Oom (uncle) Johannes Willemse is known by many names: seer, herb doctor, healer, story teller, and teacher. Born on the farm Breekkierie in the Kenhardt district, the eldest of twelve children, he obtained his knowledge of Karoo herbs, and other wisdoms and stories, from his grandfather Hansie.
His life's road eventually led him to sheep farmer Jacques Pienaar's farm where he was a hunter. Since his descendants had no interest in furthering the herb traditions, he was especially relieved when Antoinette finally arrived, desperate to be healed and hungry to learn - he had already been dreaming for years of the woman in the red bakkie (truck) that would take the torch from him. Although he is already in his nineties, Oom Johannes still regularly climbs the mountains behind the farmhouse and hikes several kilometres most days in search of herbs and animals. "Many times when people ask me 'do you think the herbs will work?', I look at the Oom's resilience at such an advanced age and realise every time that he is the best advertisement of how good herbs are for a person," says Antoinette.
Antoinette, a Karoo child from Carnarvon in the Northern Cape, already knew as a little girl that she would one day tell stories and learn about herbs. Since she could not obtain a degree in story telling, she decided to study drama and later became known as an actress and story teller. During a trip to Mali, West Africa, she contracted and nearly died of cerebral malaria. Seriously weakened, she went to live at her parents' home in Beaufort West. During a coincidental visit to Theefontein, the farm of second cousin Jacques Pienaar, she and Oom Johannes' paths finally crossed. "Only now madam arrives,' was his slightly impatient first words to her. Since then she has moved into a workers' hut opposite Oom Johannes' where she not only experienced complete healing, but also slowly but surely learnt about herbs, veld-knowledge and peace. Seven years later in 2008, the book Kruidjie roer my, became the first step in preserving the Karoo herb heritage for South Africa and the world.
Antoinette still performs, but these days her shows are another way in which she is 'custodian' of precious heritage that would otherwise become extinct. Soon (May 2009) she and Oom Johannes will mostly be on the farm so that Antoinette can learn more and write a second book.
Theefontein (directly translated as 'Tea Fountain') is named for a type of tea that grows in the mountains and which, among other things, is good for heart problems. Theefontein and a few adjacent farms that also belong to the extended Pienaar family, form the 'nursery' from which Antoinette and Oom Johannes harvest their herbs.