District 7230 Group Study Exchange

Report for Week May 19 – May 27


By GSE Team Leader Peter Grunthal





May 19


After traveling from Pretoria to Swaziland on May 18, we settled into the town of Manzini, where AG Kobla Quashie coordinated a full and rich program for us, after sating our hunger with a plateful of King Prawns from Mocambique that would make a Maine lobster nervous, and several other delicacies!


Our hosts were all welcoming, warm and interesting. Peter had the pleasure of staying with Harry and Mary Nxumalo, and Harry opened his life, his and Mary’s history, and his views to Peter. Leonard and Kezi Dlamini took care of Ellen, ands her regret was that she could not spend more time with them. Kirk stayed with Sibolelo and (Dr.) Tembo Masina, and enjoyed his stay with this welcoming couple, Hadas stayed with Nomsa Mlangeni, a warm and talented person with whom Hadas really wanted to spend more time and Katherine and Lila stayed with Martin Allison, a bachelor who was delighted to have his guests in his home!


Manzini is settled in the hills of this “mountain Kingdom,” with beautiful views of mountains and valleys wherever you go. We started in the American Embassy where the Public Relations officer gave us some insights into the challenges that this little Kingdom faces, and how the US is trying to give assistance. After that we spent time Father Larry McDonnell, being shown the Manzini Rotary projects, which emphasize life skills and vocational skills development. This took in two sites, where we saw both the classroom and workshop environment. Most impressive. Then he took us to an open market where native crafts attracted our close attention and our money!


That evening we joined the Manzini Rotary Club, in the presence of the American deputy Ambassador and his wife, and the Mayor of Manzini. It was a grand evening, but I have to admit that the GSE team showed its weakness when we were asked to sing a national song, and we completely ruined “America the Beautiful” in the presence of His Excellency!


May 20


We were escorted by Representative Mfomfo Nkhambule, a King-appointed Member of Parliament, who was open, honest, amusing, controversial, and generous with his time. He took us to Parliament, where he escorted us to the chambers of the Assembly and the Senate, and explained the processes by which Swaziland is governed. From there he took us to a Rotary project, a pre-school, where it is planned to start educating children at a young age, so that will ultimately become contributing members of society. After an excellent lunch of traditional Swazi food at a modern restaurant in the mountains, we went to a massive dolomite rock, which I believe is known as a dolomite intrusion. This is the second largest of this type in the Southern Hemisphere, a massive mountain –like rock, and the team, full of energy after too long without exercise, went charging half-way up the rock, looking down on yet another beautiful view. Then we went to the “Swazi Candles” factory, where the most beautiful candles are manufactured and sold. And of course, we contributed to the Swazi GNP!


An excellent day!


May 21


We traveled to Nelspruit, where Joan Schormann took over coordination, very ably, and with a flexibility that we appreciated. First stop was a traditional indigenous tribal compound with several huts and local people dressed in traditional garb. We were shown over the whole place, and treated to a feast of ethnic singing and dancing. One dancing warrior noticeably had his eyes on Katherine, and I thought he would pick her up and carry her away. Ellen received two marriage proposals, and Hadas received one very shy one!


In Nelspruit Peter and Ellen stayed with Heila and Henk Jooste. A terrific match of common vocations, Kirk with A P van Schalkwyk, Lila with Peter Emery, and Katherine and Hadas with Joan herself, at her beautiful farm homestead in the most lush gardens.


May 22


We had an enjoyable and actually hard-working morning at the Duberine school at Joan’s farm, where we actually dug holes in the hard ground and planted goal posts for the soccer field. As Kirk and Peter swung the pickaxe and shoveled away, I believe we inspired a couple of the schoolboys to join in with vigor and enthusiasm, because the dream of a soccer field was coming true. Meantime, Hadas joined the women stirring the porridge in the huge cauldron to feed the children, and she was so enthusiastic and effective that one of the women asked her if she would marry her son!


That evening we attended a joint meeting of several clubs in the area, Rotarians coming from miles around. We presented again, and it was a joyous event.

May 23-25

We traveled through large areas of former Bantustans, with their sprawling third world housing, to Sabie Sands. This is a collection of large private game farms immediately adjoining and combined with the Kruger National Park. We went to Arethusa Lodge, a farm that belongs to Joan Griessel, a Warmbaths Rotarian, who will be the next District Secretary, and a very generous hostess.

We stayed in the beautiful traditional bungalows at the lodge, and went out in the large Landrover for game drives for several hours each morning and each evening. We were accompanied by DG Doug Thistlewhite and his wife Jenny, GSE Chairman Andre Brandmuller and Sarah Jane, and incoming Chair Marj Tunmer. It was a happy group.

Joan’s farm captured my richest expectations of Africa’s glorious landscapes and animal life. Sitting on the verandah one surveys the Sand River, the bush on the opposite bank, and great specimen trees on the grassy plains.

Every so often a herd of elephants, a buffalo, a warthog, a family of giraffes, or a large stork comes to drink at the waterhole on the opposite bank.

Time stands still as elephants emerge slowly from the bush and march majestically to the waterhole. They splash around without hurry or concern, stopping only to chase away the nearby stork. It seems they have done this for time immemorial, and will continue to so forever.

I had heard of the “big five” but could not really comprehend that elephants and rhinos would pass within a few yards of our open Landrover. But they did. We encountered buffalo, lions, rhinos, leopards, and of course the elephants. The latter surrounded the car on three sides, with 15 yards of us, huge bulks, some curious, the mothers watchful. The buffalo strolled by without concern. The old male lion, eight to ten yards from the vehicle, glared at us and then ignored us. The rhinos, in the glare of a nighttime spotlight, literally scampered around us, and perhaps the high point of many highlights was the close encounter with the mother leopard and playful cub.

Back at the lodge, around the campfire in the open “boma,” we chatted about this visit of a lifetime, memories we will never forget. This was as good as it gets! Thank you, Joan!

May 26

Difficult as it may be too follow an act like that, Haenertsburg is such a beautiful spot in the mountains that we were thrilled to be there. We started at the Sapeko Tea Plantation with spectacular views over miles of tea bushes among the green mountains, lush with vegetation. Our hosts were Andrew Brooke Smith, who hosted Kirk and Peter in his house overlooking the entire estate, and Linda Holkum, who coordinated our visit and hosted Hadas, Katherine, Ellen and Lila.

That evening we joined a meeting of several clubs in the area, at a pub called the “Pot and Plow.’ It was an informal evening, and we all enjoyed many conversations with several Rotarians. We also learned about the “loopdop”, i.e., the drink for the road, the ABF – absolutely bloody final drink for the road, and son for several versions which become unprintable!

She gave us the run of her farm on May 27, and the team again worked off some energy on a long hike through tea plantations and tall forests. It was glorious.

From there we traveled to Pietersburg – Polokwane, where your team leader hopes to find an internet connection to get this report and all our best wishes to you!