District 7230 Group Study Exchange
Report for Week May 6 – May 11
By GSE Team Leader Peter Grunthal
The Team arrived at Johannesburg International Airport to a rousing welcome by Doug Thistlewhite, Andre Brandmuller, and our hosts. The first sight as we emerged from Customs was a banner – “Rotary in Action!” And this has been an action packed week.
It was the end of the day and we went to our hosts for the evening in the Brits area. A relaxed home-cooked meal and chat with our hosts.
Our hosts gave us the first day to recover from jet lag, by taking us through the Pilanesburg Game Reserve. This is a large reserve set among rolling hills in the “bushveld” of the Northwestern Province. We drove through this reserve in two vehicles, and were mesmerized by the many species of animal and birds that we passed. Lila was the first to spot some game, a Kudu grazing behind some brush near the side of the road. Perhaps the most awesome was the family of elephants across a pond from us, and the closest experience was with a lone bull elephant that demolished branches off a tree a few yards from our car. But this should not diminish the sight of the many birds at the “hide,” a structure built out on to a lake, and the zebras, giraffes and warthogs that came down to the water for a drink. Katherine hung out of the SUV window excitedly to catch our friendly elephant in full majesty. Doug Dudgeon and Steve Trollope were our guides. Marj Tunmer, the next GSE Chairperson, also accompanied us. Hadas and Steve, the two eco-lovers, chatted enthusiastically with each other throughout the day.
In the evening we experienced our first “braai”’ or barbeque as it is called in America, at the home of Brits club president Peter Talbot. Steaks and boerewors on the grill, a delicious mildly spiced sausage. Fun-loving and warm hosts and guests.
We got to work, visiting four public schools in areas which are populated mainly by black Africans, consisting of the most basic of classroom facilities. A real problem for these schools is that the lack the most basic of facilities, usually having only one water faucet for the entire facility, and having unusable or non-existent toilet facilities. The Brits club is providing toilets to improve sanitation conditions and reduce health problems. It has also provided upgrades to one of the school buildings, including bars on the windows and doors, so that when computers and other equipment are provided by Rotary, they will be secure. Theft is rampant in this area, because people will steal anything to sell and raise some money.
The pictures attached will show some of these projects, and compare them to a school in a “white” area, which started with the same publicly provided buildings for the bare classrooms, but has been enormously upgraded by parent and Rotary provided funds and manpower.
Transfer to Rustenburg Kloof Rotary Club, President Francois Pienaar presiding over dinner that evening, and the first 7230 presentation.
A day of remarkable learning and insight. The morning at Impala Platinum Mine, where we togged up in overalls, and descended with John Quinton, Mine Manager, to a depth of 380 meters underground. We encountered the rattling cage as it descended into the mineshaft, the enormity of the engineering effort to create the tunnels that pervade the ore reefs, the mined out stopes, and the penetration of the unmined rock face. As we approached the face we worked our way through ever narrowing tunnels, with only the lamps from the miners’ helmets lighting the way. We clambered over broken ore that had not yet been hauled to the surface, wading through collecting water from the water driven drills, and actually handling the drills themselves, that are used to make holes for explosives that then blast out the rock.
We also learned about mining operations, the history and scope of the exploitation of the platinum reefs in the entire area, and the human resource management issues, including the HIV-Aids education process. The business impact and element of human tragedy from Aids is a major driver of the health related projects. We also covered the extensive environmental protection and restoration efforts.
Ellen had the added bonus that the Mine’s Hospital Administrator joined us for lunch, and answered Ellen’s many questions.
We gained tremendous insight into the human effort involved in the extraction of minerals from mother earth.
In the afternoon we encountered an enormous feat of engineering and metallurgy. We were taken through the massive Anglo-Platinum smelter, the operation of extracting the platinum from the ore mined at Impala. Again the enormity and complexity of the enterprise impressed us as no textbook can.
Then a stop at the Lighthouse project, a Rotary assisted orphanage for children of HIV-Aids infected mothers. Our team held the babies in their arms; a moving experience after which one’s feeling for this national tragedy can never be the same.
Dinner at the home of Cheryl and Richard Philips. Bobotie, melktert and koeksusters, national specialties, were on the menu. Hospitable and enjoyable company!
The team had a lazy day of the sheerest luxury, walking over and through Sun City and the Palace of the Lost City. This is the Las Vegas of South Africa, and they have done a very impressive job. Cheryl Philips took us around, and Francois accompanied us.
We transferred to Pretoria, with Bertie LeRoux of the Pretoria Hatfield Club picking up the next several days of coordination in Pretoria. He took us straight to a rugby game at the famous Loftus Versfeldt Rugby Stadium, where the local Blue Bulls put the Luiperds (Leopards from the Northwest District) to bed! A fast game with many exciting moments.
In the evening we were driven quite a long way to the Hammanskraal area, a former tribal “homeland,” where a casino and entertainment complex had been built. We were treated to dinner and a Las Vegas type revue. This was a music and dance variety show, with several Broadway and Country clips. We finished up in the huge games room with several entertaining moments. Kirk demonstrated his enormous skill on the racetrack simulators and air hockey table!
We had a briefing on the intensive vocational program that has been arranged for the upcoming week in Pretoria, and then surveyed the largest mall in the Southern Hemisphere – Menlyn Mall. This was followed by a braai at the home of long-time Rotarian Memos Kavallineas, where we enjoyed a variety of fish, including Snoek, the national fish, and two other tasty fish imported from Namibia. We returned for the evening with our hosts.
A sad moment of South African reality – as we returned to our host’s home we got a message that Peter Freeman, President of the Pretoria Hatfield Club, who had joined us for the rugby game, and for the braai, was held up by robbers as he entered his garage after the braai. He had both his cars stolen from him at gunpoint, and several items taken from him, his wife Diana, and their home. Fortunately they were not physically injured. We have been told by several of our hosts that theft is an ever-present risk. Virtually all the “white” homes that we have driven by have walls and barbed wire or railings to keep intruders out.
The team is well and having fun. We are absorbing large amounts of information, and seeing industrial, social and natural sights that are exceeding our expectations.
The hospitality is warm and generous. We are a happy troupe!
We send our best wishes to District 7230!