Scott Balson's trip to South Africa -
11th September 2006 - Estcourt

Perth : Johannesburg : Pretoria : Pietersburg : Pilgrim's Rest : Ladysmith : Champagne Castle : Estcourt : Durban : Ixopo
Kokstad : Port Elizabeth : Plettenburg Bay : Cape Town : Victoria West : Griquatown : Mafikeng : Johannesburg : Perth

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I left Champagne Castle with the entire Drakensberg covered by a blanket of mist - never seeing it again.

By 9am I was in Estcourt and started exploring the town I spent several years in in the late 70s and early 1980s. The town, like so many others I have visited, had changed - the security around banks and white houses had become extreme out of need and the number of blacks had increased dramatically. Barclays Bank where I had worked had now installed a major security device at its entrance.

After driving around the streets I visited Fort Durnford and then drove to Weenen to visit the bank agency I had worked for so many hours... Weenen had hardly changed at all. It was as if time had been snap-frozen in this little backwater.

At midday I met Rodney and Myra Hunter-Smith friends of mine from the 80s who have kindly put me up in their magnificent home for the night and organised a surprise dinner with friends I had not seen for over 20 years (see below).

On the road to Estcourt

Barclays Bank

My old friend Vino Haribhai

Where I stayed in the 80s

Historic

Civic Centre

Where I stayed in

the 80s - my old room

On the road to Fort Durnford 

Views of Estcourt

from the fort

The guns in front of the fort

On the road

to Weenen

The old bank agency

Nothing's changed - except teller

The NG Kerk in Weenen

Barclays Bank Agency

Road map

Estcourt as you come

back from Weenen

At  about 6.30pm several friends of mine from the old days arrived at Rodney and Myra's house.

There was Mike and Anne Curry-Hyde, Mary Stokker (nee Bulcock) and Rodney's brother Robin with their partners.

Image right: Robin Hunter Smith, Anne and Mike Curry-Hyde, Scott Balson, Rodney Hunter-Smith, Mary Stokker, Myra Hunter-Smith and Chris Stokker (photo taken by Nicky Hunter Smith)

Mike, Rodney and I had gone into business together in the late 1970s and made a tidy return from a company called CB Investments which had produced key rings made out of old large half cent South African pieces and buying and selling silver as well as refining silver from old photographic plates. Our "Skimbowls" game had not proved such a success!

At dinner Mary described how things had changed in the bank and how, five years ago, a gang of eight blacks had stormed and robbed Barclays Bank in Estcourt where we had once worked together. Mary is now a manager there and has worked in that branch for about 30 years! The bank's security guard had been shot during the ensuing raid. Security was upmost in everybody's mind but apart from that the mood was generally quite positive as the country had continued to grow at about 5% because of the improving disposable income of an increasing number of blacks.

The real problems were AIDS with Rodney telling me that the real figure amongst the Africans was closer to 85% - not 33% as estimated. 85% of women who came to hospital to give birth were infected - the only time an AIDS test was mandatory. Even the blacks who worked for Rodney on his quarry who clearly had AIDS were diagnosed only as having pneumonia or AIDS related illnesses.

The other real problem was illegal immigration from Zimbabwe, Mocambique, Ethiopia, Sudan and Nigeria. Millions of blacks had invaded the country through the northern borders and were now squatting, without work, money or food in the camps I had seen on the road between Pietersburg and Tzaneen - thus the security in the white settlements in Tzaneen. After a few weeks these illegals would start drifting south and now filled the country's cities - making them very dangerous if you carried anything of value in the streets. It was quite common for people to be killed in broad daylight in Durban for a mobile phone they might be using or a camera they might be holding. Of course Durban and the Durban Club is my destination tomorrow!

Image right: The squatters camps that today line the road from Pietersburg to Tzaneen.

Rodney is now in partnership in a 3000 hectare game farm which borders the Weenen Game Farm - unfortunately the land is under claim by a group of blacks and it is quite possible the courts might rule in their favour - so they will lose the land which has large numbers of buck and over 30 giraffe.

Mike and I chatted at length about the business environment. He was still in the printing business after 25 years and was now looking at embracing the Internet to expand his operations.

It was a fantastic evening reminiscing after all these years - and tomorrow I will be doing the same with my good friends Eddie Sherwood and Digby Lake - both friends who worked with me at Barclays Bank in Estcourt.

To bed after 11pm.

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