Green peace in Win­ter­ton

In the foothills of the Drak­ens­berg, tucked into a green hol­low sur­rounded by vast fields of maize, wheat and soya, lies the town of Win­ter­ton. A town where farm­ers wield the scep­tre. A town, thus, made up of re­mark­able peo­ple.


It’s De­cem­ber and, in KwaZulu-Na­tal, it’s scorch­ing. Over­cast. Hu­mid. And when the sun rises, blis­ter­ingly hot. Just across the way, on the N2, thou­sands of cars flash past Est­court en route to the sea. Not many peo­ple turn off onto the R74, the road that leads to the Drak­ens­berg.

But that’s a re­lief, be­cause then you don’t have to live in fear of the trucks and speed­ing Ger­man cars, all rush­ing to get to their desti­na­tion first. Now you can ad­mire the view of the moun­tains in the dis­tance with their blan­ket of cloud. And the heat waves that shim­mer, like a bevvy of belly dancers, over the in­creas­ingly parched fields. But es­pe­cially the green patch that sud­denly looms in the dis­tance: Win­ter­ton.

It’s a dif­fer­ent world. Above the streets, bright-green plane trees kiss against a blue sky, and here and there cows can be seen graz­ing on patches of green grass. There aren’t many peo­ple or cars about. Even at the traf­fic light near Spar – the only one in town, and a re­cent ad­di­tion – there’s not much go­ing on. Only a hand­ful of cars are brought to a halt at the ro­bot as the lights change with mo­not­o­nous reg­u­lar­ity.

Win­ter­ton is peace­ful, idyl­lic and green. But all is not as it seems, be­cause when you start to talk to peo­ple you re­alise there’s a se­ri­ous prob­lem. It’s dry!

“This is the worst drought in 150 years,” says a slim woman at Chris’s Bil­tong & Braai in Spring­field Road, Win­ter­ton’s main street. Must be a farmer’s wife… “No,” she puts you firmly in your place. “I’m a farmer.” Glares. “Louise Main is the name.”

There’s a sense of deep de­spair when she tells of the predica­ment she and other farm­ers in the area find them­selves in. “Look around: you see pivot ir­ri­ga­tion ev­ery­where, but that doesn’t help be­cause there sim­ply isn’t any more wa­ter. The river [the Lit­tle Tugela] is dry.” She shrugs, shak­ing her head. “There is just no more wa­ter…”

Louise is in a hurry to get back to the farm. She’s just popped in here quickly to pick up a fil­let of beef she’d or­dered. She makes sure the meat is ma­tured to her lik­ing. She’s not keen to have her pic­ture taken, but then she does pause next to her white Nis­san bakkie for four sec­onds. A real farmer, yes.

This is in­deed big farm­ing coun­try, con­firms Wendy Greyling be­hind the counter at the butch­ery. “Most peo­ple >

around here are farm­ers. Or they’re agri­cul­tural sales reps. Most busi­nesses de­pend on tourists, and it’s es­pe­cially busy over De­cem­ber and Easter. We also do well in win­ter.”

Wendy says they’re happy liv­ing in Win­ter­ton. She and her hus­band, Chris, plus her four chil­dren and his two.

“We’ve ad­justed well to liv­ing here. It’s a nice town. Not much hap­pens, but at least we have the Coun­try Club – that’s the so­cial place where it all hap­pens.

“And we don’t re­ally have crime – just petty things. They might steal what’s in­side your car, but never your car it­self. The po­lice are just around the cor­ner in any event. They’re re­ally good, but I feel sorry for them be­cause they never have a ve­hi­cle to send out.”

“This is a sum­mer-rain­fall area and we’re sup­posed to get good rains be­tween Novem­ber and April. But the weather is ter­ri­bly mixed up this year.”

Thank good­ness for the farm­ers. “The other day, a guy grabbed some­thing from some­body and started to run away, but it was one, two, three, and a group of farm­ers brought him to the ground!”

The butch­ery, says Wendy, started with a bit of a bang af­ter they moved here from Pre­to­ria about four years ago. “A woman from Weg mag­a­zine or some­thing like that stopped here to buy bil­tong and wrote a lit­tle piece about it.” She points to a clip­ping from We­gRy mag­a­zine (a sis­ter ti­tle to Plat­te­land) dated June 2012 on the wall, and laughs: “That’s my tro­phy!”

Driv­ing from Win­ter­ton to Cathe­dral Peak Ho­tel, the land­scape is parched and dot­ted with ru­ral dwellings. As the moun­tains draw near, the land­scape be­comes greener and the houses and huts fewer. And the prom­ise of rain grows… This photo was taken about 25km from Win­ter­ton.

1 The Lit­tle Tugela River is run­ning low… and it’s pol­luted. This is the view from the bridge at the en­trance to Win­ter­ton from Bergville, with Khetani town­ship in the dis­tance. 2 Hil­ton and Karen Ham­mer­s­ley have been run­ning the taxi­dermy busi­ness Wild­hyde for more than 40 years. ( The dog isn’t stuffed – that’s Tog­gles, the Ham­mer­s­leys’ Great Dane. – Eds.) 072 014 7444 3 Jess Goosen is the en­gine be­hind Canaan: she even hosts a Greek evening ev­ery De­cem­ber, when plates fly. 4 Ir­ri­ga­tion piv­ots are stand­ing by; lack of wa­ter is the is­sue.4321

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