Minnesota Farmer

Free time!
August 24, 2017, 6:06 pm
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa, time

Oh yes, we did have some free time when we were in the Ondini Circuit.  Most of us had a journal to keep up with so we could remember the details of this trip.  Some of the boys spent time with the local  people their age, either talking, playing soccer, or just hanging out.  There was also the evening devotion and talk session that we needed for mental health.


Memories in the journals were not always words, they could be visual.  A bit of music at the same time helped to make us feel at home.

An evening card game was possible, usually in our room since we had the most floor space or outside if the weather was warm enough.  Some times these would evolve into sessions of advice for our college bound young men, or just a series of jokes and laughter.

Oscar, a half-grown cat, would show up looking for some attention, food or just a lap to nap on.

Beer or wine could be a part of the evening.  But as the evening progressed the call of the internet would draw everyone off to make contact with home.

For some reason the internet was only available starting about 9:30 in the evening and it only lasted for a few hours.  Since the entry to our room had both a charging station and the internet hub, that entry would become quite crowded.

Soon it was lights out.  Everyone was off to their room.  There was always something to see and do the next day and we needed some sleep.


Building in the Ondini
August 24, 2017, 10:08 am
Filed under: church, Kwazamohkuhle, Ondini circuit, projects, Shetek Conference, South Africa

Building projects are moving in the Ondini Circuit, but they are not buildings such as I would see in Minnesota.  First of all the climate is different.  The more or less benign climate means less emphasis on heating or cooling.  Most buildings are built of home-made block or brick, with a steel roof.  Some in the area of Bethlehem circuit were using steel for walls, but they were an exception.  Those built in the rondavel (round) style usually had thatched roofs.  The walls are thick and windows only single paned.  Doors are often left open.  There are bars across windows and doors to keep out larger animals and burglars, but no interest at all in keeping out insects.

The visitors housing complex near the Centre is a good example of the methods we should see in the area.  Being a government subsidized project, this one used purchased brick.

Steel framed windows and doors are added as brick or block go up and are later glazed.  Floors are usually concrete.  Floors might be painted, or tile.

Electrical conduit and plumbing are cut into the walls which are later smoothed, skim-coated and painted.IMG_1111

The finished layer before painting is smooth and durable.

This will be a toilet area.  Making straight walls fit in a round structure can make for some interesting rooms.

A smaller rondavel will have poles set up for thatching to cover the roof, a larger rondavel will have a central post.  Rondavels could also have a steel roof much like our grain bins.

There was a block church under construction in the Hoffenital Parish which gave us a view of how these structures were built.  

This picture gives you a bit of detail on how windows are installed.

Narrower churches will have the wooden rafters left open.

Wider churches would have steel beams to hold the roof.

I only saw one church building that had evidence of insulation on the ceiling, the larger building (above) at Phangweni had been insulated, but the insulation had since fallen.

Building standards are much different when you get into town and visit businesses.  The interiors are very similar to what we see in comparable businesses in the states.  The climate does make for changes.  Because temperatures rarely get to freezing in the winter, and do not get much over 80 in the summer, people do not think about heating or cooling.  The months of December and January could see 6 inches of rainfall, but May to August usually see less than an inch if any.  One big difference is the presence of bars on windows and doors.  Every window and door has bars on it.  All houses and most businesses have fences.  Our Kwazamokuhle Centre kept a guard at the gate, as do many businesses.  The living quarters had lockable gates.  Living conditions and buildings are just plain different there.


The Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre is home base for us when we visit the Ondini Circuit.  It is a cluster of buildings and land near Loskop.  As is the case with so many lutheran centers, this area also includes the Phangweni congregation (The largest we know of in the circuit) of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa, a cemetery and a school.  Also in this complex is a home and school for handicapped children.

The Centre was at one time a mission outpost of the Lutheran Church.  It is obvious that it was once quite an operation, today it is but a shadow of its old self.  Cattle and goats roam freely on church land outside the fence, and dogs have drug used diapers out of the garbage pit.

When Apartheid ended the missionaries who ran the center were asked to leave.  They left a huge leadership vacuum that has still not been filled.  On top of it all, no one really knows how much land the church owns here.  Despite it all, they are trying hard to make a go of it.

