07 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Of Goats and Seeds

Among the sere mountains of the Richtersveld, not far from the national park of the same name, my husband Chris and I came upon a herd of goats.

The hills were golden with flowers dancing in the breeze, and the goats dawdled, eating the blooms. A yellow dog trotted by, tongue lolling and tail wagging.

Not far behind was an old goatherd, carrying a large load of gnarled small branches of wood attached by a leather thong to a stick over his shoulder.

He introduced himself as Hans Gouws, and his pockets were bulging with plants. Curious, we asked what they were.

These were ‘Jantjie Berend’, he said - good for stomach problems of all kinds. He showed us the plant growing nearby, a pretty thing with pink flowers and a spreading habit, with strange yellow and maroon seedpods.

I tried a little, and the astringent bitter taste stayed in my mouth until Hans plucked me another flower, red-pink with a mint-green centre, something he called a ‘veld lily’.

“This is sweet - we used to eat it as children.”

Hans was on his way into the national park, to the Orange River. This is one of the few places in South Africa where you’ll find livestock allowed to graze (according to strict quotas and timetables) in a national park. He told us something we’d hear from nearly every livestock farmer in this area.

“It’s our animals that have helped maintain this biodiversity. They spread the seeds, they encourage the plants to grow, including those we use for medicine. Isn’t this nomadic way of life, which we have lived for hundreds of years, the very reason this area became a World Heritage Site as well?”

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