Hazards of plot life

In the 20 years since this magazine was launched there have been huge changes to the smallholding areas of Gauteng. Some plotlands have been taken over as industrial parks, some have been turned into housing estates of various stripes, and some have become informal housing.
In some areas roads have been upgraded and tarred and streetlights installed, and in others, not so much.
These changes and developments are not surprising, really, as smallholding land, being adjacent to the formal suburbs of the “real” city, constitute the next-available land for development and expansion. Thus the rate of change and development in the smallholding areas is expected to be much faster than that of the established suburbs and industrial areas on the one hand, and that of proper farmland further out of town, on the other.
But it’s not only when one looks around at the plots in one’s area and notices more houses being built, more sheds and warehouses going up and improvements to the roads, drains and electrical infrastructure (or not, depending on the competence or otherwise of the local authority concerned).
Fundamental changes in how maplotters live nowadays can also be seen. In our area, for example, the roads weren’t tarred and every second plot had a couple (or more) of horses. On Saturdays and Sundays the roads would be full of parties of riders walking or trotting along, either taking their mounts to small local competitions or gymkhanas or heading to and from the mealie fields that bordered the suburb. One year the Rand Hunt held a meet here, with a significant number of the Kyalami set schlepping their mounts over for the day. Does the Rand Hunt still hold occasional meets in other areas?
And it wouldn’t only be horses and riders. Carters, too, would head out for a nice trot in their pony-and-traps.
One time this became quite dramatic when a carter’s ponies spooked at something on the roadside and bolted. All went well, if somewhat fast, until the cart hit a patch of corrugations in the road and a wheel shook itself to pieces. Whereupon the rest of the cart collapsed and disintegrated under the poor driver and the horses, now doubly spooked, took off into the distance dragging behind them the remnants of their harness and the cart’s shaft: the equine equivalent of a Formula 1 wipeout.
But gradually this bucolic scene changed. As the residents of the area aged and the kids grew up and left, many of the horses and riders have gone (my own included). Horses and riders in this area are now a rarity.
And half of the mealie fields have now been carved up into a secure, upmarket golf estate, while the other half is being developed as a warehousing and distribution complex.
Moreover, as the horses began to disappear an odious, noisy and dangerous little conveyance was invented: the scrambler.
What is it about riders of scramblers that they are incapable of riding their contraptions slowly and quietly? They have to roar about at maximum speed, causing maximum noise and maximum dust. As an observation, if any horseman rode his horse as fast and as violently as a scrambler rides his bike he would be condemned for animal cruelty.
To be honest, it could be argued that the reduction in the number of horses and riders on the roads was hastened by the advent of the scramblers. It’s no fun riding with nervous children or highly-strung horses and having to keep one ear open for the sound of approaching buzz-bikes, knowing that mayhem (or worse) might ensue as they roar around a corner in a frightening cloud of dust.
More recently, scramblers have been joined by quad bikes. I fully acknowledge that these machines have myriad uses on a smallholding, from towing trailers of feed and manure, to small cultivation tasks, to firefighting and more. But as soon as a teenager (or a testosterone-laden adult) takes one out of his property he becomes more maniacal than a stock car driver. Fast, furious, roary, revvy, dusty and dangerous.
You never see a quad bike on a road being driven sedately. Well, almost never. On a Sunday morning walk recently with our dogs my better half and I noticed a (helmet-less) man on a quad bike approaching us at about 2km per hour, quiet as a mouse.
It was only when he pulled alongside that we noticed that the bike was being driven by his (equally helmet-less) three-year-old daughter who was seated on his lap.
Teach ’em young? Maybe. ‘Elf & Safety? Not so much.

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