Come to where the mountains will teach you
It’s time to discover your best life in the country.
It’s time to discover your best life in the country
Moving from Johannesburg back to the small town of Barkly East has made me appreciate the real magic of living in the southern Drakensberg. The people.
Like many families in the Karoo and elsewhere in the Platteland, my heritage is rooted in the farming community.
My parents spent their school holidays with their cousins on farms, setting the tone for our own childhood experiences.
We visited neighbours for tea and sandwiches, often extending our stay for lunch and into the late afternoon.
As children we loved meeting friends and inventing games that kept us amused for hours, while the adults discussed the wool and meat prices, the midday news, the weather, remedies for treating the prevailing pests, and the latest happenings in the district.
When we matured into teenagers, we put on our party frocks to dance the night away in a farm-shed far from home, with our parents in attendance.
Then as we pursued our careers, got married, or travelled abroad, we left the district.
The increasing frequency of droughts and changing market conditions have forced many smaller farmers to sell up and move to the cities.
When I was growing up, there was someone living on almost every farm. These days, about one in 10 is occupied. These people are the salt of the earth.
In a crisis, everyone pools their resources and gets on with the job at hand. There are no long, drawn-out meetings to assign responsibilities and discuss the process.
Each individual is trusted to apply their experience and wisdom to solving the problem, often without following the rules.
But there is one challenge that perplexes the parents who have been living on the farms for years: how to fathom the ideas of children returning to the fold after studying or working abroad.
Many young people from the Platteland travel overseas to gain experience and earn foreign currency before settling down.
Working on ranches in America, some of these young guns are returning, not only with genuine Stetsons, cowboy boots and American dollars, but with different approaches to farming.
As a seasoned farmer cautioned my nephew, who has just returned to the farm with plans for going off the grid with solar, equipping the livestock with tracking devices, and changing the layouts of the camps: “These mountains will teach you, my boy.”
But the mountains are also attracting a different community. Among them, professionals who don’t have a family connection to the area, but who want to live and work in a different environment.
Some families who visited the small Eastern Cape town of Rhodes for holidays have decided to permanently relocate, introducing new skills and experience into our community.
We have an IT developer who is helping to build websites for local events, when he is not attending to the ales he is brewing.
We have a financial director and his wife who have worked on large corporate social investment programmes, and are now applying their wealth of knowledge to serve the people of the small village.
Some come simply to fish the rivers, rather than frequent the restaurants in Sandton.
Either way, my dream is that more and more people will find their way to the wide-open spaces surrounding the small towns, breathing life into communities with their ideas, experience and contacts.