The old man gets The Witness delivered to his gate daily. He has fetched it at the gate at around 5am for decades. His 96yr-old legs started protesting against this chore so he recently roped in the kid next door. For R20 a month the kid now hangs the packet it comes in on the back door.
The paper – as The Natal Witness – was first printed in 1846 and it has been going continuously ever since. Today the old man tells me has read it for 91 years, since he was five. His Dad used to sit on his ‘captain’s chair’ holding it spread out in front of him and Dad used to creep under the paper, lean against Oupa’s boep and ask ‘Wat’s daai? En Wat’s Daai? En Daai?’, pointing at pictures and words.
When he moved to Harrismith he subscribed to it through the local bookstore.
Ah, but now he remembers: After a few years the lady there said The Witness was stopping delivery. The schlep of delivering a single copy to the station late at night, hot off the press, for it to be railed from Pietermaritzburg to Harrismith was just not worth it. So no longer would The Natal Witness fly along the rail, past Chievely, Estcourt and Weenen where the Boer War was fought and Churchill was captured, die blerrie rooinek. Through Ladysmith which was besieged and relieved; Nor up the Drakensberg mountains over rail bridges my Great-Grandfather built, through van Reenen, through Swinburne, over the sandstone bridge over the Wilge River to Harrismith station; up to Havenga se boekwinkel, fresh for delivery to Pieter Gerhardus Swanepoel, formerly of Pietermaritzburg, The Natal Witness’ home town. No.
So he subscribed to The Star, which came from Johannesburg, but now he got it one day late. So his reading of The Witness, which he continued once he got back to PMB some twenty years ago, was not continuous.
Still, it FEELS as though he has read it for 91 years.