Why do we garden against nature?
Outside, the rain is falling softly and Harburg, deserted in the folds of the sugar-cane fields, seems misty and magical.
The end of an era
A half-hour drive from New Hanover – turn onto the R614 to Tongaat and then right at the Illovo sugar factory – you will find the hamlet of Harburg situated on a pretty little rise. The sugar-cane fields form creases in the landscape around this town. There are a few quiet houses with closed curtains and a police station that slumbers just as quietly. The town also has a church. This is where Edwin’s wife, Joy Hohls, is doing some office work today.
“It’s just one of the things I do,” she says as she shows us around: the meticulously tidy church, the hall where the brass band rehearses (the chairs are still arranged in a square), the neat garden, the small museum where you can view anything from church furniture and documents to old school, post office and household items. “On Mondays I also do the butchery’s accounts for Edwin.”
It’s only her and the cleaner, Florence Zondi, holding the fort here. The only signs of life we find in all of Harburg: two women from completely different backgrounds who grew up together under totally different circumstances.
“Florence hasn’t had an easy life,” says Joy. “She started working in the sugarcane fields when she was only eight and was paid five cents a day. And me? I was the farmer’s daughter who had everything my heart desired. Today she sells Zulu Bibles, she’s a leader in her church, and although she left school at the age of eight, she can read and write. And she is raising her grandchild, an orphan. We couldn’t just sit back and watch her struggle, so we collected money to pay for the child’s school fees.”
Florence, who is 58 years old and cleaned the museum until it sparkled in honour of Platteland’s visit, is a cheerful woman who says very little.
“I live in the location on the farm Tweefontein, or that’s where my house is. I actually live here on the church property and only go home once a month to where my son and his wife, my sister and my orphaned grandchild live. I have been working here for 11 years and, I promise you, I don’t feel lonely. I really enjoy my job.”
But Florence and Joy’s future in the church is uncertain, Joy later says, because the Hermannsburg synod of the Lutheran Church has decided to merge the three churches – those of Wartburg, New Hanover and Harburg –
into one church that will hold services in the Wartburg church. (This is the Lutheran church in Wartburg, known to locals as the 12-volt church, and
not the Freie Kirche or 24-volt, which is completely independent.) We’d heard earlier in New Hanover of major grievances about the merging of the churches because now congregants will have to “go to church over there next to the taxi rank and bottle store”.
This means the Harburg church will only be used for weddings, christenings and funerals. “Church and youth groups will still be able to use the Retreat Centre, which has a fantastic kitchen and offers overnight accommodation for up to 70 people.”
Joy seems sad. “This is a really fantastic congregation.”
Joy and Edwin lived in Wartburg for a long time but recently bought themselves a retirement place in Howick, 48km from New Hanover, where they spend their weekends. And although she’s a member of the church in Howick, it’s here that her work is not yet complete.
Until such time as the merging of the three congregations is complete, explains Joy, there is an interim committee that consists of three members from each of the three congregations. And once everything has been settled, the new congregation in Wartburg will be known as the United Evangelical Lutheran congregation.
Outside, the rain is falling softly and Harburg, deserted in the folds of the sugar-cane fields, seems misty and magical. Soft, colourful. And dead quiet. As if there’s been a death in the family. >
WARTBURG Welcome to the capital The streets of Wartburg, situated more or less between New Hanover and Harburg, are busy – particularly Noodsberg Road, where you’ll find the tree-encircled 12-volt church, the Spar and Bridglee Coffee Shoppe. It’s late morning and the rain is still coming down. Quite a few customers are taking shelter in the cosy little coffee shop with a hot cup of coffee or a plate of breakfast. Lara-Lee Tracey not only operates the big espresso machine but she and her father, Jimmy, also make a range of gifts that they sell in the shop. Her mother, Dot, is bustling around in the kitchen where she prepares menu orders as well as preserves and jam. Lara-Lee and her sister, Bridget, a lawyer in London, grew up in Wartburg. Lara-Lee and Jimmy opened the gift shop, Undeniably You, 22 years ago. “I was never the academic type – I studied fashion design at the Durban Technikon and at first made cotton pyjamas,” she says, “but these days I’ll make just about anything!”
The coffee shop – a combination of the two sisters’ names – was opened six years ago as part of Dot’s retirement plan. “We thought we’d have just a few tables and only serve tea and coffee, but before we could blink the coffee shop had taken over – the demand just grew and grew. Our customers are mostly locals – or shall I say, regulars? – and there are quite a few sales representatives who drive through.”