BETWEEN PORT ELIZABETH AND ALEXANDRIA Dec 2nd
It is not all unfolding quite as I had envisaged, which is not to say that I am anything other than very content. Francois is allowing me to go with him wherever he goes and he has been brilliant at taking me roundabout routes in order to include points of interest. Francois, his Dad and his brother all have farms in the vicinity and we have visited all three at different stages in the past 48 hours.
The main job has been dismantling the steel frame of a large shed, 30mx10m in area and 8-15m high. The actual dismantlers are the farm ‘boys’. These are local African blokes, who work on the reserve as labourers with varying degrees of skill. The metal framework of the shed was held together by large bolts, all of which had to be cut using a steel cutter. Fine. Except the bloke doing the cutting was either perched at the top of a ladder being held by his mate or sitting astride a sloping 10 cm wide steel girder. Both positions were over 10m above ground level. No hard hats, no harnesses, no carabineers and in a gusty wind. Francois, plus the provider of the crane, along with the provider of the cutter and oxy-acetylene torch had important roles. This was to smoke several fags, offer technical advice, discuss the Springbok victory over England at the weekend, hoot with mirth at any joke and drive the trucks. All in Afrikaans. You can understand how much I had to offer to all this.
Francois knows everyone in the area, inevitably, and the dismantling company is run by a friend who is doing it on the cheap because Francois helped him out with his swimming pool construction a couple of weeks back. The shed has been a casualty of the new management ( too untidy an item to occupy any position on an exclusive game reserve ). Francois was asked if he could get rid of it. Providentially, his Dad needs a new shed for hay storage on his dairy farm. So the whole frame is being transported 5km to its new home tomorrow. Dad pays for the labour and transport and gets a shed for 25% of what he would otherwise have paid for it. Dad now owes Francois a favour. And so on.
There has also been the need to pump water into the water holes for the animals. It has been very dry for a while in the area. The pumps all work on diesel, which was running low. This necessitated a trip into Alexandria to fill the 15 litre cans. Alexandria is signposted all over the area from some distance away. I had visions of a thriving small town, at very least. Wrong. Crowthorne is bigger and has more shops. The only reason Alexandria was full of people was that it was the first day of the month and, therefore, pay had gone in the night before. The queues for cash machines stretched down the road. Francois says it will have been drunk by Christmas. He reckons ( HIV apart ) it is the most important factor holding the average black South African back from genuine improved living standards. He also remarked that the farm boys frequently turn up legless.
Perched on a ladder, with a metal cutter, with no safety attachment and banjaxed? Whilst I admire the skill, it doesn’t make for a long and happy retirement.