Cup runs over, despite the tough times

2013-08-20 00:00

IT’S been a tough year. A year where the cup isn’t just half empty or half full, but one where the cup doesn’t seem to have a single drop of water in it at all.

What promised to be a relatively bad harvest, when the summer rains were sparse, became one that brought back memories of the eighties. “That year,” said my friend Annette, “my father harvested only one wagon load of mielies from the fields, and we sold none of it. We ground it all for food for us and the labourers.”

We are made of stern stuff here in the North West though, so we stayed upbeat for as long as we could. But there was a turning point. Those who have farmed here for generations know what to expect and when to expect the worst. Within two weeks, conversations went from “Boet White says they have lost a quarter of their harvest”, to, “We have lost a third”, to “Those closer to Schweizer Reneke have already lost half”, and then, suddenly, everyone in unison: “There will be no harvest this year”.

The rain wasn’t coming, or if it was coming, it was coming too late. Living in the North West Province suddenly depressed me. I had not meant to throw my lot in with the weather when I moved here. It felt positively Biblical. Never had clear blue skies stretching from horizon to horizon felt so cruel.

The school principal warned us at parent-teacher meetings that during tough years, from his 30 years of experience, it is the schools and the churches that suffer first. So we must prepare ourselves, he said, for a hard time. I misunderstood him and kept coming up with ideas for fundraising. I could not bear the thought of our amazing little community-driven treasure of a government school being short of funds.

So, eventually I was sitting in his office, spewing out plans for selling toilet paper to raise R1 million, and for hosting family sleepovers on the rugby field to bring in income. He looked at me gently and repeated what he had said all year. People are struggling. The schools and the churches will suffer, too. “Yes, but what about my ideas then?” Surely it is time to get into a lower gear and to push up the revs? To become frantic in our drive for funding? His silent response told me to think back to what he had just said.

The penny dropped. “So we mustn’t have more fundraising events, we must have fewer? We must take the pressure off?” He smiled. “Yes.”

“The pressure is too great as it is. Don’t turn the screws. There are already too many grown men close to tears in our community this year.”

There was nothing to do but go forward. Wives who didn’t work before started working. Those who worked part-time started working full-time. Those who used to work full-time at the silos, dropped back to part-time, as there were not enough mielies coming in to be weighed to warrant full-time employment.

And the school just tripped along on the normal fundraising events, one of which is the low-key go-cart race. It’s low-key because it is held during school hours and hardly anyone goes to watch. You cannot buy boerewors rolls and stokworsies there, and it involves nothing much more than pulling four sturdy iron go-carts out of the shed and letting the children race around the field, competing in classes.

Nicolaas came home one day and said that his class had come second in terms of the most amount of money raised. As a prize, the whole class was off to the local restaurant for a hamburger and Coke.

When I found out how much had been raised altogether, I couldn’t help but begin a game of “Guess guess ...” with any outsider willing to humour me. “Guess how much money a school of 460 children managed to raise at an annual go-cart race?”

“I don’t know.”

“But you must guess. What do you think is possible?” Even if they didn’t want to play my game, I bullied them into it.

“R4 000,” said my friend Sonya.

“R12 000,” said my dad.

“R40 000,” said my brother, quickly calculating what the total would be if each pupil brought in R100.

I know my eyes were sparkling with pride as I told them the truth.

“R110 000!”

Collected by 460 pupils in our platteland town, during the worst drought in 30 years.

The cup is apparently not empty, and also not half full.

Somewhere, in spite of it all, when it comes to children’s efforts, the cup is running over.

• Catherine Smetherham is an ex-city dweller who is rediscovering herself and South Africa from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West. Contact her at

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