District 7230 Group Study Exchange

Final Report


By GSE Team Leader Peter Grunthal



Note taking was a little shaky at times. Therefore a few of the “facts” in this report may be a little wide of the mark, but the essence is the absolute truth.



May 27


After the sweeping mountains and valleys of Haenertsburg and Magoeba’s Kloof, we traveled to Pietersburg where we were met with warmth and hospitality at the beautiful Rotary Club facilities, where more Rotary Banners were flown than at any other place we visited, and where we were pleased to present our own Mount Kisco banner!


Our coordinator in Pietersburg was Ian McGlashen, who with his wife Blondie also hosted Peter. Tini Eckstein, a past GSE Team Leader, and his wife Vida, hosted Kirk, and two days later, with Norman Kirk, drove us all the way to Botswana.


May 28


We walked the Pietersburg Game Reserve. It is difficult to describe the tingling feeling when you walk within 75 yards of three rhinos, your guide testing the winds repeatedly with handfuls of powdery sand, to ensure that we were downwind of the huge wild beasts! Our walk lasted about 3 hours, examining the flora and fauna, exercising our muscles on an excellent hike, and taking in the African bushveld.


On the way back to our hosts we stopped at the Rotary Club – sponsored Riding School for Disabled Children and Adults, where physical exercise, the thrill of riding horses, and the return of self esteem are all accomplished.


This was followed by a pleasant evening with our hosts.


May 29


Norman and Tini drove us all the way on a long but pleasant drive to Selebi-Phikwe in Botswana, a mining town that appeared from the middle of the African bush after hours of driving through natural country. It was very exciting crossing into Botswana – as Peter said to the joint meeting of the Selebi-Phikwe and Francistown Rotarians – many Americans don’t know where Africa is, never mind Botswana – and we loved the T Shirts that Sandra Hughes presented to us – “Where on Earth is Selebi-Phikwe” – we will wear them with pride and the fondest of memories! This was truly deepest Africa for us.


But we arrived at an oasis in this desert, the home and well stocked, humorously decorated bar/family room of Bob and Chrisna Avenell, and a fun-loving group headed by Sandra, who coordinated an excellent two days for us.


Our hosts were Rose and Danny Smith (for Peter), Phil and Tiny Kerswell (Katherine), Shashi and Sindhu Kumar (Kirk), and Kate and Peter Mattsape (Lila, Ellen, Hadas)


We visited the Tshipidi Mmadinare Pre-school, a Rotary funded project where the aged and devoted Mr. Ndlovu took us around, describing with great pride what had been built over several years. A most heartwarming sanctuary and school for the area’s poorest young children, nearly half orphaned by HIV/aids taking their parents.


We were then honored to be presented to the tribal chief of Mmadinare, whom I expected to be wearing tribal dress and receive us in tribal tradition. But to my surprise he was a western dressed, bespectacled, academic looking man of great dignity and warmth, seated behind a western style desk complete with two telephones and all the accoutrements of a capitalist executive! We enjoyed our short visit!


Then we headed to some traditional tribal huts in the poorer part of town, where Sandra had us visit a family, totally on a “drop-in” basis, where no tourist had gone before. We stepped inside the huts used as kitchen, living quarters, etc. We were engulfed in the intimacy of unexpurgated views of this way of life.


May 30


We visited and descended into the BCL Industries copper and nickel mine at Selebi, a few k’s outside the town, and the raison d’etre for its existence. Sectional Engineer Kevin Jones took us down, and we were joined by three other miners and engineers for a truly fascinating tour in the bowels of the earth. First by cage down the main shaft to a depth of 250 meters, then down a steep walk and steps to a “subway train” to a level of 450 meters below ground level. We then walked down various tunnels for what seemed a long way past many mined out areas to a working surface at 650 meters (approximately 2000 feet below the surface.)


I was deeply impressed (no pun intended) by the magnitude of the machinery, the engineering, the cables and pipes to carry air, electricity, diesel fuel, communications, and god knows what else to the underground work areas, and the water back to the surface, the underground rock-crusher, the conveyor belt for ore, the dams for water containment, the underground garage and the huge haulage trucks, that all make up this mining miracle. I will never think the same way about copper wire again!