When we were there this August the gardens sat mostly bare.  There had not been enough rain to keep the garden going, and the hookup to the reservoir that was meant to irrigate the gardens had been drawing too much water off so they had been asked to stop.  Three and a half years of drought have put a strain on all water supplies.  That being said the place was busy.

Ladies are still working making communion wafers and shipping them all over the world.  Seamstresses still are making robes and stoles for the pastors, and bead work and basketry are being done in the workshops and in homes.  These items are for sale on the premises.

The rooms all over the compound are being rented out.  Some small storage areas have been converted to rooms for single African men.  Small houses are available for families to live in.  A library and study rooms for school children occupies most of one building.  Pastor Nkosi is staying in the guest house while his house is being built, two German girls who volunteer at the School for Handicapped children are in the guest house apartment, and then there are the ten of us.

Lazarus, the old Massey tractor was started and a few jobs were done with it, but a leaky fuel pump kept us from working it too hard.

An old tractor powered hammer mill was checked out and deemed ready to make corn meal flour.

The pork project, which was only a dream 3 years ago, is now up and running in the old hog barns.  There are also pigs at the school, and Mxolisi has been hired to manage that project.  He still has a lot to learn, but we must think back to how our grandfathers raised pigs to understand the level they are at.

Pastor Nkosi is hoping to resurrect a chicken rearing operation that was started and then abandoned after a wind storm damaged the buildings.  Because the operation was not guarded, some of the equipment has disappeared, but the bones of the operation are still there.

A new enterprise is in the building stage.  Just west of the centre’s compound a Community Centre and Rental Rondavels are being built.  For now there are just four rondavels, but more are possible if these work out.

There are plans a brewing, and deeds being done to help keep the activities of the circuit going.  The people of the Ondini Circuit are not standing still, they are trying, and we wish them the best.

Snakes Alive
August 23, 2017, 3:13 pm
Filed under: church, friends, Ondini circuit, Shetek Conference, South Africa

The building we live in while staying at the Kwazamokuhle Diaconal Centre has an outside hall that accesses a toilet and a shower room.  One evening after dark, Nomvuyo, a 20 something lady who was staying at the center, discovered a snake in this hallway.  Now being from southwestern Minnesota, where garden variety snakes are harmless, this did not concern Andy or I.  Nomvuyo however was deeply disturbed.  She screamed and demanded that we kill the snake.

This snake was about the size of a new pencil with a striking distance of a bit over an inch.  To us it was no big deal.  Isaac, however, was in the shower room and vaulted so high over the snake we thought he would knock himself out on the door frame.

Not ones to panic, Andy and I were quite amused by the whole proceeding.  Andy got a broom and shooed the snake off into the grass.  Nomvuyo continued to insist we should find and kill the snake.  We told her it was one of God’s creatures and it had a job to do, eat insects, and we were going to let it go and do its job.

Isaac then came in for some teasing.  We told him that if he was to win the girl he could not be afraid of such a puny snake.  Isaac being 18, and we being older, knew he needed this advice for his future encounters with snakes.  You must prove to the girls that you can conquer their enemies, no mater how small.

This was not the end of Nomvuyo’s snake trials.  Two days later the snake, or one of its cousins, showed up by the kitchen door.  Andy again came to the rescue with a broom.  This time the snake did not slither off into the grass, but into a crack in the wall.  We could not bear to tell her the snake was not gone, but hiding inches from where she was standing.

In a land of poisonous snakes, many in South Africa have a healthy fear of snakes.  Me, I’m more afraid of the snake I cannot see, than the ones I can.

Getting a bit of South African culture

Again South Africa surprises.  On my third trip to South Africa we did many things that I have not done before, in particular, we got in on a little bit of South African culture.

On our first tour day we made a stop in Ladysmith for an elementary school music and dance contest.  Something totally new to us.  I really wish I could show you the videos from the contest, but you are going to have to see me in person for that.

What was on display that day were native dances and songs from the history of Southern Africa.  Boys did acrobatic dance moves, and girls sang and danced behind them as drums beat out a rhythm.  Historically correct costumes were directly out of early National Geographic stories.  Performances were both inside and outside of a community center.  We were treated as honored guests and given VIP badges for the contest.  It was all quite impressive.  After viewing these dance routines I can see where many of the dances used during church come from.  Music and dance are part of the African soul.  They cannot sit still while music is being sung.

