The Great Escape

December is a time of demographic shift in the Lowveld. The population of Bushbuckridge doubles. Toll plazas on the N4 sport queues of Gautengers and Vrystaaters heading for the National Kruger Wild Garden. The Lowveld is seething with aliens.

So what does the Lowvelder do? He vats his goed, treks away from Ferreira Street and invades the outside world. Or he stays at home and hibernates.

December 15th. N4 West. 200 Nelspruit mechanics are speeding away in their highly-polished Colt twin-cabs with the latest Gypsey woonwa hitched on. Have you ever tried to get your car serviced at Christmas? Forget it. Hannes is op pad, with sokkiejol on the CD-player, Ouma squeezed in the back with 4 kids and Ma in the front dishing out the padkos. He’s driving through the night, stopping only to refuel and to make sure that the roof-mounted fishing rods are still twice the length of the bakkie. He’ll spend 2 weeks on the rocks near Port St Johns, vying for the best spot. Braaied fish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. That is Hannes’s holiday.

December 15th. Lebombo borderpost. 100 Onderberg farmers are driving their dusty Defenders with trailers full of quad bikes, skottels and coolboxes in tow. Or rather they are sitting in a 10km queue, waiting to corrupt an official before joining the line of traffic down to Punta d’Ouro. Oom Piet’s holiday is a brandy and coke, watching the grandchildren doing doughnuts on the Mozambiquan beaches and complaining that the prawns get smaller and more expensive every year.

December 15th. Beaufort West. 50 Lowveld lawyers and accountants in their BMWs are refuelling for the last stretch of the long road to Cape Town. The boot is filled with swimwear in the latest summer colours. Two weeks lie ahead in an expensive cottage on the beach at Llandudno. Keith’s holiday consists of reading, spending quality time with his Uplands-educated family and rounding his vowels to fit in with the locals. Heaven forbid that anyone should take him for a plaasjaapie. Next year it’ll be the Côte d’Azur or Florida.

December 15th. Johannesburg International Airport. 6 Hazyview medics and their families are heading for England, followed by a week’s skiing in Verbier. They are wondering whether to leave, like every other doctor the town has ever had, and put up with the rainy Cotswolds in exchange for pockets full of pounds and rugby at Twickenham. Britain has South African shops these days and you can get boerewors and tinned snoek in every supermarket. This holiday is a voyage of discovery. And all their former colleagues are living there already.

December 15th. Riverside Mall, Nelspruit. Gerda is frantically searching Pick’n Pay for mince pies, chocolate and steak, Toy Cave for a Play Station 2, Game for a tasteful plastic Christmas tree with pink flashing lights and CNA for stocking-fillers. The factory’s closed and Liefie is home until New Year, so Bokkie’s stocking up on presents, food and beer and preparing to play the home-maker.

December 15th. Any Lowveld pub. Grant and Linda are bent over a clipboard designing Christmas menus. They are now the backbone of society as they struggle to ensure suitable celebrations for their deliriously demob-happy fellow-citizens. Their waiters have all gone inexplicably missing but it’s Christmas Party time so they are lining up the shooters and the Jeyes fluid, ready for a deluge of punters.

December 15th. Bester Street, Nelspruit. All the umlungus have hit the road for anywhere else and everybody’s just been paid. The pavements are lined with litter and blocked with people, Black Label in hand, Boxer-rolled-in-newspaper ablaze and there’s kwaito belting out at full tilt from every shop and stall. Loud conversations can be held, across 100 yards of traffic, with oncoming friends. Nelspruit has come alive and will stay alive until the last person has been scraped into the last taxi and delivered home to Kabokweni. This is Isaac’s holiday. Pretty will look after him when he’s ready to go home. He’s waited 50 weeks for this moment and nobody’s going to deprive him of his annual two weeks of noise, mayhem, late nights and hangovers.

Merry Christmas.