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Diamonds And Dust: 43 – Unna And The Signs

Malcolm Bertoni tells of the closest of close encounters between a gemsbok and a Volkswagen Beetle.

To read earlier chapters of Malcolm's vivid account of diamond mining in Namibia please visit http://www.openwriting.com/archives/diamonds_and_dust/

To obtain a copy of his book click on http://www.equilibriumbooks.com/diamonds.htm

This is all true. Seriously.

There was a chap that worked on mining who was not the smartest. He used to start every sentence by saying ‘unnaah’. So we called him Anna, pronounced in the Afrikaans way ‘Unna’. He never did discover why we called him that and no-one had the decency to tell him. So ‘Unna’ it stayed.

Now there were a lot of gemsbok in the mining area, and they were dangerous at night as they tended to get blinded and disorientated by the vehicle lights. One had to be wary of them, so the company had warning signs placed all along the roads.

The signs were the generic international triangular warning signs for buck. The images on the signs had twisted horns, like a kudu has. Now gemsbok have long straight rapier-like horns. So strictly speaking the signs are not of gemsbok – they are just they to warn you about wildlife in the area.

Well, Unna said that these signs were misleading as the buck here are gemsbok and not kudu and they didn’t really represent the danger of the gemsbok. So he wrote to the general manager complaining about the signs and even went and saw HR about them. He wanted management to have special signs made that had straight horns so that there would be no mistake about the animals they represented. He seemed very stressed and concerned about it all.

The company ignored him and hoped he would just go away, as I’m sure they had other more important things to worry about. He kept up his crusade for a month or two and then gave up. He disappeared after that and I often wonder what happened to him. Perhaps he became a hunter?

Talking about gemsbok, they are pretty damn tough animals.

I remember one off-weekend I had been to town and grabbed a lift back from town one Sunday night with Ikey J_, the No 1 plant foreman, who was due to start shift at midnight. It was about 11.15 pm, and we were cruising along the road to the process plant.

The road to the plant was quite good but a bit hilly, and often when you came over a rise, you were driving blind for a second or two. We were in a Vee Dub beetle and the lights were not the best – rather crap in fact.

We came over this rise, and as we came down the other side there was suddenly this gemsbok standing smack bang in the middle of the road. Ikey slammed on the brakes, but it was too late. We ploughed into the gemsbok at what seemed 200 kms an hour but was probably only 20 kms an hour or so. The Vee Dub came to a crunching stop. The engine and lights cut out and there was silence.

We got out to inspect the damage. The front of the beetle was a lot flatter than previously, but looked drivable. Ikey got back in and started the engine and it fired up ok. The lights even sort of worked.

During all this we hadn’t thought too much about the gemsbok, which we thought would have been splattered all over the road. When the lights came on we saw the gemsbok was about 10 metres away. It staggered to its feet, shook itself, looked at us gloweringly and ambled off without as much as a backward glance. It didn’t even seem to have a scratch, whereas the beetle was rather bent.

We made it to the plant OK, although at a much slower pace as the steering wasn’t too good, and the whole vehicle tended to wander to the left. The Vee Dub had to be repaired as its whole front suspension and wheels were bent out of alignment, and the bumper and bonnet had to be replaced.

I remember another night Ikey phoned me and asked me to come out and shoot a gemsbok he had run into on the way to No 1 plant. Its back legs were broken as he had run into it at a higher speed and the car had dragged the poor beast 40 or 50 metres. The car was rather bent as well. Ikey seemed to have a knack of hitting the occasional gemsbok.

We got Essie to make a big pile of biltong from the carcass.

You don’t want to make a habit of running into gemsbok.

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