Swazi winds of change

2008-11-21 00:00

RETURNING home after 10 days up north and trying to catch up is a daunting process. Set up the computer to download e-mails. Speed read the last 10 Witness newspapers and reflect on what has happened this past week in KwaZulu-Natal.

Tornadoes rip through KZN, intense discussions on the value or otherwise of plantations and the debate on the disgraceful situation at our local university heats up.

More importantly, what can our farmers learn about our past week’s experiences in Swaziland?

While consulting with agricultural companies there, time was spent at four special game reserves, Hlane, Mbuluzi, Inyoni Yami Irrigation Scheme (Iysis) and Mlawula.

Members of the Pietermaritzburg bird club can eat their hearts out. On the border of Mozambique we came across the elusive African Finfoot, one of the most beautiful water birds around. Uncharacteristically, a pair were sunning themselves for over an hour until the male castigated his spouse for flaunting herself and chased her back into the reed bank lining the Mlawula River.

Apart from the wonders of Swaziland there is a stark reality that probably faces our farmers as well.

During the past 24 years, while visiting agricultural activities in Swaziland, I have always been impressed by the incredible quality of the agriculturalists who are attracted to the sugar plantations and ranches. The cattlemen and sugar managers are legends.

Over these years not much has changed in this magnificent kingdom except for some new roads, the development of the Magugu Dam on the Komati River and the building of holding dams on the Usuthu River. These dams have resulted in the development of 6 000 hectares of sugar in the north and a potential 12 000 hectares in the south.

However, change has come to the agriculturalists. The once thriving agricultural communities in the Swazi lowveld at Big Bend, Simunya, Tshaneni and Mhlume are no more. This is more obvious at the sports clubs where the legends used to meet, supporting a social life that could be called colonial but which was a vital part of their lives. The club social life has now gone. The few remaining families meet at home to watch rugby and have braais.

The sadness of this change is apparent at the Simunye Country Club. On previous visits, the club was teeming with the legends and their families. One had to wait for a round of golf, children splashing and screaming with pleasure in the swimming pool and the restaurant staff were run off their feet.

However, now not one round of golf is played and the broken signs reserving a parking space for the president and captain tell a story. The water in the swimming pool still gleams but the quietness is deafening. We enjoyed a fine lunch on Saturday, but being on our own without any stimulating activity by the legends was very sad.

The old man who took our order confirmed that the few remaining white agriculturalists now prefer to meet at their homes. The sign at the swimming pool stating that “non-swimmers must be accompanied by adults” mean little seeing as there are none.

Change is inevitable and hopefully the change in Swaziland will be for the good. The winds of change have certainly come to the social lives of the remaining agricultural legends of the Swazi kingdom. Maybe our farmers need to be prepared for changes that are likely to come to their social lives.

Before departing it was a pleasure to see that the Tshaneni club in the north is thriving as Alan Howland, the general manager of Iysys, is determined to encourage tourists to add to the few remaining agriculturalists who utilise the club.

Howland has developed three guest houses within their game reserve, a bush camp with hunting and fishing, a cruiser and houseboat for use on the lake, as well as all the facilities of the sports club.

Good luck to him in these changing and challenging times.

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