Leanne's Loteni Life

Underberg Travel Blog

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Loteni village is in the Southern Drakensberg about 30 km from South Africa's border with Lesotho. There is no electricity in Loteni, nor is there running water, indoor toilets or paved roads. Leanne lives there, and I had fun visiting!

The whole area around Loteni is beautiful, being so far up in the mountains and all, and people there really still live the simple rural lifestyle. All the water used for cooking and washing is fetched from the mountain stream. Leanne's host mother, Florence, cooks everyday over a fire in the rondavel (hut) on the family farm that serves as a kitchen. While I was there she made traditional African sweet bread in a big round pot. She also made samp and beans - one of both Leanne and my favorite South African dishes.

Leanne stays in her very own rondavel beside the family's house. She cooks on a gas stove but has to buy the majority of her food at the nearest town, Underberg, about 55 km away and brings it back to Loteni on public transport (mini-bus taxis). She boils water fetched from the river before she can use it for drinking or washing dishes. She claims to have learned to carry water home in a bucket on her head - a feat I didn't actually see her perform with my own eyes. I will take her word for it however, since I didn't actually help with any of the water-fetching during my visit. Laundry day is particularly dreaded in cold weather as this requires lugging alot of water around.

Leanne's House (aka Rondavel)

Its been almost a year and half now that Leanne has lived in Loteni, but she still doesn't complain much about the the lack of modern conveniences. Her rondavel is cozy and pretty well insulated from the elements outside - except for the winter cold. Snow does fall in the Drakensberg in the winter and temperatures can get as low as -4 degrees F (or -20C)...not pleasant when all you have are a few blankets and a hot water bottle to keep warm! My visit happened during what is only the beginning of autumn, and it was already uncomfortably cold at night and in the morning, so winter must really suck!

In addition to doing a little subsistence farming, most families have some livestock like cows, pigs, goats or chickens that can be found around the farmyard or grazing in local fields during the day. At Leanne's house Florence's husband Justice looks after the livestock and crops with the help of their two sons, Sifiso and Lebo.

Livestock theft is a major problem in Loteni. Basotho men cross the border at night, break into local farms and stealthily herd cattle back into Lesotho under the cover of darkness. And when I say dark, I mean it gets DARK - like you cannot see a thing at night except for stars - so I'm kind of amazed that these guys are able to pull that kind of thing off as often as they do. In response to the problem, residents have organized Citizens' Stock Theft Patrol groups that go out at night (between 10-2am) to keep watch over a group of their neighbors' animals. The responsibility rotates between families and family members living in close proximity - and I hear that pretty soon it will be Leanne's turn to go on Stock Theft Patrol!

Nursery School Building

When she's not chasing cattle thievin' Basothos off the family land, Leanne works for a literacy NGO. This work requires her to travel frequently between the three nearby villages...well maybe the villages aren't actually that close together....sometimes she has to walk upwards of 10 km during one day if she's not lucky with transport. Walking that far is pretty typical for most people in Loteni lots of kids walk that far to school - one way.

Grannies attending Literacy Group - and sporting new glasses!

Because Loteni still doesn't have electricity it's pretty unique in SA - almost all of the rest of country is electrified (most of the time anyway). There's talk these days that power will be coming soon, but Eskom has yet to do more than talk at community meetings and people are getting frustrated. Another point of frustration is the poor quality of the roads. During the rainy season some sections get so muddy they become impassable and all year-round the potholes are formidable. People complain to the powers that be but see few results and hear a variety of excuses for the lack of action.

Change is coming but its coming slowly, and whether or not that's a good thing is debateble. People want access to some modern conviences, but at the same time they value their rural way of life - something that will be irrevicobly changed when Eskom finally gets its ass in gear. I guess finding the balance between those two things is the real challenge.

Leanne has become part of the Loteni community and in alot of ways and it will probably be difficult for her to leave in October. But, she says, she'll always feel like she has a South African home to come back to.

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photo by: WorldXplorer