Our engineering and mining friends explained to us the intricacies or ore seams, how they run, and how one exploits them. An excellent learning experience, and a better ride than Disneyland!


The day ended on the east side of the Selebi-Phikwe dam, a huge hydro project, with drinks at sunset and the braai to beat all braais (sorry, South Africa). We were joined by all our hosts and many friends, including the Rotarians who came through for PETS and POETS training the next day. Nobody can imagine how beautiful a sunset it was, over the dam, the large islands silhouetted against the western sky.


It was reported to me that some of our team members and hosts were caught dancing in the bush after the braai ended, but details were never fully disclosed!


June 1 – 2


Bob and Molly Doeser and Sandra Hughes drove us all the way to Elisras, back in South Africa, where Graham Skipley and Pieter Marx picked us up for the journey to Warmbaths. Our host and coordinator here was our old friend Joan Griessel, who had so graciously hosted us at Sabi Sands.


We were booked into the Aventura Hot Mineral Springs resort, where we relaxed for a couple of days, enjoying the mineral pools. We went horseback riding into the Aventura Game Park, riding right by a huge python, two large rhinos, several antelopes, zebra, giraffes and warthogs. What a way to enjoy the animals (and a whiff of danger!)


We attended a black tie induction dinner, with several clubs in attendance, the mayor and his wife present, the new President Graham Shipley being inducted, MC Pieter telling us several “Blondie” jokes, and community service awards being made to about five people who had given of themselves to the community. A grand affair.


June 3


We visited the Spa Park Primary School, where Principal (and Rotarian) John Adams welcomed us. After a special assembly and introductions, our team went into classrooms where they taught for a few minutes and were then mobbed by the children with questions and enthusiasm! It was an excellent school experience for the team, because it involved participation and interaction.


We then visited Huis Talje – House of the Teardrop of God – an institution developed by Joan for severely physically and mentally handicapped children, abandoned by their parents and the world, found in the streets or even rubbish dumps, disabled, neglected, abused. Visiting with, talking to, and touching these unfortunate young children was a heartrending experience.


June 4


After a final luxurious morning at Aventura, we joined Joan at her home for lunch before departing. She has the most beautiful and comfortable home filled with fascinating African works of art, and surrounded by a garden filled with indigenous plants such as cycads and aloes, all in a landscape as beautiful as any botanical gardens, and a sight to behold!


And so, with George Kalell in the driver’s seat, to our last stop, Middelburg.


June 5


At last we went to a “black township.” This vast area adjoining the old “first world” Middelburg, with around 35,000 people, houses more than 200.000 black Africans, and is called Mhluzi. We visited every type of house, from the squalid, poverty stricken “informal” or squatter shack, with no electricity, water or toilets, to the “semi-formal” housing, not quite as rough, but no stars yet, but having electricity, an outside faucet, and one toilet for every four houses. Then to the formal housing, some smaller than others, with basic facilities provided. We took our time, were shown the houses on a “drop-in basis, unexpurgated, and we came to grips with the realities of third world housing in Southern Africa.


We also visited a “shebeen” or tavern, serving African Beer (bread, malt, sugar, water and some yeast), from a shack, within what I can only call an “informal” yard, and merrymaking was well under way by 11:00a.m. as the patrons attempted to drag our team into some dancing. This one was not for us.


We saw the fruit and vegetable “market” by the roadside, that was pitiful by comparison to the standards that we know, and a barber shop consisting of four poles, a cover, and battery driven hair-clippers!


We saw the shopping centre, a bakery where the baking was done, but not too many loaves around for 200,000 people, a butcher, again with only a limited supply.


Next visit was the highlight of our day, and ranks among the highlights of our entire visit, our mission to the Sangomas, or tribal herbalist, or perhaps, stated less kindly, the witchdoctor. We approached her reception room clapping and chanting rhythmically, to alert her to our arrival, and to call the spirits of our ancestors to be with us. Behind one of the “formal houses” were the two rooms, one where we called on the spirits, and the second a pharmacy filled with her herbal remedies. The first room is carpeted with traditional mat reeds, and the walls hung with African theme “rugs.” The room is perhaps 12 feet by 10, and as we entered, the doctor was in full traditional dress, on her knees and bowed down in a position of respect and humility. Lined up in a straight line on her left, in similar dress and posture, were her three students, there to learn her craft and pharmacy.


