Driving through the communities along the borders of the Kruger National Park is something a lot of travellers hate to do. But if you take your time, you might come away with a new outlook on life.
Sure, it’s slow going because the roads are narrow and sometimes winding, and you constantly need to be on the lookout for goats and cows and chickens, not to mention small children.
I’m always intrigued, though, at how resourceful the people can be.
Here a few vegetables are growing in the sun alongside a tiny shack dwelling, there a tuckshop is attached to another – a way of making some money where the rate of unemployment is high. A bit further on someone has set up a carwash on the small patch of land between his hut and his neighbours’.
Where water is hard to come by, the housewives’ strong necks and fine sense of balance come into play, or moms might send older children to the closest water tap with a wheelbarrow or one of those ingenious round water containers that you can simply roll all the way home like a wheel.
Small vegetable stalls pop up alongside the road too, selling oranges or avocados at a profit, while craft stalls show how creative the locals can be.
At a gift shop along the road to Phabeni Gate there’s a cardboard sign nailed to a roadside tree. ‘Buy for your lovely ones’ it encourages. It makes me smile.
But our destination today is a few kilometres outside Paul Kruger gate. We take a sand road and eventually come to a T-junction. Turn right and you enter the privileged world of exclusive Sabi Sands and Mala Mala, where guests may pay many thousands of rands a per person for a night’s accommodation.
Turn left and you’ll find Huntingdon, a dirt-poor village of mud-and-thatch huts where there isn't even a water supply.
Despite its disadvantages, there’s a sewing circle and a tiny pre-school where head teacher Sibongile Khoza holds sway. Slender and elegant in bright cerise skirt and turban she made herself, she does the best she can for some 60 little ones with a few posters, some building blocks and bright plastic tables.
But the counterpoint always remains the stinky long-drop toilets, the water that has to be brought in litre by litre and carefully conserved, the complete lack of any job opportunities nearby.
I’m full of admiration for her positive efforts against a backdrop that whispers of the hopelessness of poverty.
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