Life has changed in this Limpopo village

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

As South Africa celebrates 20 years of freedom and democracy, Neo Semono discovers that life has changed for the better in her rural home village.

As I drive past road construction workers attending to potholes, a sign leading to Ga-Ramakgapola village in Moletji brings back fond memories. Having spent so many years surrounded by the bright lights of Pretoria, it’s always good to visit the village that was the only home I knew as a child.

Although there have been infrastructural developments, the lifestyle of my people hasn’t changed much, I notice.  Houses, many of which are modern and modest in size, still spot the old traditional rondavels -- painted in my cultural Pedi colours of yellow, orange and blue -- presumably used as storage rooms.

Kraals are still a standard feature at most houses, which now have uniform house numbers. Back in the day, most of the houses did not.

As I drive along the road approaching my village, an occasional herd of cattle or goats cross the dusty gravel roads, a familiar sight in this part of the world.

The attention of a sleeping dog is not roused by a lone cow that moos in the distance as I finally reach my grandmother’s house.

“Nobody herds cattle the way that we did anymore. It has advanced,” quips my uncle.

Nowadays, says my uncle Murphy, herding is done by cell phone, with herders calling each other to inform one another of the whereabouts of their livestock.

As a child, I remember the gravel road - which is still present today - as an element I did not appreciate, as it meant having to put on shoes to avoid cuts to one’s feet. Chores included being sent to the only spaza shop to buy bread to accompany morning tea.

There was no electricity back then and for any heating or cooking purposes, firewood, candles and matches were the order of the day.

On days that the whole extended family came together and especially on the day of a family wedding, the big guns came out - that is the big, heavy three legged pots, more firewood and “dishu” was then needed. Wondering what “dishu” is? Loosely translated, “dishu” is cow dung that has been dried and is used as fuel for cooking.    

This year, South Africa celebrates 20 years of democracy, a democracy which was hard won following the struggles of the black majority. The majority voted for the first time in 1994, paving the way for change for those who predominantly lacked access to basic services during the apartheid years.

On this day of my visit to my grandmother’s house, I simply switch on the kettle to boil water to make tea, a process which takes less than five minutes nowadays, compared to the lengthy process involved in days gone by.

The advent of electricity has no doubt changed the life of this village.

“I now cook using an electric stove,” says local farmer Frans Khwinana when I pop into his house and find him cooking.

As we sit in his lounge, we both agree that had it not been for government intervention, few people would have access to electricity as unemployment is still a challenge in this village.

Since July 2003, government commenced the provision of free basic electricity to Ga-Ramakgapola village. Villagers are provided with free basic electricity of at least 50kWh per household per month to poor households connected to the national grid.

This action has seen the village swap candles for light switches.

“I believe that few people went to bed on that first night of having electricity. The mood was of great excitement. We no longer had to buy batteries for our radios,” says Khwinana as he disappears into the mealie plantation in his yard.

From what I can recall, the electricity connection arrived some time after my grandmother’s passing in 2004. I know she would be proud to see that her modest yellow house now has electricity.

Villagers still rely on subsistence farming for their needs, as can be seen by the tall mealie plantations in their backyards.

What lands on dinner plates for these villagers is produce coming from their very own backyard or from local farmers such as Khwinana, who sells his produce to the community.

The local government has provided trucks to help with the ploughing of fields for farmers in this area.

As a man pushes a wheelbarrow past Khwinana’s house, it reminds me of a time when children accompanied adults armed with buckets and those fortunate enough to own a wheelbarrow to the communal water pump. If you did not own one, you simply carried the bucket of water on your head. As a child, I enjoyed the trips as it gave one an opportunity to get away from the watchful eye of my grandmother.

As I became a young adult however, I came to the realisation that having to fetch water in this manner was a gruelling task for the grown-ups, who had to await their turn not only to collect water but then also having to push the now heavy wheelbarrow back home.

Today, that landscape has changed. Everyone now has a tap in their very own yards and the sight of women doing their laundry in the nearby river is a thing of the past.

In February 2009, Manamela Clinic opened its doors, bringing healthcare closer to the community. The clinic is located in the neighbouring Ga-Manamela village. In the past, villagers had to travel long distances to the WF Knobel Hospital for medical attention.

On my visit to the clinic, I meet Frans Rapudi, who is waiting on the wooden benches to see a nurse. The queue is not long, says Rapudi, who tells me that on every trip he’s done to the clinic, he has never been turned away on account of his medication not having arrived yet.

The modest clinic is open to residents 24 hours a day.

In the past 20 years since democracy, the housing landscape in the area has changed too. RDP homes now dot the village alongside other modest houses and rondavels. Sure there are no high rise buildings but the landscape has indeed changed for the better.

Still rooted in ubuntu

Though a lot has changed, the kindness of villagers to one another that I remember as a child still remains. There is great respect for each other in this tiny village where everybody knows one another.

This too extends to the local tribal authority.

I meet an elderly woman near the Moletji Traditional Authority offices in a neighbouring village, who tells me that the offices are closed for the day as rain clouds gather in the horizon.

She comes closer as I stop the car to ask me where I’m from.  It turns out she knows some of my family members.  By now it’s starting to drizzle, but she carries on talking to me. Eventually, she tells me she has to leave and one cannot help but feel the warmth and care exuded by people not only of Ga-Ramakgapola village but that of people from the surrounding villages of Moletji.

Although unemployment and a lack of proper roads are among the issues that still need to be addressed in this area, I’m proud of the progress that has been seen by the village of Ga-Ramakgapola in the past 20 years. -

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