Saturday, April 19, 2014

Rural Reflections

"He wore old clothes!
He lobola'd a dowry of guinea fowl
to my father-in-law for my wife's hand"

This is how V was greeted by the men of the small settlement that lies above the old farm. A traditional praise singing and very touching for V to hear his father remembered in this way all these years later. This greeting is unique to Vs father and a living memorial to him that will be passed down through the generations and chanted to any relative that they encounter in the future. This is rural South Africa and a place where time has stood still  - where they still talk of money in terms of British pounds and it remains at an exchange rate of two to one! Young women are bare breasted and the men walk holding traditional sticks, spears and shields of cow hide. 

We visited Mpini whose father worked for Vs father. His family live on a piece of ground each in their own hut built of mud and thatched. We were shown into the main hut - the equivalent of the front parlour and invited to sit on the two plastic chairs. The only other furniture was a small table covered in a lace cloth which held precious items like toothpaste, a comb and a small stack of bowls.

Family members were brought in to meet us and approached us on their knees - eyes averted -they stayed crouched low and never once raising their heads above ours for our entire visit. This was very humbling and we knew not to even try to persuade them to stand and put themselves on our eye level.  There were very many children with beautiful big eyes shyly peeping around the corner of the door - no books or toys never mind TV, iPads and computers.

 The mothers looked not much older than children themselves. This is how families live - together -  the women sharing the duties of childcare, cooking, cleaning and growing vegetables. The men who can find work do and this money is put into the communal coffers -  the rest sit around and talk of important issues under the trees. Despite the poverty most have a cell phone! Our gifts of biscuits and sweets were gratefully received but I so wished that I had taken more useful food items.

Hardly anyone can speak English but they try so hard to communicate with me. When my camera comes out they laugh shyly and protest but once they see one or two of the photos then a queue forms and everyone wants to have their photo taken. 

We say our thanks and farewells and continue on our journey but we have not gone far when we are flagged down by this group of sangomas (witchdoctors) - off to a ceremony to celebrate "a girl becoming a woman" - they ask for a lift and are overjoyed when V consents. The chat and sing in the back of the bakkie and laugh excitedly when sweets are passed to them. Children really! 

We make our way along the road where cattle amble, goats chomp and comical chickens chase one another.  Our cargo jump out and allow us to take photographs and I approach a women who is draping her washing on bushes to dry - her face is coated in red earth for protection against the sun and she indicates that she doesn't want to be photographed because of this - she is not looking her best!

I say a silent prayer of thanks for my washing machine and dryer -and all the other labour saving devices and luxuries in my life that I take for granted. Life is hard here and yet the people don't complain - they are too busy surviving.
Another woman has collected firewood for the evening - she is old - you can see - but she doesn't know how old, "I am not learned enough to know," she tells us.

A coffee break is needed so we park on the old bridge - now collapsed and eaten by the Tugela River - a splash welcomes us and V sees the fin of a large fish disappear into the deep and vows that he will be back to catch that 'scaly'. As we drink coffee from the flask and talk about the days encounters, we see a truck laden with locals on their way home - the lucky ones that have jobs. What a day - A day of remembrance for V and a day of reflection for me - a day that we are both grateful to have shared.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The fields are empty and people are hungry!

Hiya! Hiya! Hiya!  Mvelase clapped her hands and declared if she died tonight then she would die happy!She clapped and clapped, delight beaming from her old eyes. Mvelase has lived on the land at Tugela Estates KZN all of her life and remembers V and the Niemack family well. "They were the days," she said,"we ate well, we danced until our skirts were this high and parallel to the ground." The days that she speaks of were the years that V's father Bransby Dangerfield Niemack managed the 22 thousand hectares of land, Tugela Estates, for the wealthy owners - the Taylors. They farmed mealies and citrus for  the African and export markets. They had several thousand heads of cattle grazing and were the first importers of short horn cattle. They had thousands of pigs too and employed many hundreds of local Zulus. They worked on the land and in the house taking it in turns - six months on and six months off - but whether you were on duty or not, you received rations. This farm fed the neighbourhood and its people and was a profitable business for the owners.
The nearest town is Weenen and the farm was accessible thanks to a cage hoisted over the raging Tugela River,  that transported people, crops, livestock and on occasions a  Cadillac. There was an airstrip on the farm and the owners had light aircraft and licenses to fly. Much of the crop spraying and flips around the farm were managed without licensed pilots and that is why V is afraid of flying to this day as there were many near misses. The land is a ruthless master and farms demand hard work, disciple and absolute commitment but on Sundays the family enjoyed picnics and fishing under the shady poplars on the banks of the river and the Niemack boys - Oswald, Ronald and Vernon skied on the Tugela, skimmed stones and raised mayhem. While Lorraine and Thelma swam in the river, lazed on the banks and dreamed of the days that they would marry and move away!
It was a thriving farm but the families idealic childhood was brought to an abrupt end by a tragic tractor accident which killed "Jack" as Vs father was known. In 1964 the farm was sold to the Zulu Government or Bantu Trust and until this day has not produced one mealie or a single cabbage - Nothing! It lies unused and barren - the 'good days' died in the tractor accident too. So the families that worked, were fed, paid, danced and celebrated in perfect harmony with the farmer, family and landowner, now eke out a subsistent living and are dependant on social grants. Some of them have vegetable patches, where  between the neat rows of potatoes, carrots and pumpkin, dagga is planted for sale and for their own use.

