Two weeks ago, we spent a week in Verlorenkloof, in the province of Mpumalanga. I’ll talk about our experience there in a separate post… but I really wanted to write about what I discovered on the R36… which is a main road – a national road – that connects the city of Lydenberg with the N4 highway. This isn’t some random, rural road used only occasionally by farmers… this is an artery road. Enormous mining trucks travel on this road. Visitors (like us) on their way to Dullstroom, Hoedspruit or the Long Tom Pass travel this road. Farmers and farm workers travel this road on a daily basis.
And – I have seen potholes on South African roads before – but I have never seen an artery road… which connects an important highway to a city… so poorly neglected and in such a state of disrepair. If I were the premier of Mpumalanga – I would be deeply embarrassed.
But this post isn’t just about ranting. Because my rant will change nothing. The people who live in that community… the people who are forced to navigate the
potholes craters on that road every day… have been ranting for many, many years. All you have to do is to google “R36 Lydenberg potholes” to understand how dire the situation is… and how nothing has been done to remedy the situation.
This post is about what (or rather who) I found on the R36, just two weeks ago.
The kids and I were driving back to Verlorenkloof from Lydenberg after a visit to the Gustav Klingbiel Museum. As always, there was a steady stream of trucks and vehicles, navigating what’s left of the road. And in the distance, amidst all the dust churned up by the trucks… I could see two women… who appeared to be busy with something in the centre of the road.
I could see that there was an old Toyota parked on the gravel next to the road and my first thought was that they had hit a pothole and damaged their car… so I pulled over to see whether I could help.
And what I saw… both infuriated me and moved me.
Dorothy Sihlangu and Maria Thokwane (who had just finished their shift on a nearby farm) had parked their car next to some of the worst potholes and… in the blazing heat of the sun… were shovelling sand and rocks (from the embankment next to the road) into a big white bucket… hauling the contents to the pothole in the centre of the road… and filling the potholes themselves.
Yes… they knew that their hard work amounted to nothing more than a temporary fix. Yes, they knew that the next rainfall would probably wash most of the sand away. But, they had to do something. They couldn’t just sit around… waiting for the local government to repair the road. So they decided to take matters into their own hands.
“This is a very dangerous road” Dorothy explained, “We have to drive on this road every day because we work here. We’ve seen many accidents and the car has been damaged before. So we decided that we had to try and repair it ourselves”.
The women travel to work (at Wilgekraal Farm in Badfontein) with the bucket and a shovel stowed in the boot of the car. After a full day’s work, this is what they do.
As Dorothy was explaining all of this to me, two more mining trucks drove past… caking us all in a layer of red dust. One of the truck drivers waved at us… another whistled.
On the one hand, I was so deeply inspired by these two DO’er women… who are such an incredible example to me of proactive folk who choose to DO something – instead of just whinge incessantly. Even if their efforts are small and temporary. Even if it’s the tiniest baby step towards change… I was deeply moved by their actions and commitment.
On the other hand, I was furious. Why is a national road in this appalling condition?? Why is the local government (and, indeed, the rich mining companies whose trucks use this road so frequently) all sitting around with their fingers up their bums, making their bullshit excuses while local women are attempting to fill the holes with rocks and soil from the side of the road???
So… I did the only thing that I could think of. I took photos… and I decided to share their story. And I’ll send these pictures off to newspapers and travel magazines… and hopefully cause some (deserved!!) embarrassment to the Powers-that-Be who could fix this problem… but won’t.
But mostly, I think… I just wanted to honour these amazing women. Our world desperately needs more people like Dorothy Sihlangu and Maria Thokwane… the DO’ers, the fixers, the initiators, the problem-solvers… the people who are willing to take what they have (even if only a plastic bucket and a single shovel) – and DO something… to contribute towards the Greater Good in some way.
I’m so tired of greedy, corrupt politicians… but so inspired by the Dorothy’s and Maria’s of this world. They are our gems. They are where our hope lies. They are the people who should be supported, promoted and resourced. Want to see positive change in the world? It’s not going to come from governments and wealthy corporations (or mining companies).
It’ll come from the everyday, grassroots folk… people who don’t just talk – they DO.
Viva Dorothy! Viva Maria!
Here’s the photos: