My town In Ohrigstad, Limpopo, your neighbour is your best friend
Most residents of Ohrigstad agree that their town has been built on three pillars: the farmers, the school and the church. In this dry, inaccessible part of Limpopo, residents have learnt to adapt and support one another.
Faith and humour. According to long-time Ohrigstad residents, these are the two essential requirements if you want to thrive in this valley. Their bushveld town can be found 48 km north of Lydenburg, just across the Limpopo border, surrounded by a large farming community.
A group of Voortrekkers under the leadership of Andries Hendrik Potgieter founded Ohrigstad in 1845. It was first named Andries Orieg Stad, but today it bears the name of a Dutch trader who helped establish the village. “But Gregorius Ohrig’s role was actually not that significant,” says Jan Ferreira, a farmer and history buff. Jan grew up here and farms with macadamias, seed maize, seed beans and sweet potato. “My forefathers came to Ohrigstad with the Voortrekkers,” he says. “There are a few families who can trace their ancestors back to those days.”
His wife, Ronnie, arrived later, when she began teaching at Ohrigstad Primary School in 1973. She retired in 2014 after a tenure of 15 years as the principal. “I am English-speaking,” she says. “When I first moved here, everyone looked at me as though I were a communist!” But she soon learnt to make herself available to a community of people who are always there for one another, and today you can hardly tell she has an English background.
“Farming here is mostly irrigationbased,” says Jan. “We are surrounded
“We have a saying: In these parts a good neighbour is worth more than a good wife. It’s fairly easy to find a new wife, but nearly impossible to find a compatible neighbour.”
by mountains, and the area is not well suited to farming with game or cattle.”
The valley is extremely dry. It hasn’t seen much of its 450 mm average annual rainfall in the past three years, and at the end of 2019 the Ohrigstad Dam level stood at 5%. The river has been stagnant for a year. Everyone, including the townspeople, uses borehole water, thanks to a farmer.
“As a result of the drought we have fewer farmers in the area now,” says Jan. Initially, everyone planted tobacco, until that crop ran its course in the Eighties. Then the farmers planted a variety of crops: coriander, piquanté peppers, paprika, parsley… and these days they mostly plant citrus, macadamias, seed maize, seed beans and wheat. The farms in the valley are small, so for the yield to be worthwhile you have to do intensive farming.
Jan farms alongside one of their sons. “We are free spirits,” says Ronnie. “We don’t put our children into boxes: one is a farmer, one is a geologist in Johannesburg, and the youngest, >
Xander, is an artist in New York. He performed in South Africa under the name Gazelle. He sings that song: ‘Sorrie, Pappa; ek moes die plaas verlaat, want ek mis die disco-ligte’ (Sorry, Daddy; I had to leave the farm because I miss the disco lights).”
Jan and Ronnie say they have little reason to complain. They do have to drive to Lydenburg for groceries and to Nelspruit if they need to see a specialist. But they agree that water is their biggest concern. “All the disputes in Ohrigstad are about water,” Ronnie says, now very serious. “People want to kill their neighbours, and we are dependent on our neighbours here!”
When the dam level is higher, the distribution of river water is a struggle. “We have a saying: In these parts a good neighbour is worth more than a good wife,” Jan jokes. “It’s fairly easy to find a new wife, but nearly impossible to find a compatible neighbour.” HIGHER UP IN THE VALLEY, 13 km in the direction of Lydenburg and Pilgrim’s Rest, you will spot a farm stall on the R36. It is cooler here, and the river flows when there has been some rain.
“On Fridays we put up the signs – you can’t miss the Barbie pink – and then everyone knows there will be vetkoek and pancakes for sale,” says Amanda Brits of Pure Plaas Padstal. She and her husband, Dennis, sell home-made treats, jam, tins, crafts and aloes here.
“We farm with aloes and have 15 varieties that are unique to Ohrigstad. My older sister and brotherin-law farm with biscuits,” she jokes. “On Fridays and Saturdays we all sell the products we made during the week.”
Three sisters live on the farm with their children and grandchildren. Amanda’s father bought the farm 50 years ago and the sisters inherited it. “We have lived here permanently for 26 years. Before that I lived in Pretoria while Dennis farmed tobacco here, but I came home often.”
Amanda says winter is her favourite time of year. “Then our aloe nursery is second to none – there are 3 000 of them in my garden, possibly more,” she says as she wanders through the garden with Charlie the Jack Russell and Gracie the cat following her. The garden is lush, and there’s more than enough fruit to keep Amanda busy in front of the stove, including lemons, naartjies, grapefruit, figs, pomegranates, kumquats and grapes.
Many junkyard gems can be spotted among the plants, like an old blue Beetle, enamel kettles, and enamel plates as signs. A massive bellows has been transformed into an owl box where a barn owl often roosts. Near a mother-in-law’s cushion
(Echinocactus grusonii) there is an enamel sign that implores the cacti to “Grow, dammit!”
When the Britses aren’t busy with their aloes and bonsai garden, Dennis enjoys sculpting. They are blissfully happy here, but Amanda acknowledges that the platteland is an unfriendly place for the elderly, because services and doctors are a long way away. This is the motivation for the Op-en-wakker (Alive and Kicking) social club for senior citizens, of which Amanda is the chairperson.
“The best thing about living here is that I know the fourth generation of many families. I don’t have children and the loneliness can be overwhelming sometimes. But I know some of the great-grandmothers right down to the grandchildren, which gives me a feeling of belonging.”
BACK IN TOWN, just beyond the first stop sign, you’ll find the Oasis Shopping Complex – “the mall” – on the left. Its offering includes a filling station, a café, a butchery, a restaurant and a liquor store. The general dealership, Try Me Dealers, can be found when you turn right into Potgieter Street at the second stop sign. Higher up, the white spire >
“It’s only occasionally that you’ll hear some noise. There’s a bar higher up in the street, the Joeques Sports Bar, where people get very jolly when there’s a rugby match on TV!”
of the NG church is visible above the trees. This street is also where Sam Mogane lives.
Sam is a history teacher who was born in the valley. He is originally from Rietfontein, 22 km from Ohrigstad, but in 2010 he built himself a house in town. He teaches history to Grade 12 pupils at Matshaile Senior Secondary School.
Sam says he enjoys the tranquillity in Ohrigstad. “It’s only occasionally that you’ll hear some noise – when the Afrikaners have a party. There’s a bar higher up in the street, the Joeques Sports Bar, where people get very jolly when there’s a rugby match on TV!”
Sam once played rugby for the local club, known as the Laeveld Ratels. “I used to be fanatical about soccer, but when I arrived here I discovered no one played it. The rugby team started in 2012, and now I enjoy the sport even more than soccer.”
Sam doesn’t play any more, but he is still involved with the club. “I wanted to retire, but the team wouldn’t let me go. Now I’m the chairperson of the Ratels.”
Sam says the other great positives in the valley are Ohrigstad Primary School and the Boerevereniging (farmers’ association). “The Boerevereniging keeps us safe. They hold regular patrols – they don’t set out to trap anyone; they just want to protect their property,” he says.
And the school? Sam rates the education his children are receiving as exceptional. His son attends Ohrigstad Primary and his daughter goes to a high school in Lydenburg. “My children have adapted wonderfully. They play with anyone and don’t notice skin colour.”
His son and daughter communicate with each other in Afrikaans when they are at home. “I don’t know what they are saying; they could easily be gossiping behind my back.”
It’s clear the youth and education are close to Sam’s heart. He takes the time to teach his pupils about the history of the area. “I give the children research projects themed around the Voortrekkers. I arrange for Ronnie and Jan Ferreira to accompany us >