Welverdiend Village & the Mnisi Community
Quite often I go to the community, especially Welverdiend village, for either my research or leisure. Welverdiend is part of the Mnisi community which is governed by the Mnisi family. The community consists of 12 thousand members, in several villages, which are spread over an area the size of a big Dutch city. Welverdiend lies close to an important tarmac road that leads to Kruger National Park. However, when you drive towards Kruger you do not really notice the village. In addition, access is only possible via a gravel road which basically states where the rural area starts.
In South Africa the differences between the urban and the rural areas are enormous and not only in their appearance (to which I come back below) but also in the way it is governed. In the urban areas it is arranged the same as in the Netherlands; a democratically elected government governs it. In the rural areas though there exists a complex mix between the governmental municipality and Traditional Authorities (TA's) consisting of a Chief and multiple Iduna's which lead the villages and are elected by heritage. Here, the TA's, and consequently the Mnisi family, own the rights over the land and predominantly have the task of land distribution over the community members next to their function as problem shooters for social issues, etc. As a result, community members need to ask the Chief, accompanied by a small fee, for permission to occupy their own piece of land in the community. The municipality addresses all other aspects of governing.
So on those occasions that we go to Welverdiend we either walk (at least 30 min) or drive together with one of the staff members from the Wild Olive Tree Camp. And I can tell you, it is never boring. First of all, and most importantly, because we are white. A normal event of me passing by normally goes like this: the first glance is followed by a recognition of me being a fellow human being. Than they look away and immediately look back afterward. This is the recognition of the color of my skin which is often accompanied by a smile only African people can lighten you with. The small children tend to add a wave as well though.
Several times now we have been to a traditional dance which is normally only attended by black people from the community. As a consequence, we rather stick out for the obvious reasons. This makes the experience even more fun though as many party people, driven by intoxication, want to speak with you which normally includes all sorts of handshakes (which I will definitely introduce in the Netherlands). In addition, several woman were so free to ask us (mind you, these were often one of her first words!) if we want to take her back to the Netherlands as our wives which to me, although flattering, feels more like a survival strategy than a manifestation of their love. This was often followed up by an awkwardly, and distancing, silence by us in which, I believe, we naturally fall back to the hard-to-get style we are used to in the Netherlands. These woman don't give up that easily though and start to counter act against our modest, and comprehensible, rejection by eying us from top to bottom like a cow at auction (but then sexually). Regarding this, I feel inclined to apologies to every lady who ever felt like this due to my behavior. I think that the word “dirty” describes my feelings at that time quite well.
Now I want to end with a serious note though. I think that Welverdiend can be summarized by a few words: children clothes on washing lines, unfinished houses, cows on the gravel roads and lots of really friendly people that make the best of the very little they got. I especially love the little children who are really beautiful. They were particularly touching when we went to a crèche. This crèche wasn't funded by the government because they did not have a proper toilet and fence. A crèche needs those requirements before it can apply for the funds. As a result the crèche lacked money for education, food, and a place to sleep. Makes you think doesn't it?....