The road to Witbank, Northern Cape.

The road less travelled – thoughts of a field officer

There are roads that lead to rural communities living far off the grid. Roads that are rarely travelled.

The road to Witbank is like that. I travel it in the course of my work as a SaveAct field officer, and it’s too uncomfortable. The landscape is vast, flat, barren and bone dry. The region has been hit hard by a three-year, unrelenting drought that has left its imprint on the landscape and on the livelihoods of farmers.

The only promise of life here seems to be the new monstrous mine heaps at Vendanta Zinc International’s Gamsberg Project. Namaqualand is a land rich in minerals but that hasn’t changed the plight of surrounding communities. High levels of poverty, unemployment and dependency on social grants are common here in Namaqualand, as they are in most rural communities in South Africa.

As you turn off from the N14 to Klein Pella and Goodhouse you hit gravel. The dust and heat are almost unbearable and your eyes are hurt by the nothingness. You drive for what seems like endless kilometres and still there is no soul or any road sign indicating that you’ve reached your destination.

The landscape changes. The earth here is rugged with black rocky mountains. In the far distance, as you travel deeper into the Boesmanland, the view becomes grey with dry reddish earth and perennial rivers. Places with names like Kaingnas, Homeep and Beenbreek are small reminders of an ancient people who once roamed these lands.

Who lives here, I think to myself. As I travel deeper inland, leaving behind the comfort off the N14, with no cell phone reception and possible help should anything happen to me, my vulnerabilities as a woman on a lonely road hit me. What if anything should happen? This feeling of despair and vulnerability is mine to bear for only two hours, once a month, when visiting Witbank GoeieHoop savings group to monitor proceedings and collect data for SaveAct.

But for Witbank women, this vulnerability is a way of life. Poor and almost forgotten on the banks of the Orange River, they are excluded from what help may be available to women in urban centres. Poverty violates them 365 days a year. With little to no employment, they are dependent on casual work from the Department of Forestries and government social grants. Why do they save and can they afford to save, are questions that often cross my mind when entering these communities. R100 saved is less food on the table and leads to increased  vulnerability.

That’s what I thought until I met the women of Goeie Hoop. Anna, Megan, Roelien, Catharina, Bernadine, Alta, Anna, Magrietha, Maria, Maria Julie, Soretha and Elwina. They have names, plans, dreams and, most of all, hope for a better life for themselves and their children.

Faithfully, every month, they show up to save what they can. It is within GoeieHoop that support is given, training is received and leadership, decision making and financial capacities are built. With monies loaned and shared out, some have bought materials to improve their houses, cover traveling expenses to school of their children and buy food.

By travelling these lonely roads Save Act is assisting communities, especially rural women, to improve their food security, start their own businesses and ultimately break the cycle of dependency and poverty. It is when you reach the end of the 12-month savings cycle and groups like Goeie Hoop enter into a second cycle that you know some level of success has been reached.

Let them speak for themselves, through the words of Ouma Ma (Anna Magermann). “Dis ‘n goeie ding Katrina, ons moet aangaan (This is a good thing Katrina, we must continue).”

Through SaveAct, a change has come and will hopefully stay in Witbank.

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