Donkeys, Diesel and Karoo Fracking

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From left: Mens, Blouberg, Rooi Jan and Kraan.

Words and Photographs by Chris Marais

I love it when life occasionally throws up an exquisite irony.

On this occasion, I’m talking about a heated gathering (Frday, November 1) in Graaff-Reinet. And a green donkey cart.

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The prevailing view among Graaff-Reinet’s farmers.

Jules and I first attended a meeting between the Shell Spin Trio (three rather harried individuals who go around the Karoo telling locals why they should embrace fracking) and the farmers of Graaff-Reinet.

The first irony was that the Shell address was held at the local BP station. The Treasure the Karoo Action Group was there as well as a squad from part of the Khoi nation. Shell (Jules’ full report) were told where to get off and the farmers staged a walk-out. Followed by TKAG and the Khoi guys.

Being typical media, I stuck around for the complimentary sarmies with the crusts sliced off. Not bad, I must say. Better than the soggy sausage rolls I remember from my reporting days.

Then Jules and I drove down the road to the factory site of one Andries ‘Perd’ Smit. This jovial 68-year-old man speaks English with the same tonal gravity as Oom Schalk Lourens of Herman Charles Bosman fame did – when he was impersonated by the late Patrick Mynhardt.

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Jules interviewing Andries ‘Perd’ Smit, donkey cart designer of Graaff-Reinet.

He has had a long career with donkeys. And now he makes donkey carts of all shapes and sizes. In fact, one suspects that the donkey cart industry is about to experience a massive boom in the light of rising diesel prices. But that’s just me and my Karoo Looking Glass predictions – which have not always been proven correct.

While Jules was interviewing Perd, I went for a spin on one of his green passenger carts with drivers Jonathan ‘Rooi Jan’ Bantom, Henry ‘Kraan’ van Tonder and donkeys which answer to the names of Mens and Blouberg.

We found a suitable dirt road and I hauled out the camera with the 10-20mil wide-angle lens.

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Jonathan ‘Rooi Jan’ Bantom and his co-driver Henry ‘Kraan’ van Tonder.

I know donkey photography. Every journo who works in the Karoo knows donkey photography. And a wide angle view works well when you simply fall down on the ground in front of a brace of tethered donkeys and let their pricked-up ears break the horizon.

Mens and Blouberg obliged and stuck their ears up for me, mainly because my friend David McNaughton stood somewhere in the background making strange noises that sounded like a couple of angry reptiles squaring off in a snake pit.

We’ll tell the full Perd Smit story (and it’s a gorgeous one, believe me) soon. Suffice it to say that next time my pro-fracking friends chide me for my NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) stance and for the amount of diesel my bakkie chews up every month, I can now answer:

“I’m buying two donkeys. A 4X4 cart from Perd Smit. And I’m taking brand-new driving lessons.”

Just don’t expect me anywhere in a hurry…

PS: If you want a superb donkey cart (and perhaps a couple of lessons, maybe a donkey or two) go to www.smitandco.co.za

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The 130-km stretch between Cradock and Graaff-Reinet is a bit of a mission if you go by donkey cart – but the views are fantastic.

 

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