Thinking out loud
Ivor Price is confronted by a ghost from the past
In the dark of the night, the gravel road feels like a scab that’s grown over a sore. It’s my turn to drive. The other occupants of the car, my camera team, have been in dreamland for a while now following an exhausting week.
I soon find myself dodging nocturnal animals on the quiet dirt road. First an owl spreads its wings dramatically in the lights of the bakkie; later I narrowly miss hitting an aardvark. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen one in real life.
According to the GPS, we have another 80km to go before we reach our final destination: a farm in Smithfield in the Free State. Earlier, one of my colleagues had worked out that in the previous five months we had travelled 30 000km in order to tell the stories of exceptional farmers for the VIA television programme Landbouweekliks. Farmer math, is what he called it.
It must have rained earlier, because the potholes are filled with water.
I don’t know it yet, but this road runs along the spectacular mountain kingdom of Lesotho. Hours ago we were in Davel in Mpumalanga and now, almost seven hours later, we find ourselves in a completely different part of the country. We are seeing places most people have never even heard of. Rysmierbult in North West, Klein Mier Nommer Een in the Northern Cape and, my favourite, Los-my-cherry in Mpumalanga.
The gravel roads of the platteland are full of scabs – reminders of the ghost of apartheid that still hovers low over many of our towns. But these scabs are also evidence that healing is taking place. I have seen plenty of proof that our farmers are doing more than any other industry to improve things in this country. I believe the majority of them are unashamedly committed to Project South Africa.
Show me another industry that builds schools, clinics, training centres and even hospices for disadvantaged communities with the same passion as the farming industry does. And it’s an industry where it is simply accepted that the employers – the farmers – will also supply houses and, in some places, food parcels to the workers.
Show me another community that rolls up its sleeves without hesitation when local municipalities aren’t doing their job. Farmers build roads, make sure there is water and even use their farm bakkies as ambulances when there is an emergency. BUT THE GHOST is not dead. He may not live in people’s hearts, but he is still present in the physical legacy of apartheid. If you live in one of these towns yourself you probably don’t notice him any longer. That’s how it works. But for an outsider like me it’s impossible simply to close your eyes and wish the ghost would disappear.
He lives on in the alcohol-dependent farmworkers who descend upon the bottle store on Friday afternoons – like flies buzzing around a pile of cattle dung – and drink away their week’s pay. He lives in the crackling fire outside the squatter’s hut on the other side of the train tracks. He lives in the workers who still call their employer “Baas”.
IN SMITHFIELD, as the sun rises in the morning, it’s just the farmer we’re visiting and me on the stoep. He is smoking. The mist hangs low over the dam that the farmhouse overlooks. I cannot see them, but somewhere out there the workers are already hard at work in the furthest sheep camp.
I have seen plenty of proof that our farmers are doing more than any other industry to improve things in this country. I believe the majority of them are unashamedly committed to Project South Africa.