Lessons from Bothaville: ‘Hope is a verb’


Lessons from Bothaville: ‘Hope is a verb’

ANNELIESE BURGESS attended a conference this week where ordinary people fshared their solutions to reverse the decline of South Africa's countryside.


IT occurs in a large barn at Nampo Park in Bothaville, in the heart of South Africa's maize world. One by one, over two days, 80 people share their stories. Great stories. And small stories.

From a private solar farm built on a farmer's land to “liberate" a town from load-shedding to two women's nougat business that helped farmers in their district through the worst drought in living memory.

Farmers, business people and ordinary residents of rural towns from all over South Africa. Everyone has realised in their own way that the government can no longer be relied upon.

Suppose ordinary citizens do not stand together and roll up their sleeves. In that case, we are no longer at the precipice but over the precipice. They reached out to others and established partnerships. They added deeds to words.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

“We are now at that point where we must realise that we will simply have to pay twice. Once for taxes for which we can expect nothing. And a second time to organisations that will do the work that the government is not doing," says Ian Hill, a farmer from Greytown in KwaZulu-Natal, capturing the sentiment of the gathering. “This is simply the reality and it doesn't help us to complain about it."

“We must not get used to mediocrity. Hope is a verb," ​​says Jannie de Villiers, former chief  executive of GrainSA, in his summary of one of the sessions.

There is the doctor couple from Barkly East who turned a struggling state hospital into a place of excellence; the De Aar Merino farmer who supplies genetics to communal farmers in the Transkei; a young, black pastor from Senekal who helped establish a community forum to stop the town's decline, and through redress actions helps to heal the racial trauma in the community. And another: an organisation that fixes potholes (“Gatvol? Fill a hole”), soup kitchens, nursing homes, orphanages, schools, preschool training centres — ordinary people who open their hearts and help their communities thrive.

Furthermore, the remarkable maize project in Bethal, where farmers collect hundreds of thousands of rand to support their village school and ensures parents do not send their children away. The “miracle of Bonnievale": a technical school started by a prayer group and a farmer to tackle drug and crime problems in the community is now saving hundreds of young people from unemployment.

An academy was established to train black farm managers (and send them around the world to gain the best experience); the farmer who maintained the “nightmare road" between Fouriesburg and Bethlehem for two years; another who does the same with the neglected road between Alldays and Lephalale.

One after the other, gatvol communities tell how they drew a line in the sand with rotten municipalities and, with different strategies, restored services.

Like the story of Harrismith. When a farmer and a community leader met by chance at the water treatment plant, the town had been without water for 40 days. Both men were discouraged. They decided there and then to work together and Water Warriors was born. Not only did they solve the water problems, they started collecting rubbish and fixing potholes. Today, they provide almost all the services the municipality fails to deliver.

A businessman from Kroonstad inspired a community to regain pride in the town by starting to restore its infrastructure. After two years, the town is unrecognisably different.

Or the farmers' association in Limpopo that negotiated a 75% reduction in land tax with the municipality and uses those funds to provide the services the municipality is no longer capable of.

Or the Tidy Town project on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, where ordinary residents keep the towns and beaches between Shelly Beach and Margate clean, bringing much-needed tourism back.

Or the commercial farmers in Hluhluwe who build relationships and friendships with communal farmers — one of the big reasons  community members stood firmly behind each other to “defend" the town when riots broke out in the province in 2021.

These are just a handful of the incredible stories told this week —people who could sit back and complain but who chose to do the opposite.

The aim of the meeting, says Chris Burgess, the organiser and editor of Landbouweekblad, is that people can learn from each other and encourage each other. “We are at a fork in the road in South Africa. No one will come and save us — least of all the government. We must save ourselves. And we need a blueprint for this rescue operation that we can get from the incredible experience people have already gained in their individual efforts to address the problems and the decay in their communities."

Each speaker was asked to conclude with a piece of advice.

I jotted down a few lines in my notebook:

  • Never get tired or discouraged.
  • Draw communities together. Reach across borders. Together, we are stronger.
  • Projects work when people's hearts are open.
  • Success is contagious.
  • Bring people together. Do not exclude anyone. Not even the municipality, no matter how clumsy it is.
  • We must not become negative. If we love our country and want to build a future for ourselves, we must work hard to stay positive.
  • Community cooperation means you have to be willing to work with people you don't necessarily like.
  • Our infrastructure does not belong to the government. It belongs to us.
  • If we save the countryside, we save our country.
  • It's not just about stopping the deterioration of our countryside. It's about making our country whole.

This week, a little flame was lit in Bothaville. May this little flame turn into a wildfire. 

♦ VWB ♦

BE PART OF THE CONVERSATION: Go to the bottom of this page to share your opinion. We look forward to hearing from you.

Speech Bubbles

To comment on this article, register (it's fast and free) or log in.

First read Vrye Weekblad's Comment Policy before commenting.