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.