And besides – this honesty gardener thing – I last saw that in 1985. That’s my kind of world – honest gains for honest labour. And money beneath a rock. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week – the kind of world I miss and am glad to still find a tiny remnant of.
Garden Route, South Africa (18 January 2021) – Herman Labuschagne shared a story about an elderly gentleman from Gouritsmond who has been running an “honesty garden” for the last 25 years and never been cheated or had anything stolen.
Gouritsmond is a small coastal town in the Hessequa Local Municipality, under the Garden Route District Municipality in the Western Cape province of South Africa.
The story was submitted by a Good Things Guy reader but was originally shared on Facebook.
Labuschagne went to an antique store at Gouritsmond and Ansie – the owner’s wife – asked him whether we knew about the remarkable elderly gentleman who sells vegetables from his garden?
We said “no.”
She said he grows and sells vegetables from his town property. You just walk into his yard and have a look at the batches of produce on display. Then you take what you want and place R10 per batch under a rock on the table. She said he’s been doing it for decades – and nobody has ever cheated him.
I was sceptical. Over the past 25 years, our country has become more corrupt than even Nigeria on a bad day. How could such human decency still exist in our wicked generation? I asked myself.
I had to see this for myself, so we asked for directions.
There are no signs of any kind. You have to know who he is in order to find him, but it was easy all the same. You just look for a modest-looking old house with a very large vegetable garden. And when you get there, you’ll know that it is the right place. Sure enough, there were the vegetables. All set out on a table beneath a crouching milkwood tree. Sweetpotatoes, garlic and some of this and that. It is the dead of winter now, so there wasn’t much on display. But it was as we’d been told. Business without employees – on a total honesty basis.
True to her word, you could just take whatever you wanted and put the money underneath whatever you could find. Nobody checked, except your own sense of human decency.
Ansie had also said that if you knocked the old gentleman will open the door and allow you to buy canned jams and preserves as well.
So I knocked.
And after a long time, when I’d already given up and started leaving, the door opened. There stood an elderly gentleman with a very friendly demeanour. You can tell when people have been raised properly. They introduce themselves with both their first and last names.
He offered me a work-hardened hand and said, “My name is Gert Botha.” And then he invited us to come in.
Through the kitchen, down the passage, and into his small study. And there, on a counter, stood the fruits of his labours. Home-grown and home-canned. Canned guavas and bottles of apricot jam and green fig preserves and other delectables from his garden.
I asked him how long he’d been living there. He said he’d bought the property in 1964 when there were only two other homes nearby. And he’d been living there for 50 years now. Still growing produce after all these years.
“You want to know how old I am?” he asked me, with a smile.
“I grinned back and said yes please sir.”
“Well, I have already been 94,” came his reply…
I gulped. His voice was still strong, his hearing was perfect, and the way he rattled off details about the prices that things used to cost when we still used pounds, shillings and pennies, suggested that his memory was sharper than mine. He told us of the days when he bought cans of baked beans for 7 cents a can. And when the cost of transport was figured as 1 penny per item, so that if you saved that penny per item, you could buy a brand new truck every two years. He said he’d bought a new Holden V8 in 1971 for just over R4,000, and when it clicked over 200,000 km, he gave it to his grandson, who is still using it to this day.
I asked him whether there was a secret to his long life?
He firmly answered, “yes…” and then proceeded to tell me a story.
He said in the town of Beaufort West where he’d owned businesses during his productive life; there had been a man called Koos Van Staden who had also been 94 at the time. He had been retired from the railways since the age of 55, so he’d been retired for longer than he had actually worked. And he had also been an unusually healthy and active man who was always seen hurrying from one end of the town to the other. When asked the same question, the old man quoted the Bible in saying: “Honour your father and mother, that your days may be increased.”
And that, Oom Gert told me, was the secret to a long life.
I liked his answer.
And I liked Oom Gert especially. He was as people used to be before our country went to the dogs. And Gouritsmond is as our towns used to be in those days also. A place where nobody is in any hurry about anything. Kids are polite and have good manners. People are still honest (an absolute novelty in these current times), and old people look as if they will live forever.
There was something slightly millennial about this small coastal town. Far off the beaten track, and not on the road to anywhere else at all, you would only ever get to see it if you made it your business to go there specifically – only one tar road leading to it.
Two small restaurants and a general dealer shop of sorts. An antique shop that sells and restores pressure lamp and wood-burning stoves, and a building with a large sign that said, “Dorsland Drankwinkel” – Thirstland liquor store.
Besides that, an unbelievably beautiful shoreline, an idyllic ocean and wind that never stops blowing.
Oh, and people speak Afrikaans here. The jewel language of southern Africa. I don’t recommend trying English. They’ll probably be polite if that is all you can speak because folks are hospitable and friendly as in days of old. But English lies heavy on the tongue around here, and it just doesn’t sound right in small country towns.
So that’s Gourtismond for you. A place that a lot of South Africans never even knew existed.
I thought about it all the way back and decided that nobody should be in a hurry to grow old. But if old is what you would like to be, then this is where you might get what you want, because things are slow in Gourits and there are no doctors and no hospitals here. You have to live, think and eat so that you won’t get sick and die before you have lived long enough. It is that simple.
And besides – this honesty thing – I last saw that in 1985. That’s my kind of world – honest gains for honest labour. And money beneath a rock. It was the most beautiful thing I’ve seen all week – the kind of world I miss and am glad to still find a tiny remnant of.