Riemvasmaak is a four-part South African mini-series created by Peter Goldsmid and set in the Northern Cape town of Riemvasmaak, about the forced removals from the area in 1973 and the fight of one man to have the land reclaimed.
It was the second of four South African mini-series that aired on SABC2 on Tuesdays at 19h30 in early 2008. The others are Land of Thirst, Huis van Liefde and Malan en Kie.
Set in the early seventies, Riemvasmaak is the story of an exodus of a people from their beloved land.
The forced removal of the community from land they had lived on for many generations leads one Riemvasmaker, Jaco Allemans, to define and redefine himself as a man; his initial defiance gives way to despair, loss and the eventual rediscovery of a more mature self and his role as a leader of his people.
Riemvasmaak is an isolated area 56 kilometers from Kakamas bordering the Orange River to the south and Namibia to the west. Amongst other things, it is known for its hot spring and the stark dramatic beauty of the red, stony mountains surrounding it.
Its history dates from the turn of the twentieth century, specifically 1933, when permission was given to settle on Riemvasmaak.
Different ethnic groups formed (and still forms) the Riemvasmaak community, namely Xhosas, the people from Damara, Nama and Herero origin, as well as coloured pastoralists.
They all lived in harmony and spoke Afrikaans as their lingua franca and in many cases, as their home language.
In terms of the apartheid policy of the former SA government the people of Riemvasmaak were forcibly removed in 1973 and 1974. Those of Xhosa origin were moved to the former Ciskei; those of Damara, Nama and Herero origin were moved to Namibia.
The removals were brutal as their houses were torched to assure there was nothing for them to return to.
In Namibia and the Ciskei the people were treated with open hostility by the communities already living there. They suffered many other hardships including illness due to different climatic conditions and their livestock being eaten by wild animals.
In February 1994, the government decided to give Riemvasmaak back to its original residents. As one of the first land restitution projects under the democratic dispensation, it was launched as a presidential project and had a high political profile.
But the removals left bitter memories, especially under the older members, and the community had to start from scratch.
The story is based on recent history that has already captured the public imagination. However, the removals are only the backdrop for a captivating universal human drama of courage, love, loss and renewal.
Rebelliousness and obstinacy are character traits of Jaco Allemans, but when the injustice of forced removal faces the Riemvasmakers, Jaco’s rebelliousness gains a political focus.
Jaco protests openly when the community is told it will be forcibly removed. He defines himself as a Riemvasmaker and refuses to leave the land.
His courage in standing up to the white authorities wins him the respect and love of Trina Hendriks, the love of his life.
His refusal to leave the land leads to him being arrested more than once. Even Trina begging him to come with her and her family to Namibia cannot sway him; he is too passionately tied to the land.
Too proud or obstinate to accept defeat/reality he stays on alone in Riemvasmaak, seperated from his love, his family and his community, which leads to continuing and escalating loss.
When he does finally give in and leaves for the Eastern Cape, he loses his identity as a Riemvasmaker and with it his self-respect.
He then painfully reconstructs his life by finding financial security, but more importantly, his place in the community; a leader who takes on the government in a legal battle to get Riemvasmaak back.
Producer Margaret Goldsmid held auditions in Johannesburg, Cape Town and in Kakamas and Riemvasmaak in the Northern Cape in order to find the young actors to portray Jaco Allemans and Trina Hendriks.
One of her, producer/director Peter Goldsmid and director Xoli Norman’s main concerns were to bring exciting, new talent to the screen; they all felt it would add to the authenticity of the series.
The series introduces Errol Schwartz as Jaco Allemans. Errol studied acting at the University of Twane and graduated in 2005 as one of the top students in his year.
To the producers’ delight, Errol comes from Kakamas (the town closest to Riemvasmaak). This and his father being of Nama origin deepens his understanding of the character and the story.
Trina Hendriks is portrayed by Portia Joel, daughter of veteran actor Cedwyn Joel currently starring in Generations. Portia is known for her role as Randi Adams in Generations a few years back and for having presented Curious Culture on SABC2.
Other newcomers are Chris Madjiet as Jaco’s father, Ceagan Arendse as Trina’s teenage brother and Jeremy September as Kabou, the passionate SWAPO freedom fighter.
A host of established actors help drive the series. Amongst them are Denise Newman (recently seen in Erfsondes, Gabriël and the feature film, Forgiveness) as Maria Allemans, Jaco’s mother; Ben Kruger (of Zero Tolerence and 7de Laan fame) as the Catholic priest leading the community; and Richard van der Westhuizen (recently in Andries Plak) as Magistrate Grobler, the government official actioning the removals.
Duncan Johnson and the Esmeralda Bihl (recently seen in Erfsondes and Heartlines) are Trina’s parents, Willem and Elsa Hendriks; while Nazli George (Erfsondes) features as Anna Malgas, a nomadic Riemvasmaak midwife and healer.
In their desire to gain as much insight as possible into the lives of the Riemvasmakers, producers Margaret and Peter Goldsmid recorded nine hours of interviews with prominent members of the community.
They also had access to the files of the Legal Resources Centre, who helped them fight their land restitution case. Scores of affidavits by Riemvasmakers affected by the removals amplified the story telling.
The scripts were written by Peter Goldsmid and Xoli Norman and translated by published Northern Cape writer, Elias Nel.
The series was shot on location in Riemvasmaak, Kakamas in the Northern Cape and in Welcomewood near King Williamstown in the Eastern Cape.
Directors: Peter Goldsmid, Xolie Norman
Written By: Peter Goldsmid
Executive Producer: Margaret Goldsmid
Producer: Peter Goldsmid
Director of Photography: Chris Vermaak
Line Producer: Stephanie Coetzee
Riemvasmaak won three awards at the third annual South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTAs) in 2009, including Best Mini Drama/Series, Best Directors (Peter Goldsmid and Xoli Norman) and Best Writing: Drama (Peter Goldsmid and Xoli Norman).
The folk song "Ons gaan terug na Riemvasmaak" ("We're going back to Riemvasmaak") is still known and sung today.
Elias Nel translated the script of Riemvasmaak in the “Oranje Rivier” Afrikaans dialect. He is a published author and most of his short stories are written in this dialect. He hails from Verneukpan not far from Riemvasmaak.
Many Riemvasmakers have Afrikaans surnames, which they adopted during the first half of the last century in order to find work on the local farms.