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Dorsland Gypsies

Greg Marinovich

Nomadic laborers of the Karoo, South Africa

The Karoo is the vast, arid region straddling the South African hinterland. Sparsely populated, it sustains vast sheep farms owned by mostly Afrikaans–speaking whites. The workers are primarily the remaining descendants of the indigenous nomadic people, the Khoi–Khoi (or "Men among Men"), Under Apartheid classification, they fell under the "colored" or mixed–race listing.

In the harsh world of racial control and exploitation, a feudal system was imposed on the black (and colored) people. The cycle of poverty and dependence on the farmer increasing with each generation. But the Khoi–Khoi managed to retain a degree of freedom, by means of the donkey cart. When the farmer is brutal or stingy; when the nomads' urge is too strong, when the frequent droughts eclipse all but one option; the Trek–arbeiters, or Trek– workers, of the Karoo pack their pots, blankets, chickens, mattresses and children onto the back of a two–wheeled cart and take to the road in search of somewhere better.

The essay is a glimpse into the life of Jakob Maans while he is in the middle of a "trek". He, his wife and three children are staying with his parents in a ramshackle asbestos shack in the hamlet adjoining the trading post of Middelpos in the central Karoo. parents. Jakob has refused three job offers because he knows the farmers to be brutal, one of them had killed a worker during a dispute by holding his head under water on ...

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