Small Towns

On our recent roadtrip to Joburg and back, we went the "back roads".  Cape Town to Calvinia, then up to Britstown where we joined the road to Kimberley - from there to Joburg, and back the same route.  It was a lovely quiet road, with things to see on the way and no excessive trucks, roadworks or other kak en drama.

We passed through many small towns on the route, some were lovely, and some were simply dodgy.

One of the dodgiest was Britstown (coming in a close second behind Wolmaransstad).  Driving in on the "back road", you turn left to head to Kimberley, and fuel is to be found on your way out at the end of town.  We stopped there to top up, and were immediately accosted by beggards old and young.  They were insistant beggars, made the stop very unpleasant.

On our way back, we headed past our turnoff to the other side of town and found a much nicer, cleaner and friendlier fuel place - but again, beggars everywhere, insistent and pushy.

While filling the tank I got chatting to the young man wielding the nozzle about life in his little town.  About water, weather, how crime is down and he doesn't want any city folk moving in to spoil that.  And about the beggars.  He told me that they are doing road upgrades in the area at the moment, but that once these were done, they would be back to very high unemployment rates once more.  These guys were just the tip of the iceberg.

I cannot stop thinking about that conversation.

How does one go about fixing unemployement, hopelessness and lack of viable future for the residents of a small town isolated in the middle of a crossroads to nowhere?  There are only so many employment opportunities to go around - the garage, the shop, the school - that's about it.

And yet the homes are in need of repair and painting.  The roads could do with fixing in the "suburbs" that we turned through to get back to our exit route.  They don't have the water problems of the Cape despite being in an arid environment - supply and demand is balanced by the relatively limited population.  They're the middle stop on a long road, whether you're heading North, South, East, West or somewhere inbetween.  They're the only town for the nearby farming communities.  They have a boutique accommodation farm a few km out of town.  They have all the vastness and stillness of the beautiful Karoo region.

Surely there should be some encouragement to make the most of these?

Is it a case of no-one knows where to begin?  No entrepreneurial spirit that ferrets out opportunities for service and income?  Laziness - easier to beg than to work?  Or is it that you have to have money to make money, and the unemployed have too little to even start?

So I went looking online for answers as to what was being done. 

And found the usual.  A conference where institutions and charities had gathered to discuss, to make bullet points, to do presentations - and nowhere in all their reports from 2016 could I find a single practical resolution as to what precisely they were going to do.  Not a single indication as to one concrete step that was given to one of those institutions or charities to go out and DO.

Instead they sat around and talked about it.

And those communities are still living with excatly the same problems.

I would love to have the means, the time and the experience to go gently into a place like Britstown, sit with and listen to its residents and hear what is right, and what is wrong about their town.  To find and inspire people who can find and inspire other people, and turn it from a dodgy, begger-ridden hole to the kind of place its people can be proud of.  Not to change its inborn small-town character, but simply to give it hope.