On Wednesday, August 16 we took a trip into the Drakensberg mountains to see the Drakensberg Boys Choir.  Wow, what a vocal and visual treat.  If you check out their Facebook page you can see pictures from the concert we attended.

The school sits in the Champaign Valley just a few kilometers south and west of the Diaconal Centre at Loskop.  The stunning setting hosts a boys school that is turning out musicians for the world.  Sorry, no pictures here either, but you can check out the website in the link above.

As a pensioner, I got in to the concert for 145 Rand ($11.00), regular admission was 160 Rand ($13.16) a real bargain.  The concert started with Mozart, went through some Japanese folk songs, the Lion King, and the first half ended with a Justin Timberlake song.  The second half was a celebration of African wildlife and a plea for the rhino.  There was constant motion on stage, the music was fantastic, and the boys were charming.  If you are in the area check to see if they are performing.  It’s well worth the time.

The Grand Tour of Ondini Churches

When a delegation only makes a physical connection every three years concerns mount.  The folks in the Ondini had been wondering if we were still active and supportive of their efforts.  To help “show the flag” we headed off on what I called the “Grand Tour.”

Travel conditions, once you get off the main roads, are not that great.  Distance, and the fact that few in this area have cars of their own, mean that actual physical visits from members of the Minnesota partnership, may not happen.  So on August 10 we made the 96 km (60 miles) East to Muden, and the area churches of Mhlangana and Stendal.

Churches in the Ondini are usually made of home-made brick with a steel roof.  Newer ones, like this one could also be made of concrete block.  Muden had lost it’s building several years ago, so this was obviously newer construction.Interior walls are plastered over and painted. The floor is usually concrete, perhaps with tile on it.  It is rare to see a church with a ceiling, usually just open rafters.  Simple benches make do for seating.

This was the newest electrical connection I had seen in any building.  These two outlets and a few lights on the rafters are all the electricity they have here.  The ceiling lights were bare CFL bulbs of the push and twist type, not the screw base we are used to.

The men’s toilet was rudimentary, the women’s at least had  door on it.

Our next church was further into the hills.  Water was short here and barrels sat along the road for people to use in their homes.  The school across the road did have water, and a pump in the lot behind the church was available for use.

This church at Mhlangana was in the start of an expansion.  The home-made blocks were starting to pile up as they began the process of adding a kitchen.

The 14th of August found us heading off to the farthest out churches, those of the Harrismith and Bethlehem Parishes.  Harrismith is 136 km (84 miles) to the northwest, Bethlehem is 68 km (42 miles) further west, and Reitz another 48 km (30 miles) north.  Now this is not our plains area travel, this is travel through the northern reaches of the Drakensberg mountains.  The buttes and mesas reminded me of Arizona and New Mexico.  Thus is high dry country, but the area has several dams and reservoirs that provide water for the area.

Few of the mountains in this area top 2000 meters (6560 feet), but we did go through Van Reenen’s pass which is at 1646 meters (5400 feet).  Fantastic views were everywhere as we wound our way up and over the pass.  Today’s travel was mostly on the N3 and N5 so the roads were good.

The Harrismith church again sits next to a newer school complex.

The interior is nicely done and the benches have backs.  Being in a larger city has helped to keep this church building in good shape.

Signage like this is rare, again a larger city.

I liked the shape of the church at Bethlehem.  Visible in back is the pastors residence.  On the left side of the picture is the church garden.  The last pastor had been a diligent gardener and provided much of his food from this garden.  This church also has a young pastor in it now.

The interior of the Bethlehem church was also interesting.  Several members of this congregation provided us with lunch here.  One older lady was exited to see us again and had pictures of us from the induction ceremony at Emmaus.

Now we turned north to Reitz.  Here the country flattens out and farms are everywhere.

The church at Reitz is the oldest in the Bethlehem parish.  It had originally been the home of the missionary pastor for the parish.  That position later moved to Bethlehem.

The young lay minister in this congregation is the grandson of a former pastor here.  He is working hard to keep his congregation going and hopes to be ordained someday and follow in his grandfather’s footsteps.

