Swop­ping city life for the slow lane

Ex-Joburg cou­ple share coun­try tales from their adopted Ka­roo home

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - METRO - MAR­LENE MALAN

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.

SUP­PLIED

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