Saturday, July 9, 2011

Progress?

When we talked to people previous to our move to South Africa, there were a lot of questions directed at us about what life was like here.  To most people, one of the first thoughts that come to mind about Africa is mud huts.  We were asked often if we would be living in something similar.  We answered most of these people by telling them that there are parts of “our” South Africa that look like Iowa with fields of crops and rolling hills, parts that look like a big city in California with 3 or 4 lanes of traffic in each direction of the highway and shopping centers 5 stories tall that rival most malls in the US, and then there are the townships and squatter camps unlike anything you’d see in the US.  No mud huts right around us (that we have seen), but plenty of tin shacks, the scrap metal held together by a few nails or twine.  The nice township houses are those made out of cinder blocks that have bought over the years whenever the family has some spare money, the walls going up a few rows at a time.  We see countless old women along the road pushing home wheelbarrows full of tree branches they’ve collected in the bush to use for fire to cook over and to keep warm around. 

Kekana Gardens is a township only a few miles from our current house.  I’ve been through it a few times and it is a very large area, apparently with 6,000 more people staying there than what the area is supposed to be able to support.  Below are a couple pictures.


On the opposite side of the fence of Kekana Gardens is the developing Dinokeng Game Reserve which our farm is located inside of.  This area will be a Big 5(leopard, lion, rhino, cape buffalo, elephant) game park which will hopefully increase tourism in the area with the location being only an hour away from Pretoria and Johannesburg.  It has brought and will bring more jobs and investment capital to the area for a long time into the future. 

Those in Kekana Gardens don’t necessarily all see it as a positive move forward.  They see the introduction of some of the animals as a new danger that they need to protect their families from.  The land that they could possibly grow the township onto is now cut off with larger, longer, electrified fences and security gates.  For those who used to walk to work down the roads every day, they now need to ride a taxi and spend some of the little bit of income they make on transportation. 

About a week and a half ago, a local opponent to the game reserve went through the township spreading the rumor that the next morning, the fences were coming down and that people could go into the adjacent land and plot out a new section of for themselves.  The following morning, people flooded through the fence and did exactly that.  The problem is that this was only a rumor, a false one.  When the local authorities found out, they tried to turn the people back.  But we were told that the military had to be called in and rubber bullets needed to be used on the crowds to finally get everyone to leave the private land. 

We didn’t see this on the news, or even hear about it at the local shop.  We knew that something was up when we drove through the gate the next day and saw this evidence left behind at the security checkpoint at the entrance to the reserve. 


A group from the township was not very happy with how they had been treated the day before and so they retaliated.  Most of the windows had been smashed with rocks, the lights were broken, and the two booms that were raised to allow cars to enter had been bent up beyond the point of use.  For the next few days, there were quite a few police vehicles around the checkpoint investigating.  We’ve seen what look like town hall meetings taking place across the road from the township with lots of police around to keep the peace. 
A local lodge owner that we are friends with shared much of these events with us the day after they happened.  A quote of his that stuck with me and summed up the events quite well was: “This is the part of Africa that I wish I’d never have to see”.        

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