Mixed emotions

I wrote this column for Lowveld Living Magazine‘s December 2015 issue.

I live somewhere between the elephants and the racism. I live somewhere between the luxury lodges and people who have almost no money. I live somewhere between the conservation rhetoric and its practice, the rural idealism of small town life and its sometimes disillusioning reality…I also live in a place where the seasonal fragrances astound me, the nights sing me quiet songs and for the most part, people are kind. It’s a place with a blue mountain. It’s a landscape teeming with life. It’s the lowveld that I love – the bit where the wild things are – tucked away in between everything else.

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For some, it’s a place to long for and for others, a place to leave. Overseas visitors head here to search for the big 5. For many, it’s about the braais and the beers.  Some suggest it’s a mind-set as much as a geographic location. ‘My’ little patch of lowveld extends from the escarpment in the west and eases eastwards through the Kruger National Park and into Mozambique.  While I like the big 5 and braais and beers just fine, there are also many things about the lowveld I don’t like.

Incoherent and chaotic in parts, the Lowveld is dotted with islands of wealth in a sea of poverty. It’s built on a discourse of exclusion and a culture of privilege – ‘our farms’, ‘our game reserves’, ‘our way of enjoying them’. Currents of racism run deep. There aren’t enough jobs, schools oscillate between extremes and municipalities are dysfunctional. There are towns and villages bursting at the seams.  Billboards proclaim ‘Save a rhino, hunt a poacher’.  Visitors think nothing of spending R20 000 a night at an exclusive lodge, while next door, that amount is so large and so unattainable, it’s worth a person’s life…

I can’t think about what I don’t like though without remembering what I do like because there are reminders all around me. There’s the boyish tenor of a pearl-spotted owlet as I type this, the chirping of crickets, the contact call of a hyena far, far away… It’s an area full of life, from microscopic biota to massive herds of mega fauna.

In spring time, I listen for the whispers of summer in the knob thorn blooms and watch the fat, round bellies of impala ewes swell as they wait for the rain that will make the rivers run brown and turn the grass green. In summer, I’m enchanted as the darkness slowly fills up with the sounds of fiery-necked nightjars and thousands of squeaking frogs. There are days when I believe the woodland kingfisher trills just for me. Evenings smell like potato bush and mornings smell of the earth. Some days, it’s like a world made new.

Always, there is the mountain. I imagine its cobalt tones eventually spilling into a murmuring sea on the lowveld’s most eastern edge. Somewhere in the middle distance, in between the mountain and the sea, lions laze and roar! The leopard stalks its prey. A tortoise that has never seen a human sips from a pool of water and slowly wanders on its way.

It’s a place where elephants sleep in the shade of giant marula trees. There are secret drainage lines where wild dogs hunt and buffalos shelter from the heat of the day. There are strings of stars and lion’s eyes and the air smells of wild sage. Raptors soar on thermals and just for a while, the lines on the map proclaiming this area to be one thing and that another, don’t exist.

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