Day 137: Christiana spirit

A local farmer goes 90km out of his way to give me a lift to Christiana. If you look at this town on the map you can almost get a sense of how small it is. You can also see that it lies on the banks of the Vaal River, on the border between the Free State and North West provinces. Many roads lead here, many leave.

The town was named after the only daughter of a President of the Transvaal Republic. It featured briefly during the diamond heydays but has now gone back to its agricultural roots. A less known fact, or so it’s whispered, is that this is where the first RDP homes were given to white South Africans by the ANC government.

I phone a family I have never met, or spoken to. Marius read about me in a local magazine, wanted to be part of the journey and sent me an SMS inviting me to stay with them if I should find myself in Christiana. Well, here I am and we have a somewhat strange conversation, but Marius van Jaarsveld is there to fetch me from the local supermarket not long afterwards. On the short drive to his home I learn that he used to be a policeman and speaks Tswana fluently (he took it as a school subject right up to his final year).

Down the driveway, past lucerne and vegetables, we arrive on the smallholding where I meet the rest of the family – his wife, Elmien, and their children, Marlize, Jaco and Armand, who have rearranged their entire household so that I can have Marlize’s room.

Over the next few days I enjoy an outing to Hartswater, at the centre of the Vaalharts Irrigation Scheme, which is the largest such development in the southern hemisphere and second largest in the world. I meet the inhabitants of Gelukspoort, a truly mixed-race area of RDP homes and attend a games evening at a local school. I am amazed to learn that when this institution wanted to bring back religious teaching to encourage discipline, the parents were approached first. Though some of them belonged to minority religions no-one opposed the plan, because it could only be to their children’s benefit to learn from other beliefs. Pretty darn incredible, if you ask me.

And here’s is something else that is incredible: seven-year-old Armand secretly asked both his parents to give him pocket money for the games evening. When they realised what he’s done, they were not too impressed . . . until it transpired that one of his friends had no money to take and so Armand had made a plan. And so it is. Some things we can see on maps, some we can see in a newspaper, or hear from someone else. But not all things are obvious at a mere glance.