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N Cape author realises her dream

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Engela Ovies grew up and worked on a farm, but ‘the desire to write was always there’

Engela Ovies. Picture: Supplied

“NO MATTER how dark the storms of your life, the sun always shines again.”

These are the “wise” words of Engela Ovies, author of a new book expected to be published on Friday.

Having grown up and worked on a farm in the Northern Cape, Ovies knows what she is writing about in her debut fiction book, Draairivier. 

For six years, Ovies struggled to put the book together, often waking up as early as 4am to write and asking a local Catholic priest to type the handwritten manuscript. 

“The desire to write was always there, but without the necessary training, I always put it off,” Ovies said. 

The tipping point was the death of family members: first her sister, then a brother and shortly afterwards, her father. “Just like that – one after the other.

“That is how I express my heartache: I write,” she said. 

Ovies was born 51 years ago, the third-youngest of nine children – eight daughters and one son – in the Onseepkans Settlement on the banks of the Orange River bordering Namibia.

Her parents were Johannes and Katrina Ovies.

Ovies had to help out and work on the farmlands after school every afternoon. Little wonder that her fiction takes readers back into a critical part of history and life we thought we knew. 

It’s 1955 and Susanna Jansen lives with her family in a worker’s cottage on Bertus van Zyl’s farm near Kakamas. 

Her father and brother Gert herd sheep during the day and her mother works in Mrs Rita’s groothuis. It’s the Christmas holidays before Susanna’s final school year. 

The neighbour’s son, Johannes, sets off butterflies in her tummy every time she sees him. 

Then there is Inge, the girl with blonde hair, who, like Sleeping Beauty, is a prisoner in her own house. 

“When I think of how I struggled to get the book to this point, I feel like giving myself a pat on the back. I got it right, eventually. I feel so satisfied. It’s a dream come true.” 

The book also opened up a new world for Ovies. 

She had to travel by taxi through the night from Upington to Cape Town to catch a flight with her mentor and other budding authors to Port Elizabeth. From there, the group took in the scenery along the Eastern Cape roads to Somerset East, where the Jakes Gerwel Foundation (JGF) House accommodated the writers to develop their manuscripts into tangible books. 

After the Eastern Cape trip, she was the last one to reach home. 

Some of those who came into contact with her during the programme described Ovies as a “wise person, a woman of few words with a passion for her language and who loves living close to nature”.

Ovies’ mentor, Suzette Myburgh said: “We connected right from the start, maybe because I know and understand the world that she comes from so well … we grew up in roughly the same region in the Northern Cape, I in Namaqualand and she in Bushmanland.

“When she opened her mouth, her accent took me right back to my life as I child. My father was a sheep farmer and the father of her main character was a sheep herder. So many stories from marginalised communities are still not heard or written about. We want to help correct that by helping to have a more representative literature of all South African stories, “ Kemp added. 

The publishers, Human & Rousseau, expect the book to hit the shelves on Friday.