By Julienne du Toit
Pictures by Chris Marais
The first sitting of the Karoo Parliament last year in Philipstown caused such suspicion among Government authorities that they sent agents from the National Intelligence Agency to sit among delegates.
By the afternoon, having sat on hard chairs and listened carefully to talks on the hardiness of Tankwa goats, the Karoo Eisteddfod, solar power in De Aar, riverine rabbit conservation and ways to mentor emerging farmers, the spooks decided the attendees were mostly harmless and seemed to have no intention of creating a breakaway Republic of Karoo.
So they quietly packed up and went back to Pretoria.
There was no sign of them at the Second Sitting of the Karoo Parliament, held in Cradock last week (5 November 2014).
They missed out on a great gathering organised by the Karoo Development Foundation and strongly supported by Cradock locals.
The keynote speaker, Professor Tim Noakes, filled Cradock’s Vusubuntu hall with people who came to hear about nutrition, the reasons why obesity and diabetes levels have soared since 1980, and the health benefits of ditching sugar and carbohydrates in favour of butter, eggs and afval (organ meat).
The Parliament drew together municipal officials from the arid lands all over the country, plus chefs, academics, guest house owners, airport fundi’s, waste recyclers, school teachers and tourism experts.
While the First Parliament was all about sharing success stories, this Parliament rolled up its sleeves, split into working groups (divided into themes of Tourism, Wellness and Economy) and brainstormed ways forward.
One of the liveliest discussions came from the cooks, chefs and foodies who are behind an initiative to strengthen the Karoo culinary food experience and create routes linking them.
Building airports in the Karoo seems an unusual idea, but there are intriguing initiatives happening in Beaufort West, Somerset East and Graaff-Reinet. Airports are powerful tourism enablers and job creators, especially now that solar power can help power lights and other equipment on far flung airstrips.
Waste recyclers in various small towns shared their experiences and difficulties. Recycling offers money to underemployed people and beautifies towns, but it is difficult to make financially viable because of transport costs – always a factor in the far flung towns of the Karoo. But networking at the Parliament could lead to collaboration on that front.
Delegates heard about efforts to uplift and educate children with foetal alcohol syndrome (and about projects to reduce the numbers affected by this terrible and preventable disease); job creation around Laingsburg on a community-based jackal-proof fencing initiative; potential tourism routes that cross provincial borders, and the celebration of Karoo writer and human rights activist Olive Schreiner.
After a screening of the fracking documentary Unearthed, the KDF facilitated a discussion on possible shale gas exploitation in the Karoo.
Jonathan Deal of Treasure the Karoo Action Group (TKAG) explained how the economic case for fracking (the only level at which the South African government was truly engaging on shale gas exploitation) was steadily weakening.
Dr Stefan Cramer, a German hydrogeologist with a special interest in Karoo dolerite formations, gave a presentation entitled ‘Six reasons why fracking in the Karoo will not happen – if reason prevails’.
And Daantjie Japhta, the head of the Inqua Nation (part of the Khoi, or First People of South Africa), enumerated the many reasons why the Khoi opposed fracking in the Karoo.
The NIA spooks also missed out on the Karoo Expo, which showcased local produce like mohair duvets, sheep’s milk cheese and Orange River wines.
In conclusion, Professor Doreen Atkinson of the KDF said: “With each consultative event hosted by the KDF, the Karoo region comes closer to that amazing goal: Building collaboration and synergies across the provincial boundaries of the Karoo.
“We are delighted by the outcomes of the Second Karoo Parliament – and there is already excitement about the Third Parliament, so watch this space!”
KDF Chairman Professor Johann Kirsten added: “The 2nd sitting of the Karoo Parliament again highlighted the amazing energy amongst the people of the Karoo.
“This energy and positivism needs to be channelled and directed to common solutions, strong collaboration and networking to protect the beauty and assets of the Karoo and thereby improve the livelihoods of its many impoverished people.
“We hope that the ideas generated at this meeting will be taken up by the municipalities and the organisations working in the Karoo.
“I was surprised by the overwhelmingly vote of confidence expressed by the ‘members of parliament’ in favour of the 3rd sitting. Maybe we have created a new institution here!”