These posters on the wall helped us get an understanding of the Diocese and Circuits of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Southern Africa.  Everywhere we went we saw large calendars and posters that showed pictures of bishops and deans of the church.  The churches of the Ondini are very proud to be part of a larger church and do everything they can to help their parishioners understand how the church works.

It was distressing to me to see holes in many church windows.  Vandalism is common and when you have little money and no insurance, getting church windows fixed is not on your list of things to do.  All church compounds are fenced, but unless the building is in a larger city, it is fencing meant only to keep cattle and goats out.

As you can see differences in church buildings is great.  A building in a smaller, poorer area is small and spare, but no less loved by its congregants.  Church buildings in larger towns show more of the European influence with high ceilings and rafters covered.  None of the church buildings have heat.  This area is a relatively benign area, with lows and highs never far from the comfortable stage.  Even in summer the congregants will wear their church uniforms and pastors will be in full regalia.

Well the grand tour is done.  We visited the churches and met the people of congregations of most of the Ondini Circuit this trip.  Our travels are not yet over, there is more to come.

Minnesota farmers visit South African farm

One of the requests we had made on a previous visit was to spend time with a farmer from South Africa.  Some of it is curiosity on our part on how agriculture is done in a larger scale, and the other reason is to get a baseline for what agriculture could be in the Ondini Circuit.

Understand, that this is dryland/irrigated farming on a scale not familiar to us here in southwestern Minnesota.  Everywhere we travel in South Africa agriculture is so different.  Timber, sugar cane and pineapple are foreign to us.  Corn, cattle, hogs, soybeans, barley, wheat and oats we understand.

Our South African farmer host also farms on a different scale than we do.  While many in our area farm with only family labor, he has a considerable labor force employed.  He, his daughter and son-in-law make up the management team.  They have 9 full-time employees and 6 part-time employees.  The operation produces white corn, soybeans for seed, black oats for cover crop, pasture and hay, wheat, pumpkins and squash for seed, and cattle to make use of land which can not otherwise be farmed.

Our host grew up speaking German, his daughters married English speakers, and his grandchildren speak Zulu with their friends and in school.  Most of his employees are native Zulu speakers.

Keeping employees is one of his hardest tasks.  To keep good employees he pays them above normal wages and builds a house for them in town.  Employee loyalty is rewarded by advancement as space opens up or need requires.

The 8 row, row crop planter he had in the shed has all of the latest attachments for no-til planting, fertilizing and spraying under GPS guidance.  While the size of planter was small by our standards, the availability of labor to keep that planter on the move made it just right for his farm.

The nearly new John Deere tractor in his shed complemented the other smaller and older tractors that populated the farm.

The John Deere combine and sprayer also looked familiar to us.

The truck configuration was different to what we use.  We saw very few hopper bottom trucks in our travels, but double trailer and straight truck with a trailer combinations, with steel rather than aluminum frames were everywhere.  Road conditions and local road laws are the most likely reason for this difference.

Land does not sit idle in this area of South Africa.  When one crop is harvested, the planter is already in the field to plant the next.  Irrigated oats keeps cattle graze in peak condition although they do have to add some dried hay to keep the cattle on green grass from getting diarrhea.

Irrigation water for this farm comes from reservoirs sourced in the Drakensberg Mountains.  Our host farmer serves on the local water board to help manage that crucial water.

Corn stalks are also used to graze stock cattle when available.

During the summer, when all of the irrigated land is planted to other crops, native grass pastures are used to keep the cattle growing. A feed lot is also on the farm, but it is presently only used for part of the year.  That is one place he hopes to make more use of.  Right now he only has cattle in the feed lot to meet the Christmas market when local prices are highest.

Most of the cattle he has on hand have bells on them.  Although all cattle must be branded to prove ownership, there is the potential for theft.  The bells are to help the night guards keep track of cattle movements.

One of our South African church hosts was along for the trip, and was very impressed with all of the science that was needed to farm.  That one fact is something that few who do not live on the farm understand.  If we are to raise food for the world we must use every bit of science at our disposal.  Margins on the farm are razor-thin, to make a profit so we can feed our families and pay our employees is not easy in today’s price environment.  That fact is true in South Africa as well as Minnesota.