Wanted dead or alive - News - Gondwana Collection

News

Gondwana's Newsroom

Wanted dead or alive

Avatar of inke inke - 01. May 2015 - Discover Namibia

A plain wooden cross marks Nhadiep’s grave.

Thirty years after the death of the notorious Nhadiep, a shiver of fear still runs through southern Namibia whenever his name is mentioned and people are quick to say: “Meneer, hou op van Nhadiep te praat” (Sir, stop talking about Nhadiep). They grew up frightened into obedience by their parents’ threats that the South’s most feared man would come after them.

For a period of eighteen months Nhadiep was a fugitive on the run from the law. The largest manhunt in the history of the South took place in March 1982 involving the police, army and airforce, with no success, much to everyone’s embarrassment. Farmers in the area recall that everyone, “except the submarines”, was out looking for him.

Nicknamed Nhadiep, from the Afrikaans word “nat” (wet) because as a baby he used to often cry and wet himself, Nhadiep’s mother says that he was a pigeon-toed child who preferred his own company, often bullying smaller children when they came too close. Born Klaas Pieters, also sometimes called Klaas Tekkies, he was no more unusual than most boys his age. According to his aunt from Grünau, the defining moment for this quiet and hard-working boy came when he was a young man in his early twenties. At that time he was earning money doing odd jobs and learning various skills. On a momentous day, his uncle invited him to a shebeen for a few drinks and the men soon began to quarrel. Suddenly his uncle jumped up and hit Nhadiep across the face. Provoked and angry, Nhadiep took out his knife, stabbed his uncle and ran home. The Nama, renowned for their storytelling ability, relate how the story followed him back to the house and through the small village. Although his uncle was not fatally wounded, the words “Nhadiep stabbed his uncle” passed from mouth to mouth. The village was abuzz with the news and the story grew with each telling. 

Nhadiep was arrested and spent three months in prison paying for his crime. On his release he found that people’s attitudes toward him had changed and before long he found himself in a quarrel with a young man from the village. He once again resorted to using a knife and when a friend came to offer assistance, he stabbed him as well. He was arrested again and being a second-time offender for a violent crime did not expect any leniency from the court. In fear and desperation Nhadiep escaped from jail, breaking into the farmhouse on the farm Goibib on 15 October 1980 and stealing two rifles. Hearing a noise in the garage, he shot randomly in that direction, inadvertently killing farmworker Anna Paulus. He returned to his mother’s house in the village for the night but the next morning woke to hear that the police were on their way. This would be the last time his mother would see him alive. From then on, she, like everyone else, relied on the stories that circulated through the South for information.

Running from the law, Nhadiep had reached a point of no return. A simple drunken altercation had initiated a rollercoaster ride of tragic and violent events that kept gaining momentum. He fled to the Greater Karas Mountains where he lived for the next year and a half, hiding and visiting farms to obtain food, killing two more farm workers, Johannes Son and Lukas Rooi, and wounding others in the process. He walked over rocks and fences and along pipelines to prevent the police tracking him. They would arrive at his camp to find embers still burning but no sign of Nhadiep. Rumours began to spread amongst the Nama that he had learnt the art of changing form from an old Bushman woman, transforming into a dassie, a bokkie or a bird to evade capture. As more and more stories were recounted, adding to the Namas’ rich oral tradition and folklore, Nhadiep became a legendary figure and it was difficult to tell where the truth ended and the tales began.

A reward of 1000 Rand was offered for his arrest. Communities mobilised into commando units to search for him, spurred on by the fear that he generated through southern villages and towns. Mothers would call their children home before dark and lock them safely behind closed doors while the fire of fear raged.

Eventually, after weeks and months of combing the mountains, the search was called off and the army was withdrawn. Sergeant Coenraad (Doepie) du Preez was left on Nhadiep’s trail and would be instrumental in Nhadiep’s undoing. In the Nama version of the story, however, Nhadiep lost his powers of transformation and therefor the upper hand when the Bushman woman died. When du Preez finally managed to confront Nhadiep on 26 April 1982, he recalled that they were evenly matched and it could have been anyone’s victory. Nhadiep yelled out a determined threat to kill Du Preez before a shot ripped into his face, ending his life and the long saga of the South. The next morning, newspapers featured Nhadiep’s last words “Du Preez, jou moer” as front-page headlines. People were encouraged to view the body that was displayed after the shooting to quell the fear rampant in the area.

Although there was solid evidence of his death, Nhadiep’s ghost is said to be living in the Karas Mountains and the mere mention of his name still evokes fear. His grave, surrounded by long bleached grass, is marked by a simple wooden cross, forgotten by everyone except his family. Tears still well up when they talk about him, their unconditional love forgiving his misdemeanours. Scrawled on the outside wall of his aged mother’s simple corrugated iron house near Keetmanshoop are the words “Love never dies”. The words are testimony to the fact that love prevails over evil and provide a positive ending to the story and some light to the fear that still lurks in dark corners.

Comments are disabled for this post.

0 comments

Stay up-to-date with our monthly 'Gondwana Tracks' Newsletter Sign up Today