I was a stranger and you welcomed me

Everson Luhanga says that violence forced him to go to Limpopo. There he saw the peace which permeates rural life, despite the economic hardships and daily struggles

When I set off on a mission to the rural villages of Limpopo in the Greater Letaba Local Municipality, I saw how Africans are connected in many ways through shared struggles.

This prevails despite the festering issues, bred by poverty, which breed hatred.

When I arrived, I didn’t know anyone in the villages and my command of the Sepedi language has never been strong. I knew that people who I would interact with would pick up that I was a visitor in their villages and would treat me as a stranger.

But I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Everyone – even the traditional leaders, kings and queens – opened their doors and allowed me in. I even sat in the glorious royal chambers of Kgoši Raphahlelo.

People live in peace and harmony in these villages. Unlike where I normally practice my journalism in Johannesburg’s Alexandra Township, one of the country’s most crime-ridden townships. People in these villages leave their cars unlocked with windows wide open as they go into shops without a care in the world.

The villages have dusty and bumpy roads with no street lights. Travelling at night looks risky.

I was shocked to see women walking down the street and asking for lifts from passing motorists at night. They were walking alone or in small groups laughing and chatting into the night.  

Some could be seen pushing wheelbarrows full of firewood into the darkness of night, perceiving no danger.

They looked at ease. I helped a few people whenever I drove past those asking for a lift in my direction.

There is still a sense of ubuntu in these villages which shocked me as I came to this village to escape threats of violence back in Gauteng.

Cows, chickens, goats and donkeys roam the streets. Motorists manoeuvre around without bumping into them. It’s normal to them.

These lands are peaceful, but there isn’t much entertainment to speak of.

At one of its busier locations – a place called Wholesale – there is a filling station and a bottle store. Every afternoon, people would come to buy booze, hang around and play dice.

I would sometimes join them (except I would pass on playing dice as I still need some training).

In the neighbouring Ga-Mamaila village where I stayed, the king had died late last year and by traditional values, no one is allowed to party or play loud music for almost a year. Women are not allowed to wear trousers for the entire eight-month mourning period. Only long respectful dresses and skirts are allowed during this time.

The village is dead quiet. The Ga-Mamaila royal offices are being serviced by representatives of the king. People certify their documents and some inquire for land.

However, the villages came alive on Youth Day, when a couple of soccer and netball tournaments were organised.

I travelled to Venda in Ha-Mashamba where the songbird Makhadzi comes from. It was refreshing to see people happy.

Young and old, they all came in numbers to support their teams. Promising soccer stars showed their talents on the field of play.

An array of delicacies, like sugarcane, cooldrink and braai meat, were sold to the spectators.

I couldn’t resist and bought myself some sugarcane and sucked the natural sugar out of the stick.

Coming back to where I was based at Ga-Raphahlelo Village, there were a whole lot of festivities and I joined the locals being entertained by their local DJs.

In the week that I arrived, the king had commanded that there should be no noise or any sort of entertainment or loud music until boys who had gone for initiation came back from the mountains.

But the royal house made an exception on Youth Day, allowing people to let loose.

Beautifully dressed locals – in school uniform, cultural dresses and some in their casual attire – danced the night away.

I couldn’t help it – I had to join. Everyone was happy. The smiles, the laughter, the dancing moves and the music. What a night, it almost made me forget the many awful stories I had written about in the week.

These villages, which have been forgotten amid the chaos which afflicts the rest of the country, have beautiful women, ambitious people, stories of hope, respect and peace. And for now, they remain relatively safe. And this is the magic that will keep me coming back.