In Hermanus, witnesses and whales in the run-up to Oscar

2013-08-14 17:28

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I’m petrified of washing my jeans. They’re pretty tight. What if they never fit again?

No need to call in the health inspectors yet, but still.

So in a bid to strive toward calorie neutral – that fine balance between calorie consumption and emission – we decided to go kayaking in Hermanus on Saturday, before hitting some eateries and bars in the small coastal town.

There are two routes from Cape Town to Hermanus: the inland N2, and Clarens Drive, etched against coastal mountains sprinkled with fynbos past Gordon’s Bay. We opted for the latter.

Hermanus is famous for whale-watching, and as it turns out, it was the Kalfiefees (whale calve festival) over the weekend. The town was packed with people and various shows were being staged.

Offerings included Sandra Prinsloo’s much-hyped Naaimasjien and Stander, on the 1970s South African bank robber, starring 7de Laan actor Waldemar Schultz.

Fun was had. I met a zillionaire from Zim, a foul-mouthed priest and Glen Agliotti’s niece, who is blonde with a fine, pointy nose and immediate plans to marry a Hermanus cellphone tycoon on Italy’s Amalfi coast.

Interestingly, the cellphone business became a very profitable one in the wake of rampart abalone poaching in Hermanus. Phones and international mobile contracts were in high demand as poachers bought, discarded, and rebought such devices and services. “Ja, the poaching is less hectic now,” a town insider explained between gulps of non-artisan beer. “But the cellphone guys really coined it a few years ago.”

On Saturday just before lunch, the sea was glazed with sunshine at the Old Harbour, which is flanked by cliffs in the heart of Hermanus. People were leaning over a low wall lining the sheer drop, cheering as whales bopped in the small bay ahead. Our kayaking trip with Walker Bay Adventures was about to start – or so I thought.

The first scream cut through the sunshine like a knife. It was soft-spoken Herman of Walker Bay Adventures: “Flippit ouens! Somebody just fell from the cliff!” While he dialled an ambulance people started running. There were two doctors in our kayaking group. They ran, slipping barefoot over the ragged rocks at the foot of the cliffs. In the shallow water, a small body was laying very still. Time stopped.

A sobbing woman came tearing down the slope in slow motion, a frantic child in tow. More help and paramedics arrived. People gathered around the yawning cliffs, pointing. In the bay a whale may have breached.

An adolescent laaitie came running. He recognised the body of his friend and dropped an expletive. Tears.

I sat wrapped in my life jacket, watching the tragedy unfold. For once there was no hiding behind the shield of a notebook. I wasn’t there as a journalist collecting facts for a story with a tight, looming deadline.

It was my day off, and besides, my phone was dead. I was there in my capacity as a human being, a peripheral part of the tragedy, feeling humbled and awed and heartbroken in the face of such irreversible sadness.

For some reason, fate had decided to punch this little family in the guts, and I was a witness to their pain. Watching the paramedics doing CPR, an acute awareness of the fragility of everything evolved in my mind. Sobs hovered between sharp intakes of breath. Right then I wanted to wrap my loved ones in cotton-wool and hugs.

Our kayaking trip started about an hour late. Initially it was subdued as people’s brains massaged the trauma of the day.

We saw young male seals off the coast of Voëlklip, a posh Hermanus suburb where sea-facing property can fetch up to R50 million. The seals sleep under the water, with their tails and flippers oddly extended over the surface. These limbs serve as little solar panels to keep their bodies warm, the guide explained.

We saw whales repeatedly breaching a stone’s throw away, and birds sunning themselves on rocks.

Hermanus is a small town. People talk. Later that day, the owner of our guesthouse filled us in. The boy died on the way to the hospital. He was the son of actor Schultz, who was in town for the Kalfiefees.

Bizarrely, the next day photographers on the scene of 14-year-old Kieran Schultz’s death snapped pictures of Oscar Pistorius going kayaking from the Old Harbour.

Leaving the Old Harbour in Hermanus on Saturday, we saw a few whales breaching nearby, unlike unlucky Oscar Pistorius who did the same trip the next day.

So Pistorius did exactly the same trip as we did – but a day later. I called Herman of Walker Bay Adventures to get the lowdown. Herman said Pistorius’ group was unlucky as they didn’t see any whales. (Oscar has been a bit short on luck of late, one could say).

Herman didn’t want to elaborate on the athlete’s demeanour: “I was very surprised to see him. But he’s just another paying customer and I really can’t elaborate, you know.”

Pistorius is due to appear in court in Pretoria on Monday. It is expected that the paralympic athlete will be served an indictment, and that the matter will be postponed.

The death of model Reeva Steenkamp, now there’s another merciless twist of fate. This time round there weren’t any witnesses. Will we ever know the truth? Maybe, maybe not.

Yesterday, the South African police announced that they have finished their investigation into the fatal shooting at Pistorius’ house in February.

While heartbroken parents plan Kieran’s funeral, I’ll be packing my bags for the trip to the Pretoria Magistrates’ Court on Monday.

Reeva would have turned 30 that day. I wish strength to her family and those who loved her.

Watch City Press for updates on the Oscar and Reeva matter.

And on second thought, I’ll just buy a larger pair of jeans. Life’s too short.

» This blog at first incorrectly stated that Steenkamp would have turned 33 on Monday.

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