Elsa Skippers

Elsa Skippers worked in farm orchards and was a domestic worker, but after apartheid she obtained the necessary qualifications to become a kindergarten teacher.

Her parents could not afford to send her to high school, so she could not realise her dream of becoming a nurse. Elsa talks about her life and her father’s encounter with a waternooientjie and waterbaas (water beings) who lived in the river.

Elsa Skippers is one of ten children. She feels that during Apartheid white people were much kinder than they are now. They walked barefoot to school – a long distance from Grootfontein to Noordhoek, and were seldom lifted by whites who drove the same way. There were no nutritional programs at the schools. Elsa’s parents could not afford to send her to high school, so she never realised her dream of becoming a nurse. She married and had three sons, who grew up in the house they have lived in since 1981. Elsa worked in the orchards, then in the office in a woman’s house. After Apartheid she started teaching young children as she cares deeply for them. She completed various courses on kindergarten teaching and has many certificates. Elsa and her family are converted, practicing Christians. She speaks about Willem Bees, a young orphan boy involved in crime who was jailed multiple times.

Elsa’s father loved fishing. One day he came home and told his wife that he had seen their dog, tail between its legs, looking at the river. He saw a beautiful woman sitting on a rock, with the lower body of a fish, brushing her hair and gazing into a mirror. She had blood-red cheeks. As he moved closer she disappeared into the water. Elsa says that these waternooientjies (watermaidens) and waterbase (water bosses) live in the black hole in the river. She says the river is alive, and there are creatures living inside it. Once a pretty boy was playing alone by the river and could not move to get out. His friend came to help him and pulled him from the hole he was stuck in. The waterbaas had caught him – they catch beautiful people and people with moles. The boy never went back to the river.


My name is Elsa Skippers. My ma and my pa… my ma and my pa… my pa’s … my pa’s name is Auguster Thys (?? 00:27) and my ma’s name is Lea Fortuin. My pa is actually from the Sôgrô district (?? 00:32) and my ma is a Citrusdaller. They were married and had ten children.

I was born on Katloek, me and my four other brothers, four, and the other six were born at this place. But those were days of hardship because our home… But we always had something to eat. These days –  the other day I was talking to a woman I worked with and told her that in the apartheid years the white people were actually more loving than now. And I visited in the old people’s house, visited Grandma there, also stayed there. They slept with the white people in the evenings, but I was a friend, played together, then the guy said to me, “You can sleep here tonight.” We slept at my friend’s, but these days it won’t be so easy to befriend… All of us went into their houses, all of us were like friends, but through the years we grew up… My other uhh, four brothers and sisters didn’t go to school…  My four brothers, sisters of my brothers, have passed away.

Only from myself upwards did we go to school. We walked from Grootfontein, very far, to school, barefoot… as my husband said. We didn’t have shoes. We struggled to get by, but had a desire to go to school. We simply walked barefoot. And in those days the white people didn’t pick us up. If they didn’t have a bakkie* they drove past you, or otherwise in the trunk. They didn’t want us sitting in their cars, but we wanted to get to school. We had to walk far and it wasn’t like now, when the children have those feeding schemes. If you… bread in the morning (inaudible 02:26).

Then we walked back again in the afternoon. And there wasn’t any water along the road. It was covered with duckweed, but you were thirsty, you pushed the duckweed aside and drank the water. Thus we walked.

From Sub A to Standard 4, and I was in (inaudible 02:44) up to Standard 6. But my ma didn’t have the money to send me to secondary school. But anyhow, I studied. My desire was to become a nurse, but I didn’t (inaudible 02:58). And if I became a nurse, I would have been too high.

And in time I met my husband, and we later had Jeremy, and after that Anton. After Anton I married. My other son’s name is Dominique. I had them, and now… we still get the (inaudible 03:22), in 1981, where we lived, where they grew up.

And then we worked on the farm. I was in the orchard at first, then I worked in the office. From the office into the house of the oumies*, the woman’s house. From there (inaudible 3:48), when Mandela took over, you know, then the nursery schools started, then I said I was more into the children. For the children, I was more concerned for the children. Then I started with the nursery schools and then I said… In time we started going to classes.

I started finding out about everything. Now, Stellenbosch, we were in Wellington, there at the (inaudible 04:16), was there in the mountain, was in Stellenbosch. There isn’t a place where I haven’t been to a nursery school class. Thus it developed so that the people’s children could learn. So later on I asked, why don’t I level. Then I did level four and five at my age, 50 years old at level five. Oldest student of the bunch. But I finished him*, got cards and went to teach children. And we’re now studying at Pammil (?? 4:51), a company that was started in Stellenbosch. We go every month, we go get our work, we give the children work. And thus we teach the people’s children.

Some of the children I’ve taught are teachers. They are, there is one that did university, he’s now a manager. I’ve learnt at two companies to be, to be a group leader. When I – say it’s a school with 30 children, then I go to the bathroom, go pray, then I say, okay, look after the children, I’ll be back. This way some of them learnt how to be team leaders, and there are the first team leaders. And more children are… in Vredendal they’re also learning nicely. Some of them are teachers, some work in the packing shed, and those who didn’t make it, they land up (onhoorbaar 05:47 ??in the ditch).

