‘A Boer on a bike helped me’

2013-07-21 14:00

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Charitable bikers created special memories on their Mandela Day ride, writes Hanti Otto

‘A Boer man helped me. One on a motorbike. He helped when I did not have water.” Although her face and most of her body were horribly scarred after her former partner set fire to her, Neo Pearl Motlhoki’s eyes were shining as she sang the praises of Bertus de Klerk in a combination of English, Afrikaans and Setswana.

Until June 16 this year, life had not been kind to 40-year-old Motlhoki.

But then, De Klerk and colleagues from the Botswana Bikers Society rode into her little yard in Ramotswa. And after they did what they could, they contacted the Bikers for Mandela Day riders in South Africa for more assistance.

Last Sunday, Ramotswa’s dusty roads came alive with the roar of engines driven by South African bikers in bright pink reflective jackets, given to them by the First for Women insurance group, which sponsored the trip as well as the paint for Motlhoki’s dilapidated house and the veggies for her garden.

Motlhoki was originally from Botswana, but for 23 years she stayed with her partner in a rural area just outside Rustenburg.

She was a pretty girl, and he was jealous. He abused her.

Yet, as he was the owner of her heart and the father of her three children, Motlhoki stayed with him.

Then, in 2010, he set her alight.

Motlhoki was not sure whether he used a burning cloth or a piece of plastic. She was preparing food on the paraffin stove.

“He came from behind. I felt pain in the back of my neck. I turned around. He held this piece of burning thing and threw it down my clothes,” she said, recalling the nightmare.

She woke up in hospital. The man had taken her there.

It is not clear what happened to him. Motlhoki said she went to the police, but he promised to take better care of her and the children. To love her.

She returned to Botswana and he followed.

Then he married another woman and disappeared.

“But I believe in God. God knows what he did. This heart of mine, it is strong. God will take over. He already sent these wonderful people,” said Motlhoki.

Her neighbours had shunned and mocked the “ugly” woman. She said they stole her vegetables.

Her water and electricity were cut as her accounts were in arrears.

Her ailing body made working impossible.

Then De Klerk showed up on his iron horse, like a modern-day knight. “We heard about this woman’s struggle,” he said. “We managed to pay most of her bills and got the water running again. But we couldn’t cover everything, and her house desperately needed some work.

“(So) we asked our biker counterparts in South Africa to help.”

It was the fourth annual rally of Bikers for Mandela Day, this time focused on violence against women. For the first time in the history of the Mandela Day campaign, they crossed the border into Botswana.

Although they had already done a lot of physical labour the previous day at a LifeLine crisis centre in Mahikeng, North West, the 20 Mandela bikers took off their helmets, rolled up their sleeves and began painting alongside the Botswana contingent.

Zelda la Grange, the organiser and Mandela’s personal assistant for many years, explained this outreach: “Nelson Mandela cared across borders. Mandela Day is also recognised internationally.

“In this time of his ill health, it is even more important to remind people of his legacy of hope and care.”

As the local community gathered to watch the sweat, paint and earth fly, Lucas Mabiletsa of the Botswana Bikers Society explained to

them that the bikers came to share “67 minutes of love”.

DJ Fresh, who joined the rally, stretched himself to his full height and expanded his broad shoulders as he urged the community to take better care of Motlhoki, to continue with what the bikers were doing that day.

Motlhoki herself picked up a bucket of paint and carried it closer to the action.

Then she stormed towards Ed Campbell of Centurion while he was painting and grabbed him.

“Thank you. Thank you,” she said.

Mac McAslin, the president of the Botswana Live to Ride Motorcycle Club, whose members also weighed in on the painting and planting, smiled at this gesture.

“The brotherhood of bikers came to make a difference. Who are we not to follow in Madiba’s footsteps?” he said.

Aldo van der Walt of Benoni grinned: “It is nice to give something to a woman who has been through so much.”

The Botswana Miss Universe finalists washed Motlhoki’s meagre clothes and curtains in a tin bath, showing that they did not mind getting their hands wet for a good cause.

After the work was finished, La Grange turned to Motlhoki and said: “It doesn’t matter what you look like, your heart is beautiful.”

And as the bikers roared out of town, Motlhoki walked to her newly planted vegetable garden with feet slipping out of her oversized sandals.

She knelt down, then carefully checked if all her new veggies were planted deep enough and were watered.

“It’s perfect,” she said.

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