The fine art of filching sheep


SHEEP’s up: Ligter as die Wind is this week’s Afrikaans radio play, which conjures fictional sheep thief Dirk Ligter, to life.

YOU’VE HEARD OF the Leprechaun, the Tokoloshe, Pinky-Pinky, Kalula the rabbit and others – fictional characters that represent the trickster values in a given culture. They’re made up yet believable, feisty and quirky, naughty and a touch sinister, but they evade the structures of society and crop up when you least expect them to. They’re there as warnings, to add a bit of spark to the values taught by your granny. Now, meet Dirk Ligter, the sheep thief of the Tankwa region of the South African Karoo. He’s the invention of the Afrikaans poet known as Boerneef (Izak van der Merwe) (1897-1967) and is brought to delicious life by Johny Klein, under the pen of André Kotzé in this week’s Afrikaans-language radio drama on Radio Sonder Grense.

Blending the texture and local colour of the Coloured stereotype with something of the mischief you know from Oom Schalk Laurens, the narrative invention of the inimitable South African raconteur Herman Charles Bosman, the work is alive with character and stolen sheep that get magicked into mutton stew, lamb steaks or ribbetijies before the very eyes of their owners.

But all is not of crimes of an ovine flavour. This is a tale of immense fondness for the singing bloke who exudes gently funny poetry and is part real and part pure magical mischief, which will hold you focused and moved for its duration. It speaks of the texture of mystery in the Karoo, which you may be attuned to through Martyn le Roux’s scary flick, Die Pelsloper, but with a light hand, a knowing smile and a soft voice. It speaks of the vulnerability of even the little guy who is not quite of this world, but how he crept into the heart of his maker and left his mark, there.

It’s a beautiful piece of writing which offers gritty insight into the idiomatic richness and layered humour of the Afrikaans-speaking Coloured community, and one in which you can see the glorious breadth of the landscape with your mind’s eye, all the time, as you listen. Featuring the clear poetry of simple Afrikaans ballads in its scene changes and as we get to know the character and his context better, it’s the best reason to cancel your plans and stay tuned to the wireless this evening!

  • Ligter as die Wind (Lighter than the Wind) is written by André Kotzé based on fictional character Dirk Ligter, conjured up by Afrikaans poet Boerneef (Izak van der Merwe), and was commissioned by RSG. Directed by Christelle Webb-Joubert, and featuring technical input by Neria Mokwena and Frik Wallis with music by Ansie Loots, it is performed by Jacques Bosch, Charlie Bouguenon, Luan Jacobs, Johny Klein, Bertha le Roux Wahl, David Louw, Gerrit Schoonhoven, Rika Sennett, Dirk Stoltz, André Stolz. It debuts on RSG on November 29 at 8pm, will be rebroadcast on December 3 at 1am on the station’s Deurnag programme. It is also available on podcast:

2 replies »

  1. Don”t be too sure about Dirk Ligter being fictional! Soon to be re-released, Joe Dauth’s book, Dirk Ligter, concerns a true character, also known as the Robin Hood of of the Twnkwa Karoo.
    Petrovna Metelerkamp
    Hemel & See Boeke

  2. Dirk Ligter was a real person but has become a semi-legendary figure in the region. He was a sometime-bandit and sheep stealer who lived a semi-Robin-Hood-like existence amongst the poorer communities of the area. He was reputed to be extremely fit and fleet of foot, and once after he was arrested deep in the Cederberg for stock theft he, while being led tied behind the patrolman’s horse through the Grootkloof, begged to be released so that he could run to Clanwilliam. He wished, he said, to spend the night in a nice warm cell rather than out in the cold on the Clanwilliam road. He was released and duly gave himself up at the Clanwilliam Gaol that evening. Dirk Ligter se Hoog is reputedly where Ligter was released to run to Clanwilliam. He died at the Somerset Hospital in Cape Town from TB, in the 1940s

Leave a Reply