Karoo Diary: The South African Spirit

Last night here in Cradock, a bunch of us gathered at someone’s house and formed a wine club.

ganora guest farm, nieu bethesda
Travelling again in the Karoo Space bakkie – Ganora Farm, Nieu-Bethesda.

Sounds like small potatoes, right?

Maybe, but in this world you take your pleasures where you can find them. And so, when the load-shedding kicked in and the lights went out, the candles were lit and the red wine was poured.

And for three hours, we laughed and told stories and pretended to know something about wine. That’s how we rolled.


flippin' good wine club, cradock
The honourable (?) members of The Flippin’ Good Wine Club.

Last week, my wife Jules and I were working in the village of Nieu-Bethesda, home of the Owl House and a pretty good brewery to boot.

We were completing a magazine article on successful couples working here in the Karoo. They’re booksellers, artists, restaurateurs and farmstay hosts who have, after years of slog, come out on top of their fields of endeavour.

What shone through was their very strong spirit, their sense of humour and their innovative nature. They begin with a good idea, they have the guts to see it through and the ability to have a laugh about it if, temporarily, their plans are derailed.

Jules and I returned from Nieu-Bethesda with a renewed sense of respect for South Africans – of all hues and persuasions, both at home and abroad.

nieu bethesda, south africa
Pretty as a painting – the drive in to the village of Nieu-Bethesda.

Granted, I probably need to travel overseas a little more, but I’m feeling very “local-loyal” right now. Can’t help it. In the words of a Big Chief from New Orleans:

“Won’t bow. Don’t know how.”

It’s probably because, as road journalists, we’re constantly in the company of people who bring all kinds of light to where they live. We seek these stories out but they also tend to find us, even at a time when the national mood has grown sour.

The positivity we encounter has rubbed off on us. Right now, we feel hard-wired with good vibes. Sorry. We simply can’t help it.

So the following day, we headed south to Aberdeen to cover something really serious – a public meeting between locals (farmers and villagers) and an oil & gas international company called Falcon.

Falcon have fracking designs on the area. The people of Aberdeen want them to take their desktop studies, their promises and their Power Point presentations and, simply put, bugger off home. Without a backward glance.

falcon aberdeen karoo
Falcon and its consultants face a small but unbending Aberdeen crowd.

Wherever you might be sitting, fellow South African, whatever you think about fracking in the Karoo, just know this: the people who live in this region have deep roots here, and a hardiness you should be proud of.

We saw members of the local community, from the farmers to the township residents, stand together and face down a multi-national, with all its consultants, its CEO, its bank balance and its political connections.

The take-home phrase from that meeting was: “Locked Gates & Loaded Shotguns.

Think about that for a second.

aberdeen, eastern cape
Aberdeen, Great Karoo – where the would-be frackers met the angry locals.

Back to last night’s pop-up load-shed pissup. Its current name is “The Flippin’ Good Wine Club” and we’ll probably convene again on a night when the power goes off.

Because whatever they tell you, it’s a known and proven fact that even during the darkest hour, one can laugh, drink and light a candle. Especially if you come from South Africa…

Photos & Words by Chris Marais, www.karoospace.co.za


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