The mourners bring the plain wooden coffin to the smallholding where Rita Miljo – or Mama Zimfene (Mother of the Baboons), as the townsfolk of Phalaborwa call her – had lived for more than four decades.
Rita’s hundreds of baboon charges peer through the wire cages as relatives and friends write messages to her on the coffin she shares with her beloved baboon, Bobby.
They’d spent the past 40 years living here on Plot 5 in the Grietjie conservation area and this was where they died together when a fire broke out in Rita’s flat.
The surviving baboons crane their necks to see the pallbearers lift the coffin and carry it up the rocky rise to where the grave with its view of the Olifants River has been prepared.
Rita (81) would have wanted Bobby to be buried with her, long-time friend Annalize Piek says. At 43 Bobby was also ageing and Rita had begun to wonder how they’d get on without each other. Now they are as united in death as they were in life.
Read more of Inge Kühne’s article in YOU 16 August 2012.
Follow YOU on Twitter.