Read of the Week

Life is like a Kudu Horn

Jacana

Margaret Jacobsohn

Review: Karen Watkins

We all love Van der Merwe stories and this book has one.

It’s a memoir, basically a collection of short stories covering Magaret Jacobsohn’s years of research while skirting the war zones in remote Kaokoveld in north-western Namibia.

The title is a proverb used by the semi-nomadic Ovahimba herding people.

Jacobsohn writes that it means life is full of unexpected twists and turns – a description of her life over six decades as a journalist, underwater film-maker and an academic.

An exciting thread running throughout is how local black leaders pioneered a radical new approach to conservation. This gave these rural people on communal land the same rights to wildlife that white farmers on freehold land already enjoyed.

The stories are peppered with well-known conservation pioneers,including Jacobsohn’s life partner, Garth Owen-Smith of the Namibia Wildlife Trust, and Blythe Loutit, founder of the Save the Rhino Trust.

The stories are easy to read, often humorous and definitely informative and inspiring.

In Jacobsohn’s Van Der Merwe story she is on a botanical jaunt with friends in the remote Kunene when the trip is halted after Owen-Smith spots human spoor.

There’s no way they can continue and leave someone wondering about in this arid landscape and so the search begins.

Later that night, after keeping a fire ablaze as a marker, a wizened old man approaches. Asking his name, Jacobsohn and Owen-Smith burst out laughing when he replies Van Der Merwe.

He had been seeking semi-precious stones when he fell and injured his knee. He was walking to look for help but one of his water bottles sprang a leak as he realised he’d miscalculated the distance a man could walk in the searing temperatures. Months later they heard that Van’s number was up when he went missing again and as far as they know, his body has not been found.