I converted and have worked for the Lord for thirty years, that I serve the Lord. Both my sons are converted, their wives are converted, the husband is converted. So we’re now leading a good life because meeting the Lord put us on a good path. That is why I say today that the Lord is merciful.

Now, Xhosas murdered my grandchild, only knew his great-grandma for two years. I remember it is now the fifth year that my grandchild is dead, went through heartbreak, went through pain, but I continue, maybe we help…

Have you ever heard of a man called Willem Bees?


Can you tell us what you heard about him?

Willem Bees was dangerous. The Willem Bees that I remember was a young boy. He didn’t have parents, you know. He didn’t have a father, no mother, mother is dead. But his people were my friends, Kampfers (?? 06:56), were my friends and when he was fifteen, he… for the first time, he probably thought no one could be bothered. Then I heard all the things that he had done – burgled the (inaudible 07:08; ??ounie??), assaulted the (inaudible), and then he went to jail. Long time in jail, came out, assaulted someone again. The girl was also (inaudible 07:18). There at Paarlkop. She lives there. He… her…

Elsa Skippers het in die boorde gewerk en was ook ’n huishulp, maar na apartheid het sy die nodige kwalifikasies verwerf om ’n kleuterskoolonderwyseres te word.

Haar ouers kon nie bekostig om haar hoërskool toe te stuur nie, dus het sy nooit haar droom om ’n verpleegster te word, bewaarheid nie. Elsa vertel van haar lewe en van haar pa se ontmoeting met ’n waternooientjie en waterbaas wat in die rivier gewoon het.

Barend Boelie is op Karnemelksvlei gebore en woon en werk nou daar. Hy het op die plaas grootgeword en daar skoolgegaan tot standerd 4, en daarna op Citrusdal tot standerd 6. Toe het hy op verskeie plase in die omgewing gewerk. Hy het sy vrou ontmoet en na die geboorte van hulle eersteling het hy teruggekeer na Karnemelksvlei, waar die boer vir hulle ’n huis gegee het.

Na skool het Barend en sy maats gewoonlik rivier toe gegaan om vis te vang. Hulle was egter bang dat die waterbaas hulle sou vang. Nadat hulle vis gevang en by die rivier gespeel het, moes hulle vuurmaakhout optel en water gaan haal. In die winter het Barend en sy boetie op hulle voete gepiepie om hulle warm te maak. Hulle het lemoene gesteel en akkedisse in die berge gejag. Hulle is gewaarsku teen die bergakkedis wat soos ’n gewone akkedis lyk, maar groter as ’n mens was. As hulle in die aand wou rondloop, moes hulle oppas vir Jantjie se ram. Hulle was skrikkerig en omdat hulle nie geweet het hoe Jantjie se ram lyk en wat hy aan hulle sou doen nie, het hulle liewer tuis gebly, vir hulle ’n kampvuurtjie gemaak en die aande so deurgebring.


My naam is Elsa Skippers. My ma en my pa … my ma en my pa … my pa se … my pa se naam is Auguster Thys (??) en my ma se naam is (onhoorbaar 00:24). My pa is eintlik van die Sôgrô-distrik (??) en my ma is (onhoorbaar 00:34 ??die Walle??). Hulle is in die huwelik en het tien kinders gebore.

Ek is op (onhoorbaar 00:43, Katloek??) gebore, ek en my vier ander boeties, vier, en die ander ses is op hierdie plek gebore. Maar dit was ook maar swaarkrydae, want onse huis … maar ons het altyd iets gehad om te eet. In dié tye, nou die dag gesels ek met ’n vrou saam wie ek gewerk het, sê vir haar, in die apartheidsjare was die wit mense eintlik meer liefdevol as nou. En ek het in die oumense se huis, daar by (onhoorbaar 01:08) ouma gekuier, ook daar gebly. Hulle het by die blanke mense geslaap, in die aand, maar ek was ’n maatjie, saam gespeel, dan sê die ou vir my, jy kan sommer vanaand hier slaap en wat, en ons slaap, by my maatjie, maar nou sal ek nie so lekker maatjies wat … ons het almal by hulle huise ingegaan, ons almal was soos vriende gewees, maar met die jare het ons grootgeraak, my ander, uhh, vier broers en susters het nie skool gehad nie … My vier broers het, susters van my broers is ook al dood.

Net van my af het ons skoolgegaan. Ons het gestap van Grootfontein, baie ver, (onhoorbaar 01:47 Lanower ??) skool toe, kaalvoet … soos my man gesê het. Ons het nie skoene gehad nie. Ons het dit nie breed gehad nie, maar ’n wil om skool toe te kom. Kaalvoet het ons maar geloop. En daai tyd het die wit mense nie vir ons opgelaai nie; as hulle nie ’n bakkie het nie, ry hulle by jou verby, of in die kattebak. Hulle wou nie hê ons moet in hul kar sit nie, maar ons wou by die skool kom. Dan moet ons ver loop, dan is dit nie soos nou dat die kinders daai voedselskemas het nie. As jy soggens ’n brood (onhoorbaar 02:26).

