20 Nov 2011
Seven o’ clock on a Sunday morning sounds early for a meeting, but in these parts where the sun rises at five and gets angry soon after that, apparently it’s not.
Chairs have been set out under the meeting tree in Makandazul. They fill with chef Sebastao and twenty of his wise men. The umlungu who moved in down the road has come to present his credentials and meet his neighbours. It’s no trivial matter it seems.
Three hours later, on the rock-strewn track home from the meeting, I have much to reflect on.
These are people that we condemn. The human inhabitants of the wilds who cause untold misery with their snares and who harbour the men who so brutally butcher and murder rhino in the adjacent Kruger National Park. Yet they too have their story, one which I’d only got a glimpse of under the ceremonial tree.
These folk are desperately poor. They work their little fields with oxen and wooden ploughs, sowing crops by hand to feed themselves, only to wake up one morning and find it demolished by marauding elephant. They have no recourse. They also have no job opportunities, transport, infrastructure, services or medical care. For practical purposes, the world has passed them by. The village’s only water pump, a hand-cranked one on a borehole donated by some organisation, has been out of action for a long time. They have to carry water from wells they have dug in a streambed. Elephant raid those too. Lions have killed eighteen of their cattle so far this year, as well as two donkeys. Several goats and two dogs have been taken by leopard.
These are what could be considered simple bush-dwellers, but under the tree I met people with the same needs and desires we all have. I saw a meeting conducted with decorum and purpose that would have put many an oak-panelled boardroom to shame. There is tradition here, customs and codes that have come about0 over generations. One of these, understandably, is that wild animals are trouble, unless they can be eaten or used in some other way.
On the other side of the coin however, reality rules that this is now a national park. A million hectares of formerly hunted bush that have been set out as a key part of the massive Limpopo Transfrontier Park where nature will be able to live in peace and elephants can do as they like.
The people of Makandazul are caught in the middle. There is a process underway to resettle them outside the park, but until such time as this happens both they and the wild animals will be victims of the same conflict.