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!




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