Magic box and desert blooms

Gugu Sibiya

Gugu Sibiya

When I agree to accompany an SABC party to the sleepy town of Heuningsvlei in the Northern Cape, to switch on one of their transmitters, little do I know what I am letting myself into.

We fly to Kimberley and drive to Kuruman.

I notice the lack of mountains or hillocks as the Northern Cape presents a flat land that is uncannily similar to that of Holland. Dry as it is, there is no shortage of goats and donkeys.

You occasionally see herds of cattle taking refuge from the scorching sun under the trees. Coming from Johannesburg, I am intoxicated by the abundance of space and fresh air.

The idea that I am standing in the Kalahari desert is already giving me goose bumps. We drive through a lot of dry rivulets in the drought-ravaged province but I am pleasantly surprised to catch the majestic Vaal River snaking its way to the horizon!

The Kalahari towns are laid-back. Everyone, including the Afrikaners, greets you like a friend. Come night time, party animals gather at the local "in place".

People are genuinely happy to mingle with strangers from Joburg. Reservoirs of knowledge, they proudly give you survival lessons on the fringes of a desert.

At dawn, Papa Mbongo, Madala Thepa and myself start on our way to Heuningsvlei for the function. Within a short time, it becomes clear that the tarred road ends at the mines and we face a long road of sand-laden gravel. We drive over a huge lizard that does not seem at all disturbed.

We think we are lost until we run into the Lekgetho family who appear from nowhere on their donkey cart. They look at us without saying a word. Even the two children taking a nap under the seat come out of their shade to stare at these strangers.

I address Lekgetho in Setswana and he does not say a word. I repeat my question in English and then Afrikaans. Suddenly he responds and gives precise directions. There is no doubt that this family is poor but the dignity they possess is priceless.

This is flat land, peppered by farmsteads. Seeing another human being is a luxury .

The monotony of the journey is broken when we drive into a village. Today they are having a soccer tournament and it's obvious this is a serious event where the foundation for many a marriage and pregnancy is laid. Directions confirmed, we take off.

Two and half hours into the drive, we offer the village beauty a lift. It turns out to be a blessing in disguise as she simplifies what could have been the worst riddle of our trip.

As we get to Heuningsvlei, the whole village is there. Everybody wants to rub shoulders with SABC celebrities although these people don't enjoy Motsweding FM.

Today, Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri is going to switch on the transmitter that will enable the Batswana people in the area to watch TV for the first time.

I am appalled and ashamed to hear them excitedly say they will finally see President Thabo Mbeki.

I sit up as King Bareki tongue-lashes the local council for inviting him only three days before the event . He says he set the transmitter ball rolling and now some people see fit to try and sideline him.

He raises pertinent facts about the challenges facing his community. This is a young, smart, clued-up king who really cares for his people.

With the transmitter switched on and three TVs blaring at the same time, it is a dream come true for the Heuningsvlei folk. Some elderly people are crying because they say they could have died before seeing the magic box.

The festivities kick off with the Batswana dancers. These are simple folk with truckloads of values. The boys, though in their teens, are wearing trousers that don't even have zips. Some are so faded and so patched it's like a design. This does not stop them from delivering a world-class performance.

I am sad to leave as the SABC roadshow begins. I want to see how certain celebs handle the fact that they are unknown in this part of the world.

My story takes a frightening turn. Thirty minutes into our trip, our bus overturns and rolls.

Premier Dipuo Peters finds us moaning from pain as she almost whizzes past in her BMW 4x4.

She is embarrassed to her toes. Thankfully, because of her dark hue, we don't see the blush that covers her to the roots of her annoying, outdated hairstyle. She murmurs her sympathy. If she's serious, she should fix the road.