In the middle of the floor, on the mat reeds, was a space for throwing “the bones” and around this space were a variety of herbs and roots. It was a most colorful affair, with the rich reds of the tribal dress mingling with all the natural colors of the artifacts and medicines.


We knelt down on the opposite side of the mat, and the doctor then called upon the spirits of the ancestors, I don’t know whether it was hers or ours. Then she had a team member throw the “bones” from a dried vegetable shell, and read the team’s future as told by the ancestors, a good and lucky future!


We were then free to ask questions, and learned about the herbs, roots, students, and so forth.


I gazed at this woman and liked what I saw. She has a warm, friendly, kindly motherly, gracious and beautiful face. In the absence of a western doctor I would have no trouble going to her for help. I had no doubt I would get it!


She then took us into her crowded little pharmacy, where she has an amazing collection of herbs collected from the veld and forests both near and far. And I believe they would help a large variety of ailments!


Next we went outside to watch some spiritual dancing to the rhythm of drums beating a persistent call for ancestors to join us and enter into the dancers. It was a truly captivating “happening.”


While we watched the dancing, our team members went into the Sangomas for a personal throwing of the bones and foretelling of the future, individually, privately, and intensely. But that’s another story!


We finished at “Something-from-Nothing,” an entrepreneurial project started by a black woman to create jobs in the township, and produce attractive artifacts from scrap material, anything that can be scrounged from the metal or other scraps that local industries would otherwise throw away. We all hoped this enterprise will bear fruit, and bought something to support it, and to take away.


We finished our day with our final team presentation at a delicious buffet/dinner of the four area Rotary Clubs, at the Middleburg Hoerskool, where our old friend and District 9250 GSE team member Johan Stronkhorst (“Stronkie”) rules. Our dinner was in the school training restaurant, where we were all well fed and well lubricated! Andre Brandmuller (GSE District Chairman) presided in his modest and dignified fashion, and George Kalell, 9250 Team Leader) made an excellent little presentation in support of the GSE program, of which he is a champion. We came away, happily bearing four more banners each!


June 6


The fun never ended! On this, our last day, George took us to the huge farm of Hennie Erichsen, where we rode the massive combine harvesters as they collected corn and processed the cobs at an astonishing rate. These massive machines waded through about 8 rows of corn at a time, picking the cobs off the stalks, removing the grains from the cobs, and delivering them into huge trucks at the rate of close on a hundred acres in a 10 hour day if I got that right! As we chatted after the ride with Hennie, his son Werner, and his nephew Olaf, the world grew smaller as we got to know Hennie. He, too, had been a GSE team member several years ago! I remember thinking, as we stood on 4500 acres of land, not a building between us and the horizon in any direction, the cold wind tugging at our jackets, the combines moving through the mealies, the conversation meaningful and bringing worlds together, that these men are the real men.


From there we went to see the Kalell Mills, learning the process by which the grain from the harvest is cleaned, milled and prepared for market. We came to understand the opportunities and pitfalls that the world commodities markets present to the agricultural community as grain prices change from hour to hour. We learned how the linkage of grain prices to the Chicago Commodities market makes the foreign exchange fluctuations an ever-present opportunity and hazard for the farmers and the millers. It takes not only a lot of muscle, but a sound mind and a strong stomach!


Last stop, the Middelburg Rotary Project, an amazing 8 million Rand (US$ 1 million) purchase of a facility which will house 240 orphans of all races, which means primarily black, large numbers orphaned by HIV/aids. This was funded, under Rotary initiative, by grants from local mining companies. Ongoing annual costs, will be covered to a large extent by government funding for the basics, and for all “extras” by Rotary contributions and other donations, We learned of “The Great Train Race,” an annual event by which the area Rotary Clubs raise large amounts of money for their projects. Competitors racing on foot against a steam train for 32K, from Witbank to Middelburg, and they tell me it’s a close race! A grand event! A colossal project!


We finished with a team debriefing around George’s dining room table, a fine “pootjie” lunch prepared for us by that fine chef and constant contributor Andre Brandmuller, and then sadly we drove away.