'Our names will be on the Hakskeenpan stones forever'

2016-03-03 08:29

Hakskeenpan  “I think I picked up well over a thousand stones since I started here in 2010. I actually lost count after a few days, but if I were to guess it was way more than a thousand,” says Rista Isaacs as she bends and picks up a stone – it has become something of a habit. 

Isaacs stands next to Hakskeenpan in the Northern Cape’s Kalahari. It’s about a two hours’ drive northwest from Upington and less than 20 km from the Namibian border. 

“It was difficult sometimes. It gets very hot in the Kalahari, so sometimes when it's around 40 degrees, you feel it. But also when it gets cold, it was tough. But we enjoyed it. Really we did,” Isaacs says. 


Rista Isaacs stands in the area where she has been picking stones. (Photos by News24 Correspondent)

From an unknown pan in the middle of nowhere, Hakskeenpan is now known worldwide. It’s the place where the Bloodhound Supersonic car will attempt the world land speed record next year. It hopes to eventually reach a speed of 1600 km/h. 

Organisers of the event last month announced they will not attempt the record this year (as originally planned) because of funding issues. They need £20m (over R430 million) to see the record attempt through to completion.

This included the cost to fly the car to Upington and conduct tests with the help of a team of 30 engineers for approximately three months. 

Disappointed

“I am a bit disappointed. We all are. There was a lot of excitement because we thought we will see the car this year. You must remember, it’s been the talk of the town for years,” Isaacs says.

One can see the disappointment in the towns of Klein Mier, Groot Mier and Rietfontein and Andriesvale, all of which surround Hakskeenpan, when the topic of the Bloodhound comes up.


“I’ll definitely be here when the car comes. I want to be part of the history. That’s if I’m still alive,” Rietfontein resident, Gerhardus Vries, said.

For the Rietfontein-based Mier municipality, however, it’s more of a blessing. “We can now work on our plans, make sure everything is ready when the car does come and the record attempt takes place.

“For us, it’s not a negative. We are currently busy with the pipeline (which will supply steady water to the Kalahari, which has experienced water problems) to supply water and facilities to the event, but also to our people,” said Lood Williams, Mier municipality’s municipal manager.

Vries and Isaacs formed part of the 350 men and women who picked up 16 000 tons of stones from the pan to make it one of the best racetracks in the world. For him, the postponement of the record attempt is much more personal.

Food on the table

“We enjoyed doing it, but they’ve stopped it now. Picking up the stones on the pan meant I could put food on the table for my family.

“It gave hope in this community. There are not a lot of jobs here. For those of us who were lucky to get the jobs, it meant you had pride again, you could provide for your family again. We are suffering now because we were dependent on the money,” Vries says.

Hakskeenpan is flooded at the moment, following weeks of good, continuous rain in late January. According to Bloodhound organisers, this will make the racetrack more compact and will repair the damage left when the stones were removed. 

“That’s one of the reasons we chose Hakskeenpan. Because it floods regularly, almost every year. Once it’s dry, it will be the best racetrack in the world,” Dave Rowley, Bloodhound’s education director, said last month.

Depending on the weather, it can take more than three months for the pan to dry. 

Thousands expected

The Bloodhound has brought some economic development to this area. Houses are being renovated for use as guesthouses. Apart from the Bloodhound team and hundreds of expected spectators, more than 2 000 journalists from around the world have indicated that they want to cover the record attempt. 

While no official figures are available, residents and the local municipality believe tourism has increased. 

Once a year for a week, Hakskeenpan plays hosts to hordes of 'petrolheads' at what has now become the annual Speedweek.

Car enthusiasts from across the country bring their hotrods, sports cars, motorbikes or anything on wheels to the pan. And then they burn tyres – with not a traffic officer in sight  and the maximum speed is whatever the car can do. 

Locals get preference to supply services for this event, from ablution facilities to catering.

“Ja, since the Bloodhound chose Hakskeenpan, there’s been some movement for us in the Kalahari,” says a Rietfontein resident who did not want to named. 

Memorial for workers

Technology has also advanced at high speed for the people of the Kalahari. Ten years ago, a cellphone was a useless piece of equipment in the area. Now it boasts some of the fastest internet speeds and many of the schools have wi-fi. 

It’s one of the legacies that will be left by Bloodhound once the record attempt is done and dusted. Another is the planned memorial for the workers who made it all possible.

The 16 000 tons of stone, along with other objects from the Bloodhound record attempt will be permanently exhibited in a local hall. 

“They say our names are engraved on the stones and it’ll be there forever. Can you imagine that? It makes me so happy and so proud. How can one not be proud of having been part of this,” Isaac says, as she bends to pick up another stone. 

Read more on:    kimberley  |  technology

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