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22 November 2021
Translation: Stemme van Clarkson 2021

Translation by Institutional Advancement.

What makes a village a village? It’s not the buildings that were made to stand there. These are not the attractions that the town offers you. No, these are the footprints of the people born and raised there, which makes the town.

And it’s exactly those people and their stories that come to life in Afrikaans in the book, Stemme van Clarkson, written by Professor Vivienne Lawack. The book is a plea to Clarksonners to stand up and help themselves and not wait for the government or anyone else.

Clarkson, is a former Moravian mission station in the Eastern Cape about 40km from Humansdorp. Its history, as told by several residents, young and old, is the main focus of the book.

Various themes are introduced from the start of the book, with two that stand out clearly and form a central theme: the church and the school (and its origins).

The book explores how the two institutions have been central to the progress of the village.

It isn’t unusual for “small” villages in the countryside for the church to play an extremely important role in it, especially as far as Moravian mission stations are concerned.

Voices of Clarkson takes you on a journey through the town along Church and Bazia Streets, with Dr Eldrid Uithaler explaining the first two chapters of the town’s history.

If you are not from the Eastern Cape near Clarkson, the acronym of the town’s name may come as a surprise to you, but for the people of the town, this (Afrikaans) acronym remains a signpost to this day: Christus Lankmoedig Almagtige, Regverdige Koning, Seën Ons Nederiges, CLARKSON (Christ Long-suffering Almighty, Righteous King, Bless Our Humble).

How many towns or cities in South Africa can boast such an acronym of their name? However, it also shows the all-important role that the church has played in the lives of the people of Clarkson since the beginning.

Then, of course, there are stories about the school, Clarkson Primary, among others from Meester Johnny (as Jonathan Lawack was known) and Juffrou “Torie” (Victoria Lawack). The school, which represents the other institution in the town, is where teachers and principals such as Meester Johnny, John Raymond and Walton Wolfkop helped build many Clarkson school careers.

And even when two veld fires partially destroyed the school and school hall, it did not have the community in sack and ashes, as Dr Uithaler tells.

Clarksonners used their skills both times the buildings along with the church building were restored in service to the community. 

Clarkson Moravian Primary has sent many children on their way into the world. Teachers, nurses, law enforcers and lawyers, among others, came from this small town.

A comical chapter discusses Clarkson’s people and their nicknames. What is a village without its nicknames? In Stemme Van Clarkson talks about some of the really strange ones: "Ou Oorlog", "Ou Trippies", "Ou Kriek", "Ou Perd", "Ou Tai Koepie", "Oom Madam", "Ou Ghoempie", "Pietman Waterkop", "Ou Fly" en "Hansie Boksak". These are just some of the funny nicknames - usually a reference to the person’s appearance  - given to people in Clarkson and can still be heard in the town today.

However, Stemme van Clarkson does not just tell stories of nostalgia and being homesick. The town is now more than ever plagued by poverty and unemployment. Social evils such as alcohol abuse are a major concern, and as it became more and more visible. The unity that once existed at Clarkson has also started disappearing, tells Bishop Rodger Ruiters in his story.

He, too, was born and bred in Clarkson. He knows Clarkson’s past and present. It is difficult to witness the current situation in Clarkson, especially with the unemployment and moral decay of the town.

While the bishop remembers Clarkson as a place where young and old used to enjoy good company at church bazaars, school concerts, children’s festivals, he can now stand outside his house and count three shebeens in Bazia Street alone.

The rugby and other cultural or social events died down completely. Where the town would stop on Saturdays for a rugby match of their beloved team, now, in the words of the bishop, it is “come from work and drink, Saturday drinking day, Sunday the best drinking day and then Monday again to work”.

Even the church, which was the centre of Clarkson in earlier years, is struggling to fill its pews. Of course, as the bishop describes it, other denominations in the town play a big role in how many people are now involved with the church, but he also asks where everything went wrong for them.

Voices Of Clarkson was written by Prof. Vivienne Lawack with contributions by Dr Eldrid Uithaler, Jonathan Lawack, the late Miss Victoria “Torie” Lawack, the late Rev. Gedeon Cloete, sister Jenny Wolfkop, Antonio Lawack and Bishop Rodger Ruiters.

This article was first published in Rapport on 21 November 2021