Ampie Espag Part 1.
Abraham Jacobus Espag was born on the farm Resiesbaan in the Alkmaar District near Nelspruit, on 18 October 1924.
Young Ampie enjoyed being out in the veldt with his friends. Very few farms were fenced in those days and neighbours had very good relationships with one another, accidental transgressions were not really problematic. This youngster and his friends often went out on camping expeditions where no one knew where they really were or would be. As the group grew braver as time went by, they camped further and further away in the unknown camping on farms of relatives and friends.
One afternoon they were quite rudely apprehended by a rather cross looking white man, upon being asked what they were doing here, he was told that they were camping. They were told that they were not allowed in the area, when they enquired why not as they were welcome everywhere else, they were told that this is the Kruger National Park, and they were to leave immediately.
They enquired about what the Kruger National Park is and were briefly told that it is a Game Sanctuary where nature is conserved, by now the tone of the grown up had softened a bit, he told them that he is the Ranger and they had to leave.
The campers packed up and left. Ampie Espag had his first experience in the Kruger National Park.
Ampie grew up and became a stoker on the railways. He did not like this and joined the South African Police. Constable AJ Espag was neat and proud and carried out his duties diligently, while out on horseback patrol his thought often went back to the encounter with the Ranger in the Kruger National Park. He imagined that looking after wild animals in nature would be much more interesting than ensuring that people are abiding to the laws of the country.
Constable Espag went to Skukuza where he enquired about a job as Ranger, the Warden Oom Lou Steyn told him that he was too young and in any case there weren’t any vacancies. Typical of his character of not being a quitter, he made a nuisance of himself with many official visits to Skukuza and then enquiring about a job as a Ranger. Eventually maybe out of desperation by the Warden, Constable Espag became Ranger Espag, a legend was born.
Green horn Ranger Espag arrived at his first posting – Malelane on 1 February 1954, not really knowing what to do or how to do it.
The large house was empty, the lights would not switch on, he was on his own, it was full moon and later the sky got overcast and a heavy rain started, he sat listening to the rain on the iron roof looking at the lightning flashes and listening to the thunder, he wondered if he had done the right thing.
Then there was a knock on the back door, the young Ranger went to have a look who it was and there stood a drenched black man. John Mhlambo introduced himself and told the surprised looking young man, that he was too old to be a “squad boy” and would therefore be his house boy and take care of all his needs.
John looked around in the empty dark house and enquired about the whereabouts of the Missus and the children, he also asked why there was no furniture and where Ampie had eaten. John was told that the missus and the children were coming with the furniture and that he had not eaten. John disappeared.
A few minutes later Ampie again heard a knock on the door and when he opened, there stood John with a three legged pot, a tin that seemed quite hot and two plates and spoons, The Ranger was told that he was fortunate as he John had not yet eaten and he thought it good to share his “pap and sheba” with this hungry looking young man.
The two sat on the floor in the dark, listening to the rain, sharing the “pap and sheba”, here a friendship was forged.
Just before leaving to his hut John told the Ranger he would go and show him where to start the generator . . . .
The following morning the new Ranger again shared a meal of “pap en melk” with his host.
After their meal Ranger Espag was taken to the orchard and the garden. He was told by John, that he was the only person allowed into the garden, should they need anything from the garden, just ask and he would get it.
Later the Missus – wife Sannie and the girls arrived at Malelane, the old Shangane immediately took charge and very soon everything was on its place and ship shape and shiny.
He was very strict the yard was wept every morning very early and no one was allowed to ruin his handy work. Sleeping after 3 o clock in the morning was very difficult as John was then cleaning the kitchen stove and lighting the fire for the new day.
John immediately decided that he would take care of the Espag girls; he taught them to ride his big no 28 bicycle with its thick tyres, these small girls riding under the frame always drew many laughs from the eager lookers on, who were then abruptly chased off by their guardian angel. John taught them what could be taken from the veldt and eaten and also what not to.
Despite their good relationship the girls were not allowed in the orchard or the garden. They sometimes used to sneak in when John was away, here they enjoyed the fist sized guavas and huge mangos and avocados, they seemed to forget that John in his early days was an excellent tracker and very soon after his return there would be a knock on the door, one of them would sheepishly open and John would ask to speak to the missus. . . . . .
Ampie and Sannie both knew that even them could not take better care of their offspring, they were in safe hands.
Ranger Ampie Espag had a very good relationship with the farmers adjoining the Kruger National Park, while the poachers knew here comes trouble.
While at Malelane Ranger Espag was informed about a rogue Buffalo that had a snare attached to it and was causing havoc to the workers in the neighbouring orange orchards. The Buffalo was tracked down where it was hiding in the reeds of the Crocodile River. The Buffalo charged and tossed the one tracker into the quick flowing river, the Buffalo was shot but the unfortunate tracker was never seen again.
Daughter Susan tells that she still clearly remembers the day they were to leave Malelane, it was 14 December 1964. Everything was loaded and dad Apie – as they called Ampie, mother Sannie and daughters Tina, Ronel and herself were just ready to leave, when Ranger Ampie Espag was called to the telephone, he returned looking very sad and told them that “Kwezi” his friend - Senior Ranger Henry Charles Wolhuter or Oom Henry as the girls had known him, had died, the end of the Wolhuter era in the Kruger National Park, had come to an end.
Susan recalls that their only telephone number they had during their stay in the Kruger National park was Lalati 3
It was sad group who arrived at their new post - Nwanetsi.
I participate because I care - CUSTOS NATURAE
Convenor of the AIKONA Group.
No to Hotels in and commercialization of our National Parks.
Done 142 visits to National Parks.
What a wonderful privilege.