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John Scott Masthead
January 19 2012 at 11:18

The “Monster of Modimolle”! That’s how the suspect in the gruesome rape and murder case is being labelled by some newspapers.

The Monster of Nylstroom, which is what the town of Modimolle used to be called, wouldn’t have the same alliterative ring to it.

And yet I’m sorry they changed Nylstroom’s name. It commemorates the mistake the Voortrekkers made when they reached its river bank. They thought they had reached the headwaters of the Nile, a lovely bit of history.

I once stayed two weeks in the Nylstroom Hotel, covering a parliamentary by-election.

The most popular candidate was a member of the ultra-right-wing Herstigte Nasionale Party or HNP, and he was being challenged by the National Party – then regarded in those parts as “liberalistic”.

One afternoon I nearly came to as sticky an end as the Modimolle Monster’s alleged murder victim. I got chatting to a chap in the hotel pub, and he quickly realised I was even more liberalistic than the Nats, though I had done my best to gloss over my own political views.

He could also tell by my accent that I wasn’t a ware Afrikaner.

He then invited me to his room because he had, he said, something to show me. Once inside, he locked the door, pulled a trunk out from under the bed and produced a very large revolver.

“So what do you think of this?” he asked, twirling it like they do in the cowboy films.

I said it was a most impressive weapon, but that I had suddenly remembered a prior engagement.

“No, we must discuss what we were talking about in the bar,” he insisted.

A waiter fortuitously knocking on the door with a tray of drinks intended for another room saved me. I made my excuses and left, quite hurriedly.

It’s what the earliest inhabitants of Modimolle should have done, instead of climbing the local mountain.

Every so often, one of them would simply disappear over the ridge and never return. The assumption was that he had been masticated by an ancestor, so the place was named Modimolle, meaning roughly “the forefather’s spirit has eaten”.

Some of the name changes in that part of the country are more than apt. Warmbaths is now Bela-Bela, literally “bubble-bubble” (as in toil and trouble). And Naboomspruit, once referred to by a National Party minister as “just an old k*k plekkie”, is Mookgophong, which also sounds like a stinky place but actually means euphorbia tree.

Louis Trichardt in the far north lost its name, then regained it, for a while at least. In-between it was renamed Makhado, after Makhado Ramabulana, who was king of Vharenda from 1864 to 1895 and dubbed “Lion of the North”. Many years later, the MP for Waterberg, JG Strijdom, who became prime minister, was also known as the Lion of the North, but fortunately ruled for fewer than 31 years.

I don’t mind name changes.

Countries all over the world do it. I bet most of the people of Vancouver are glad their city is no longer called |Wu’muthkweyum, though I can’t understand why a perfectly good indigenous name like Ootacamund, the Raj’s wonderful “hill station” in southern India known as “Ooty” for short, has been changed to Udhagamandala.

Enough to make a retired colonel swallow his false teeth.

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