Think­ing out loud

Ivor Price is con­fronted by a ghost from the past

go! Platteland - - CONTENTS -

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.

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