I have heard calls by political figures for the media to do more reporting in rural areas. I think these are valid requests. The rural don’t have much of a voice. In fact I think most big news stories are based in Jozi.
But I am not sure those in power really want to hear what is happening (or not happening) out in the sticks.
I had a mesmerising day at Ndumo Game Reserve in Northern KwaZulu Natal on Sunday. The views in Ndumo are magnificent and equal or better many beautiful places I have visited in Asia including a Thai rain forest, Borneo and Boracay- a tropical island in the Phillippines. I just wonder why KZN tourism doesn’t market the reserve more. But KZN’s lack of marketing is another story.
It was the end to my day that is the story- the poverty I saw. Just before four o’ clock, I drove out of Ndumo reserve in a happy daze having seen some of the most beautiful views in my life. I am not exaggerating.
I drove on dirt roads through Zulu villages. After driving up and down- yes I was lost again – I kept passing about 5 children who waved at me each time. Eventually, I stopped and gave them my ice-cream container full of rusks. I am forever giving away the food I buy here. These kids raced to the car and then I saw their faces- close up. I didn’t need a medical degree to immediately have recognised malnourishment. Their pigment of their skin was pale, they had sores on their faces and strange eyes.
Now most of the men I saw walking on the roads including the three at the deserted garage where I got petrol (super nervous) were drunk. They had glazed-over eyes and looked high. I wonder what they were drinking ‘cause wine has never made me look so “out of it”.
But no man I saw on the roads looked undernourished or too skinny. But older women and children did. It seems from what I saw the weak lose out on food. It’s kind like Darwinism in action. That’s a guess of mine.
I started to get quite upset. I saw a dog limping – no vets here, and an old woman who was an amputee on crutches looking too thin and frail. I saw kids carrying firewood and water. Locals and NGO workers tell me children do all of the work here- fetching water, collecting firewood and cooking. They even care for weak and sick caregivers. It affects their education and they certainly have no time for homework. Sometimes fetching water keeps them from school and none of the Ndumo communties have running water. The fact that the massive Pongola river and even bigger Jozini dam are less than 80 km away from many communities makes me wonder even more about why there is no water.
Potholes in Jo’burg are a pain but Jozi drivers ain’t seen nothing yet. On roads I drove on today there were potholes I just couldn’t avoid. I swerved to miss two and hit another three.
TUT lecturer Cheryl Ogilvie who has worked in the Ndumo communities for 12 years says many times men go the city to find work but don’t send much money home. She has interviewed 100 women for her PHD research. One told Cheryl her husband had said he was only earning R500 rand and could only send R250 home each month. She gave that lady proof to show her husband was earning R5000- he works for an organisation she is involved with. It seems Cheryl believes small remittances are as common as malnutrition here in Northern KZN: which is as common as traffic in Jo’burg.
I drove out of the magnificent reserve full of unspoilt African beauty and within five minutes I saw children playing in a rubbish dump. Then I realised they weren’t playing, they were searching through garbage for food.
Of the 100 Ndumo women Cheryl interviewed, only the teachers had money- the rest spent an average of R600 rand a month on food or less. Bare in mind the average household from her interviewees had 7 members. One had 44.
“Where are the child care grants and the foster care grants?” I asked Cheryl. “Oh many kids aren’t registered and people don’t have access to that money,” she answered.
What may I ask is the Dept of Social Welfare doing?
Or the Department of Water with its Shemula water plan that provides tap water about once a day to Ndumo communities at -guess- – wait for it -at midnight. Yes, ‘cause that’s the perfect time for watering a vegetable garden.
And I don’t like the Dept of Social Welfare right now: 8000 pensioners have not been paid in Umbombo near Mkuze, KZN. The money is almost a week late. Um, Hmm- Dept of Social Welfare- this is not a surprise- this grant payout happens every month. Now there are probably starving people whose only means of survival is a week late- already.
My research is making me wonder what is the KZN Dept of Social Welfare doing or the Dept of Education (Ndumo schools have pit toilets and a shortage of classrooms and rely on rain water and there has been a drought) and as for whoever is supposed to fix roads???
Do politicians really want more news on rural areas? My day started beautifully- literally- but after a drive through poverty, I was very shaken and ate my dinner and soaked in my bath with a grateful but heavy, guilty heart.