing when I first met him quite a few years back. But as for that, so do I. I suppose we both discovered that a good thing serves well and is not quickly supplanted. In stature, my brief 5’9” surpasses his by a good 4 inches. Otherwise, we could wear the same clothes.

Pieter walks with an unusual gait but covers an inordinate amount of real estate just the same. In fact, it was Pieter I was struggling to follow when I had a first hint of heart issues. We were on the tracks of waterbuck—then that frightening chest disturbance. But even minus a blocked widow maker, I’m not sure I could have kept that steady, rocking pace. I had failed to do so two years prior when I was a healthy specimen.

And there is William—lanky, younger. I met him three years after I met Pieter. He is Pieter’s brother; both live on the property of and work for my PH friend Louis Steenkamp of Sofala Safaris. William glides when walking, an air of dignity present in every step. And like Pieter, he follows spoor in adroit fashion. A defined track here; a bent blade of grass there. It is said about men of the bush such as these two that they can track a bird across the sky an hour after that bird has passed. Hyperbole for sure, but not by much. Purely incredible they are. 

Pieter and William are part of the Sotho group (pronounced Sue-too). They are from the northern region of South Africa—Limpopo Province—where their tribe is known as the Pedi or Bapedi. They speak Sepedi. This is a dialect of the language known as Northern Sotho. 

Since I struggled for some time trying to learn Spanish and still know only enough to get hurt, I find it captivating to encounter individuals who are bi-lingual or even multi-lingual. Pieter and William are so equipped. They can go from their Sotho dialect to Afrikaans with ease, and William is quite proficient with English as well. However, due to his rich, lyrical South African accent, I find myself asking him to repeat what he said far more often than he has to ask the same of me. He seems to understand Mississippi English just fine.

And this past June, I discovered that Pieter was beginning to venture into English. Reticent among the English-speaking contingent, he would try only a word or two along. One day at the end of my Cape buffalo hunt, he looked at me and said, “Knife.” I unsheathed my skinning knife and handed it to him. He responded with a quiet “Thank you.”

It is intriguing to me that when these men speak English, they do so with exactness. Subjects and verbs agree. “Saw” is not erroneously replaced by “seen.” “He and I” are never stated as “me and him.”  

I chuckle often when I remember one early encounter I had with Pieter. He was sitting in the back of a hunting truck and in Afrikaans asked Louis how old I was. Louis interpreted and I responded. Louis then interpreted to Pieter, who simply hung his head and wagged it side to side. Turns out Pieter was a year older! I never concluded if his head wagging was an effort to commiserate or one of disgust that an old man such as I would fly halfway around the world to crawl through African thorn bush.

And I recall once when I sat at midday and watched William painting a portrait. Really, he was not painting; he was cleaning out the fire pit. He had a wheelbarrow, a worn shovel and a rake. Every move was fluid. He scooped, smoothed, raked and studied the situation. When he finished the pit was a thing of beauty, even without the mystique of fire that would come at sunset. William, as it turned out, was an artist.

Amazing it is that these men, like many from my childhood, take whatever tools are available and accomplish impressive tasks. From plumbing to various equipment repairs, they get things done.

Immediately after I took my buffalo this past June, Louis contacted Pieter and William; they arrived within the hour. They had a ragged trailer behind a tractor and nothing inside that trailer but two posts and a chain hoist. Pieter backed up to the buffalo and William unhooked the trailer. The two of them lifted the tongue, setting the back of the trailer on the ground inches from this 1,600-pound bull. They then put one post under the trailer tongue to keep it in that posture and the other behind the wheels to prevent them from rolling. The hoist was then tied to the tongue and the chain run to the buffalo. Slow and deliberate it was, but an hour later they had the buffalo in that trailer, though it was still slanted tongue upward. 

It then became apparent that the chore was not fully completed. Pieter kicked the post away and motioned for us to gather around that tongue. We dangled from it to upset the weight and watched as that trailer and buffalo slow-motioned into position. Willian quickly attached trailer to tractor and they were off, back to Sofala’s skinning shed a couple miles up the two track.

I left Africa June 8. Before I did, however, I located Pieter and William. I thanked them, shook their hands and said goodbye. I will likely never see them again. But the 10 years or so of acquaintance with these two have left a powerful impression. My admiration remains.

Tony Kinton has been an active outdoors writer for 30 years. His newest book is “Rambling Through Pleasant Memories.” Order from or Kinton’s website:

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