Tuesday 25 July 2017
Linda (Louis’ wife) picked me up at 0630 and we headed southeast. As we reached the city limits we had to slow to a crawl to get through the thick smoke. Like in Madagascar, the indigenous people here love lighting fires. As a result the farmers every winter have to burn off fire breaks to stop fires spreading which then adds to the thick haze that hangs over the land. Quite a number of coal fired power stations also add to this problem. It was not until about four hours later when we arrived at Wakkerstroom that the sky’s became clear.
I met Louis in Sweden nearly three years ago. I am now taking him up on his “if you are ever in South Africa come and pay us a visit” offer. Louis and his partner Mario own a twenty thousand hectare farm called Oudehoutdraai, trading under the name Hunt Essentials.
Arriving around ten, Louis took me for a drive around the edge of part of the property. It is mainly surrounded by a 3m high fence with electric wires on the inside. The farm is mainly a game park where between April and August hunters come in to hunt plains game. To help sustain the business during the off season they have diversified. A thousand fine soiled sheep have their breeding cycles synchronised so around a hundred lamb every month. They process and pack the lamb and sell direct to the market. There are also 2,100 white rabbits that breed like rabbits, their off spring providing a steady income.
A few hundred hectares are being set up with pivot irrigation to increase the lamb output. They mix their own stock food, most of which is home grown.
Dotted around the farm are illegal villages. Originally a worker was allowed to build one house for his family. In recent years they have added tin shacks and had relations move in.
Stock rustling, illegal grazing, theft, fire lighting and crime in general are a major problem here. The police are corrupt and incompetent when it comes to solving crime amongst their own. We stop and chat to another farmer; as we drive away Louis tells me how recently his fence was cut and bricks were being delivered to his land. He went to investigate to find one of the local police there. The bricks were his and he was going to build a house and as he was a policeman there was apparently nothing the farmer could do about it. The farmer later dumped the bricks and a few days later some detectives turned up wanting to arrest him for stock rustling.
At every access point there is a manned guard-house manned by people from outside the district. Apparently locals can’t be employed for this task as they just let their mates in to steal stuff. On two occasions lately guards have been attacked and seriously injured.
Fences are cut so not only can stock be stolen but the locals also run their illegal stock on the land. We stop at one point as some goats are grazing illegally on the farm. Louis draws his Glock pistol and shoots one. He knows the goats will now be removed. The farm stock is tested disease free, even the 300 plus buffalo are foot and mouth, anthrax and TB free. Stock is quarantined when moving both on and off the farm. Illegal grazing is a big problem as it can bring diseases.
We stop and chat with some military looking guys on the roadside. These guys have been brought in to try and sort out the serious rustling and other crime going on just now.
The local village of Wakkerstroom has around ten thousand residents 600 of which are white. Eighty percent of the rest are unemployed. Unemployment across the country is nearly fifty percent. Crime is out of control. Last year around 52 murders and the same amount of attempted murders were reported each day. The government builds nice little bungalows for these people with power, sewerage and running water. They are given to the occupier.
Schooling and health care are also provided free. Standards of education have had to be lowered so people can pass.
Just now the land is brown and dry. When the summer rains come it will turn emerald green.
We call into the Wakkerstroom Country Inn for a beer. They have recently bought this to accommodate additional hunters.
We stop in and look at the breeding buffalo herd, which Louis is very proud of. Bulls are bred from this herd and when fully grown released to roam far and wide on the farm.
We then head up the hill where large mobs of springbok, black wildebeest and common blesbuck are grazing.
In the evening we head across to one of the lodges where Mario (the other partner) is gathered with a bunch of his mates, who have been here hunting for a few days. We had run into these guys a few times during the day as they cruised around with a chilly bin full of ice and splits to add to their whisky and gin – a bunch of hard case good guys continually giving each other a hard time. A cut drum full of embers was used to cook beef Portuguese style on sewers.
We sit around the dining room table and between the banter they tell me of their passion for this great country. They are concerned that they have begun to accept the murder and crime as just part of life. All have had friends murdered. They support the building of houses for the locals but are frustrated by the corruption that is rife throughout the government and civil service. They explain how game ranches such as this have helped bring back a lot of the game from near extinction. They even have 5 white rhino here they have reintroduced in the last few years.
Lying in bed I feel really lucky to have had the opportunity to come and see this magnificent place.
Wednesday 25 July 2017
It’s another stunning day. I haven’t seen a cloud since we left Madagascar. These are big bold blue skies.
We breakfast in the dining hall adjacent to the house. On the wall there are mounted heads of many of the species running on the land here.
Common reed buck, African bush pig, White springbok, Red hartebeest, Black springbok, Common springbok, Mountain reed buck, Common blesbuck, Black wildebeest.
After breakfast I chat to a few of the staff and enjoy the view in the valley.
Three young springbok wander in and feed on the porch. There is lots going on around here. There are over ninety staff employed.
Soon it is time to leave. Louis and Linda insist that I come back for a longer stay one day. Yes I will definitely be back.
Ron, who used to run a local hotel and now helps out on the farm, drives me back via Pretoria where we pick up a chap from Texas who is also heading out today. Around 7pm I am airborne with around 850 others on an Emirates A380 to Dubai. About six seats from the back in economy I was surprised by the comfort and really impressed by the crew. All looked fit cheerful and were eager to assist. What was even more impressive, on the next leg to Frankfurt the crew was exactly the same.
I sat in the Air France lounge waiting for my Air Baltic flight to Tallinn. The flight was delayed until 8.15pm. The guy in the lounge said get to the gate by 7.45pm. I went early and was told I had been bumped from the flight. I tried to find out what to do next from the staff member “I am new and don’t know what I am doing. Please just go away”. I spent the next two hours trying to find someone from Air Baltic with the help of a chap from the information counter. He couldn’t even fold find a phone number for them.
There was no option but to reserve a 900 euro Lufthansa flight for tomorrow morning and get a hotel for the night.