Vryheid-Piet Retif

Today it’s back to the gravel, for our tractors. The dirt road winds its way through rounded hills and green pastures where cow herds graze peacefully. It feels almost like being back in Europe, and maybe that’s why a small German community sprung up around a Protestant mission settled down here, in the mid 19th century, and never went back. We meet some of the descendants, fourth generation farmers who still speak German and keep in touch with their German relatives, despite being to all purposes and intent South African. Solidarity among community members is very strong. Origjna!ly dairy farmers, many have since turned to forestry, which is quite widespread in South Africa despite being strictly regulated because of water management concerns. Their cooperative is absolutely cost-effective – it markets their timber, cellulose and bark worldwide, and makes coal out of the scraps. Nothing is wasted, and thanks to low-cost labour they get to be competitive abroad. At day’s end we get to Piet Retif, a small town founded in 1883 by the Voortrekkers, Boer settlers who set off from the Cape colony to venture out into the unexplored interior of South Africa, looking for land to farm. It gets its name from their historical leader, Piet Retif, killed by the Zulu who opposed the Boers’ occupation of their territory. This idyllic countryside unfortunately saw more than its fair share of bloodshed.

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