Dan het ons gestap, weer in die middag terug. En dan was daar nie water langs die pad nie, die paddamis lê daar, maar jy is dors, jy maak maar die paddamis weg en ons drink weer water. So het ons gestap.

Van sub A tot standerd vier en ek was op (onhoorbaar 02:44) tot standerd ses. Maar my ma het nie geld om my te stuur nie, hoërskool toe nie. Maar anyway ek het geleer. My begeerte was om verpleegster te word, maar ek het nie (onhoorbaar 02:58). En as ek verpleegster word, was ek te hoog.

En met die tyd het ek my man ge-ontmoet, en ons het lateraan vir Jeremy gekry, en daarna Anton, ná Anton is ek getroud. My ander seun se naam is (onhoorbaar 03:15). Toe’t ek hulle gekry, en nou … ons kry nou nog die (onhoorbaar 03:22), in 1981 waar ons gebly het, waar hulle grootgeraak het.

En toe het ons gewerk op die plaas. Ek was eers in die boord, toe werk ek in die kantoor. Van die kantoor af, in die oumies se huis, die vrou se huis. Van daar af (onhoorbaar 3:48) mos dié toe Mandela oorgevat het, toe begin die kleuterskole, toe sê ek dit gaan vir my meer oor die kinders. Vir die kinders, ek is meer besorg oor die kinders, toe’t ek met die kleuterskole begin, en ek sê toe, met die tyd het ons begin klasse loop.


Ek het oor alles begin uitvind. Nou, Stellenbosch, ons het in Wellington, daar by die (onhoorbaar 04:16), daar in die berg, daar gewees, Stellenbosch gewees. Daar’s nie ’n plek wat ek nie in ’n klas in kleuterskole was nie. So het dit opgebou sodat die mense se kinders kan leer. Nou vra ek later, hoekom level ek nie. Toe doen ek level vier en vyf op die ouderdom, vyftig jaar oud op level vyf. Oudste student in die bolling. Maar ek het hom klaar, kry kaarte en gaan leer kinders. En nou leer ons by (onhoorbaar 4:51 ??Pammil??), is ’n company wat gestig is in Stellenbosch. Ons gaan hom maand vir maand, dan gaan haal ons ons werk, gee ons die kinders werk. En so leer ons die mense se kindertjies.

Van die kinders wat by my geleer het, is onderwysers, hulle is, daar’s ene wat al (onhoorbaar 5:15 ??lysentyd – universiteit?) doen, maar hy’s nou al ’n bestuurder. Maar ek het al by twee companies geleer om, om groepleiers te kan wees. Wanneer ek, sê maar dis by ’n skooltjie met dertig kinders, dan gaan ek badkamer toe, gaan bid, dan sê ek, ’raait, kyk na die kinders, ek kom nou weer. So het van hulle geleer om spanleiers te wees, en daar het hulle eerste spanleiers. En nog kinders is, op Vredendal, leer hulle ook baie lekker. Van hulle is onderwysers, party werk in die pakstoor, en dié wat dit nou nie gemaak het nie, hulle beland (onhoorbaar 05:47 ??in die sloot).

So wat ek my bekeer het, werk ek al dertig jaar vir die Here, wat ek die Here dien. So, my twee seuns is al twee bekeer, (onhoorbaar 06:00)is bekeer, die man is bekeer. So, ons stap nou ’n goeie lewe, want die ontmoet met die Here (onhoorbaar 06:07). Dis hoekom ek vandag sê die Here is ons genadig.

Nou Xhosas het my kleinkind vermoor, hulle oumagrootjie net vir twee jaar geken. Ek onthou dit is die vyfde jaar dat my kleinkind dood is, hartseer deurgegaan, pyn deurgegaan, maar ek gaan maar aan, miskien (onhoorbaar 6:29).

Het Antie al gehoor van ’n man, Willem Bees? Kan Antie vir ons vertel wat Antie gehoor het van hom?

Willem Bees was gevaarlik. Willem Bees wat ek onthou was ’n jong seun. Hy’t mos nie ouers gehad nie. Hy het nie ’n pa gehad nie, ma (onhoorbaar 06:52). Maar sy mense was my vriende (06:56) en op vyftien jaar het hy die eerste maal (onhoorbaar 07:07). Toe hoor ek wat hy alles gedoen het – by die (onhoorbaar 07:08; ??ounie??) ingebreek, die (onhoorbaar) aangerand, en toe’s hy nou daai tyd tronk toe. Lank getronk, weer uitgekom, weer iemand aangerand. Die meisie was ook (onhoorbaar 07:18). Daar by Paarlkop. Daar bly sy. Hy het vir haar …