Swopping city life for the slow lane
Ex-Joburg couple share country tales from their adopted Karoo home
WHEN journalists Julienne du Toit and Chris Marais moved from Joburg to the Eastern Cape Karoo town of Cradock in 2007, their friends and colleagues thought they were out of their minds.
They would be swopping successful careers for an uncertain future in a remote town where some imagined sunrise and sunset to be the main activities.
The couple quickly proved that sitting on the stoep was not the focus of their new lifestyle. They set up an independent publishing business and have produced a number of popular Karoo books, their latest offering being Moving to the Platteland.
This tells stories of moving from city life to life in a small town: from Cape Town, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Durban to places like Loeriesfontein, Napier, Nieu-Bethesda, Cradock, Calvinia, Bedford, Steytlerville, Vosburg, Murraysburg, Uniondale, Prince Albert, Merweville, Fraserburg, Loxton, Victoria West and Graaff-Reinet.
There is a clear pattern in South Africa of people becoming fed-up with the city grind – traffic jams, crime, the high cost of living, the urban crush and small but expensive apartments.
And it is not only people over 50 who are rethinking life’s priorities, Marais said. Their research, travelling long distances from town to town, has shown that young people are also part of the small town trek.
“More and more 20- and 30-somethings are taking their skills to remote areas, creating jobs, setting up services, offering their expertise,” Marais said.
One result is the establishment of private schools reflecting the language of the area.
Marais and Du Toit recently did a presentation of their findings at the Prince Albert Leesfees, an annual literary festival in the Great Karoo.
“Dorps have the tendency to present you with stories without you having to look hard to find them,” said Du Toit.
They focused on recording the impressions of city slickers who downsized to a dorp of their choice, finding new ways of earning a viable income.
The internet is their main homeoffice feature – a lifeline to earn a proper, competitive living.
“People are creating more than one income stream,” Du Toit said.
Marais said: “You don’t just wake up one morning, decide to pack your belongings and leave your urban life behind. Something has triggered it.
“With each individual you will find a push or a pull factor. Either you get fed-up with your pressured lifestyle, or your research shows that the Platteland offers a new, wholesome lifestyle.”
This new life offers long-forgotten or never-experienced aspects of life – the starry sky, clean air, a closeness to nature, a lack of angst, a more people-orientated approach to life. However, be prepared for city withdrawal symptoms – train yourself to be comfortable with the fact that your new Woollies is called Pep, that drought is a reality, that you may have to plant your own veggies.
The Platteland is not for the fainthearted, Marais said.
“But we have also found that towns which have been on the road to complete downfall are getting new life because of the resettlement of skilled people who invest in their new environment.”
A regeneration of small towns across South Africa is happening, saving rundown towns from ruin.
“We can’t say there is a major move to the Platteland – we call it a trickle,” said Du Toit.
But the trickle is noticeable – and worth investigating.
COUNTRY life can put you in touch with nature and the seasons.|
LEAVING tarred city streets for sandy ones can have a quiet appeal.
EXPLORING new possibilities in a new location gives a new perspective.