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A warming Karoo meal, a barren affront

Lamb neck slow-cooked with ginger and garlic

Think Cradock, and I usually think of the Tuishuise, a whole street of gorgeous old restored cottages, in the old kitchen of which I’ll cook a suitably country meal as soon as we get there.

But think Cradock and your mind also immediately adds a ‘four’. The Cradock Four. A Struggle outrage. With the killing of schoolteacher turned activist Matthew Goniwe and three others in the thick of the Struggle in the mid-Eighties, this large Eastern Cape frontier town attained a grim cachet that will forever associate its name with the darkest years of the fight to topple the apartheid behemoth.

In a graveyard on the edge of Lingelihle, the township outside the town, enclosed in an iron fence, lie the graves of the four. It’s bleak up there, both because this was a chill winter’s day and because standing at the graveside of such tragic, terrible history brings down a heavy sadness upon your heart. The Struggle for which they died did bring the freedom for which they made that sacrifice. But they’re still forever gone, never to have enjoyed that for which they fought.

Particularly poignant is the knowledge that two of the four were there quite incidentally. Matthew Goniwe and Fort Calata were both great thorns in the sides of the apartheid regime, whose anti-apartheid organisational skills were an inspiration to others countrywide. But Sparrow Mkonto, a railway worker turned activist, just happened to be in the car when it was ambushed and the four were murdered and their bodies burnt. And poor Sicelo Mhlauli, though also an activist, was just a friend of Goniwe’s who had gone along for the ride to catch up on old times.

But Cradock had just experienced a happy moment that relates directly to this tragedy. Nyameka Goniwe, widow of Matthew, had become mayor and everyone was already talking about the breath of fresh air that this municipality apparently sorely needed. We did not meet her, but the word on the street was that she is a firebrand, a powerhouse, and that things are expected to happen under her tenure.

That would be a more fitting tribute to the late Matthew Goniwe and his fallen comrades than the one erected on a koppie in Lingelihle which ironically represents almost what Goniwe did not stand for more than what he did. This is the Cradock Four Garden of Remembrance, and you’d think that it would be a lovingly tended tribute to what these men gave up, wouldn’t you? It represents a very expensive waste of money, and its neglect stands today as an insult to their names and what they sacrificed.

This monument to the man, and his cohorts, whose deaths marked the turning point in the Struggle that ultimately led to the end of aparthed and the installation of an ANC government – apartheid Prime Minister PW Botha declared a state of emergency on the day of their funeral, a pivotal moment in Struggle history – is unused, a barren wasteland of nothingness. There are four concrete pillars that stand proudly, soaring heavenwards, and that part of it is a fitting testament. There is a glass-enclosed gallery filled with – nothing. There is an amphitheatre whose stage has never been used for anything other than perhaps the occasional curious passerby wondering what it was for. There is parking for barely 20 cars, at a push, which hardly suggests that the planners had much confidence in what its future would turn out to be. They were right in that.

To console our spirits after seeing this, we needed wine and sustenance and so we took refuge in Etienne van Heerden house, named after the South African writer last year. It’s one of the ‘Tuishuise’ that the Antrobus family own and run, all filed with wonderful antiques, and resplendent with history and character – we got the old oven going and slowly roasted the whole lamb necks I had bought in Graaff Reinet along the way to Cradock.

When shopping in these small towns you generally have to make do with what you find, and I spotted some very fresh-looking whole garlic and ginger, which I sliced thickly to make a cushion on which to roast the whole necks. Di had brought along a solitary lemon from our garden tree. And in front of the house next door in Market Street was a lush lavender bush, so I picked a few sprigs of that, stuffed some into a red enamel teapot as a table decoration, and set about cooking a satisfying Karoo lamb neck roast.

You ony need two hours for this, including time for the meat to rest and tenderise. Preheat the oven to 240°, pour a little olive oil onto a roasting dish. Slice whole garlic cloves in half, and cut peeled fresh ginger into matchsticks. Make two piles of these on which to sit each whole lamb neck. Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Roast for 20 minutes at 240°, lower the heat to 180° and leave for another hour and 10 minutes. Halfway through cooking, squeeze the juice of the lemon over the meat. Turn the oven off with the door ajar for another 20 minutes or so once cooked. The lavender? It’s just for garnish, to brightens the spirits of people who have been poignantly reminded of what others gave up so that we could have the peace of mind to enjoy such a lovely Karoo experience.

Something pretty in a red teapot to offset the barren affront on a nearby hillside.

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