woensdag 7 april 2021

Cousin Koos' Nature

Chatting with a South African friend, who lives in the Netherlands for a year or more, I wondered: what would have become of my cousin Koos van der Lende? All I know is that he's living in the outback of South Africa as a nature photographer. He may as well have disappeared from the earth. 

My interest in South Africa is growing again lately. I've never been there, but from what I have heard and seen it's a beautiful country. Also: Afrikaans is the only foreign language that I more or less can understand without ever having learned it in school. As a child I got a stack of Suid-Afrikaanse Panorama's (1967-1971) from my grandfather, a colourful magazine, issued by the South African government. I still have it in my archive and browsed through them again lately. It may well be considered as propaganda from the Apartheid regime in those days, but still, there's a lot in South Africa worth propagandizing for.

As a young adult I went to a four days' congress in Amsterdam, where the South African preacher David du Plessis was the keynote speaker every morning. He's an evangelical leader who sought closer contact to the established main stream churches. I remember him using the Afrikaans phrase "baie snaakse klanke" when speaking about glossolalie ('speaking in tongues'). Anyway, with some effort I could understand his Afrikaans speeches without a translator.

In recent years I have done several transcriptions of various interviews in unedited footage for Dutch TV documentaries, roughly translating the Afrikaans text into Dutch, among others a university class given by the famous South African poet Antjie Krog, who I find very interesting. Also, nowadays I am following an Afrikaans newspaper via Twitter. Of course, Afrikaans is identified as the language of the Apartheid regime, that only after a bitter struggle gave in and had to go, so the language isn't the most popular in South Africa these days for historically understandable reasons, and losing ground to English and local languages. 

But where did my cousin Koos go? Last Sunday I suddenly had an evenly genious as stupidly simple idea: I typed his name into Google. Really without much expectations, I was very surprised that I found him within seconds. He even has a Twitter account, though his last tweet is from 2013. But I also found a lot of his really beautiful photographs and more information about him. He is a wonderful nature photographer indeed. 

The website of the art photography gallery of Martin Osner in Cape Town tells his story, that sounds familiar to me. Koos van der Lende was born in Pretoria in 1955 (the same year as me), moved with his parents to the Netherlands in 1971. In those years they didn't live far from us, and his parents mostly visited my parents on birthdays. Strangely enough, I realize now, we did'nt get in touch much as cousins. "After completing his studies at the School of Photography in The Hague, he re-visited the country of his birth in 1977, and the experience prompted him to return on a more permanent basis. In 1983 he immigrated back to South Africa. He spent the next two decades working as a commercial photographer. In 2002 he decisively abandoned the confines of a studio environment and commercial photography for the outdoors, where he spends most of his year photographing series of limited edition work", the art gallery's website states. 


Koos van der Lende is the grandson of my grandmother Afke, my grandfather Ytzen's second wife, my mother's stepmother. My grandparents visited the family in South Africa in 1966, and my grandfather wrote a series of articles about his visit to South Africa and his confrontation with Apartheid, that on my turn I quoted extensively in an article I wrote in 1986 about my grandfather. 

Left or right? 
I have one particular memory of Koos at age six - so that must have been around 1961 - when the family from South Africa came 'back home' for a few weeks holiday in the Netherlands. We were visiting my pake Ytzen and beppe Afke in Leeuwarden. While the adults were talking, Koos and I were playing with toy cars on the floor in a corner of the room. We had build a bridge or gate with a pillar in the middle, so the road was split in a right and a left lane. I had only recently grasped the concept of left and right, and that you should keep right on the road. I remember asking my parents that if you must keep right on the road, what about when coming from the other direction: shouldn't you keep left then? So it took me a while to understand right lane traffic, have it sinking in one moment and then losing it again, but finally I got it. Well, then as every six year old will do: defend your new gained knowledge with your life if you must, no one will take it away from you, because now you understand the world.

So when Koos dared to drive his car through the left lane of the gate I corrected him, but Koos insisted the traffic should keep left, he had recently learned that and he too was as convinced as can be. We quarreled about it so loud that the adults stopped their conversation, tried to figure out what this was about, because both of us had always been such calm and kind kids. When it became clear what our dispute was about, the adults in the room explained that in South Africa traffic keeps left whereas in the Netherlands traffic keeps right. So the verdict was that we both were right in our own way. 

Both of us had learned something new, but for me it seemed that life was even more complex than I had thought, now that the new learned concept of left and right suddenly appeared not to be the one and only straightforward eternal truth that was revealed to me a few months before. 

Horrible noise
I also asked Koos about his experience with flying. I was very impressed, no one was flying in those days. I think it was more than a decade later that I met the next person who had been on an airplane, and it would be almost twenty years later before I'd be up in the clouds for the first time myself (in 1980 on my way to America). Didn't make the airplane a horrible noise? Koos explained to me that you hardly hear the plane when you are in the air (I was surprised by that) and that only when another plane comes near, you hear a loud sound. I still can see him covering his ears with his hands, pulling a face, making a loud oooh oooh sound, while demonstrative shivering. 

Back to South Africa
In the early Seventies the South African family moved back to the Netherlands, I guess partly because they couldn't live with the culture and structure of Apartheid, and then they lived in a village not far from us. In the Eighties Koos decided he wanted to go back to South Africa, the country he loved so much. Many years later, at his father's funeral he was absent, and I remember that one of his sibblings in a speech acknowledged and excused his absence. All I knew is that he spent his time in the vast South African nature as a photographer, in a sense disconnected from the civilized world. 

But by typing in his name you can find him, or at least his work. And that's worthwhile. Beautiful South Africa. 

Here are a few of the most interesting hits:

* Martin Osner: Koos van der Lende, photographer

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