These mini plantations are protected by impenetrable fences of aloe and devils thorn. We met Grace Hadebe aged 72 who farms this one - she collects water from the river in a 10 gallon bucket and her old legs carry it up the steep slope to her crops. She proudly showed us how well her plants are doing - The dagga is to sell to buy winter stockings for her grandchildren, she tells us in Zulu and I am so glad V can interpret for us as I so want to hear and tell these womens' stories.

The right climate, good soil and a plentiful source of natural irrigation from the Tugela River, give these lands the potential to thrive and the community flourish but without the right leadership, business knowledge and years of farming experience nothing will happen and the residents of Tegula Estates will live and die in poverty. It is heartbreaking to see and V was given a welcome yesterday that I don't think even Prince William and Katherine have yet experienced! "We need you back here.";"When are you coming to farm the land again - the fields are empty and we are hungry." Mvelase and the people of Tugela beg. If he had another lifetime V may consider it but its not his place now and time is not on his side. There is no employment and life is hard for the people of Tegula Estates and all they can do is remember the days when "we ate well, we danced until our skirts were this high and parallel to the ground." When life was a celebration every day!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

So proud of Port Elizabeth

There is nothing like an out of town visitor to remind you of how lucky you are to live in our area! I love to show off my hometown and all that this region has to offer and each time my visitors are blown away -  then I am too! Having said that, it's not difficult to impress visitors who come here with little or no expectations and that makes me wonder what our Public Relations Officers and Tourism officials are doing.
I was delighted over the last three weeks to show V around. He had driven though PE on occasions on route to Cape Town but it was never a destination of choice till I became the main attraction! Anyone driving by on the N2 can be forgiven for believing that we are an industrial, blue collar, coastal ghetto but when you actually come off the freeway and explore and appreciate the beauty of our city there can be no doubt that we are unique.

Where else can you spend the morning on the beach, lunch in a gracious and historical Central, drive through scenic countryside to the mountains for afternoon tea and then have sundowner cocktails with a sea view and enjoy a musical fountain show after a 5* dinner? We have it ALL.

We also enjoyed a beautiful if not, bumpy ride through the Baviaanskloof - majestic mountains, clear water cutting over the road in shallow streams with a little game viewing thrown in. My only gripe here is that Rooihoek is no longer open to day visitors and I wanted to show off the inland river beach nestled between the mountains.

A weekend away at Cape St Francis was a great opportunity to showcase the beautiful homes on the canals at St Francis Bay and the relaxed lifestyle, the busy fishing industry of Port St Francis and then the natural beauty of Cape St Francis beach where families and their pets relaxed in the late summer sunshine.

We went for the day to Storms River Mouth and watched the waves whip against the cliffs as we walked to the suspension bridge and we envied the campers and caravaners who would fall asleep that night with the roaring sea in their ears and breakfast with the dassies.

V was also impressed by the cleanliness of our city, the pristine beaches,  our beautiful old buildings in Richmond Hill and Central and the nightlife buzzing on the pavements. The friendliness of Port Elizabethans and the variety of restaurants and quality of food to be enjoyed. The Iron man Event happened during his stay and it was SO well run - what a success.

I was in luck too as Centre Stage had a production on at the Boardwalk so we were able to enjoy a show full of our local talent and then enjoy coffee as the musical fountains worked their charm.

I had to work while in PE but what a privilege to be dropped off at the new NMMU Business School and the state of the art facilities that it offers.

Yes - I can honestly say that I was very proud of my city over the last two weeks and of our surrounds. We have the habit of moaning here - we have NOTHING to moan about. Open you eyes and look around you and count you blessings that you live here!
There is no place like it on earth!