Student - January 12, 2012

Topsy-turvy climate in South Africa


Who? Lisa Nooij, Tropical Forestry
What? Research internship on local knowledge about sustainable land use
Where? PRESENCE Learning Village, South Africa
Why? It is a place where you can learn together with other students and have time for discussions and football

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I was staying in a beautiful area; the village was in the middle of the mountains and the only sound to be heard was the song of thousands of birds. Unfortunately I spent a lot of time at the computer and only saw all that beauty through the window, which took a lot of self-discipline. Whenever I could, I went for walks with one of the supervisors' dogs. The PRESENCE Learning Village is a place where students from all over the world can do a final thesis or an internship. It is quite remote and unfortunately there is not much transport for going out and about. Sometimes you stay in the village for weeks; there are even stories about students who had to eat stale bread for days because there were no cars available for them to go shopping.
My research was about the Kromme river. This was once a major wetland area, but through human intervention and the introduction of certain tree species, it was seriously damaged. Because the river is an important source of drinking water for the surrounding towns, the government is trying to restore it. But without involving the local farmers.
My task was to make a Social Network Analysis. I identified the stakeholders and researched what knowledge local farmers have and whether they are prepared to apply it. To do this I talked to a lot of farmers. They told me that the climate is all topsy-turvy these days: winter has turned into summer and vice versa. I noticed it myself: it was raining a lot during my stay, even though it was the dry season. In between the rain showers and thunderstorms there was a clear blue sky though.
In the multicultural village where I was staying you didn't notice many of the cultural differences between the Netherlands and South Africa. But as soon as you went to town you quickly noticed, sadly, that it still makes a big difference whether you are black or white. Some black people don't even dare to look you in the eye. In the shopping malls it is the whites who are doing the buying and the blacks who are hanging around. The heavy labour on the land or on the roads is done by blacks and supervised by whites.

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