The Lister Lady of Vosburg

Fixing a classic old Lister diesel engine is men’s work, right? Well, the Northern Cape village of Loxton broke that mold many years ago in the form of one Zelda Bezuidenhout…

Who is Zelda Bezuidenhout?

There’s a shop in the little oasis village of Vosburg called Iets Van Alles (Something of Everything).

And it lives true to its name. Just wander around its few aisles and you’ll get a pretty good idea of the kind of stuff the locals (who number fewer than 2 000) need in their daily lives.

Car filters, windshield rain dispersers (seldom used, because this town lies in the middle of what is sometimes called The Driest Karoo), hairspray, deodorant, zips, onions, packets of pasta, salad spoons, frozen meat and rubber ducks.

In the middle of this wondrous consumer jumble is Zelda Bezuidenhout, beavering away on a knitted blanket to be finished just in time for the brutal winter.

The Lister Lady of Vosburg
Zelda Bezuidenhout amidst her Lister engine parts in the early morning sun.

On a foray to Vosburg last year, my wife Jules and I included Zelda on our list of residents to be interviewed and photographed. I duly posed her between the aisles, did the shoot and thanked her. I felt that something, however, wasn’t right.

Anyway, we finished the “Vosburg job” and left town on the long trip homewards. But by the time we reached Hanover, I said to Jules:

“I’m OK about most of the stuff we got, but for Zelda Bezuidenhout.”

“Where did you photograph her?” she asked.

“With all the goodies in the shop,” I replied.

“You should have eavesdropped on my interview,” said Jules. “Zelda and her late husband Danie were well known back in the day for being able to repair old Lister engines. Didn’t you see the workshop next door?”

Danie, it turned out, was the local Lister expert and Zelda was his sidekick. She’s still pretty good at diagnosing Lister ailments, and is consulted from time to time. Her son, also called Danie, is based in Kimberley and has taken over the Lister side of the family business.

I felt like a bit of a dumb-ass. It’s practically Rule #1 of a Field Photographer’s Handbook: always listen to the interview, so you get a sense of where the story is going. Then you can plan your shoot more appropriately.

In my defence, I had been completely distracted by the variety of goodies in the aptly-named Iets Van Alles shop. I blame it on the rubber ducks.

So, to pay for my sins and also because we really like long drives through the Karoo (except for the ever-rising price of diesel), we returned to Vosburg this autumn – exactly a year later.

My mission was clear: get a better shot of Zelda Bezuidenhout.

We entered the shop, found her and asked if she would step over to the garage side for a pic.

The early morning sun was beginning to filter into the workshop, making the shoot rather tricky because of the contrast between the light and the dark shadows. We shifted poor Zelda from pillar to post, but she was game. She knew we had driven far to come back and do the job properly.

Suddenly a cloud must have drifted in front of the sun, because the light softened and one particular spot beckoned. She perched herself on a box in the rich tones of the morning, surrounded by her beloved Lister engine parts. And gave us a shy smile.

My heart soared. I knew the job was wrapped up. And that we had done Zelda and her beloved Danie proud…

Zelda Bezuidenhout at Iets van Alles shop and the Central Garage Guest House 083 310 0194

Words and Photography Chris Marais, www.karoospace.co.za

 

Leigh Hermon

A journalist by trade, features writer on occasion and now the digital editor of SA Country Life. The first chance she gets, Leigh will tell you about a podcast she was recently listening to and how you simply have to make the move from radio. In a previous life, she once taught English on Jeju which left her with an insatiable craving for kimchi.

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