The Land Cruiser Club of Southern Africa
handed out almost 400 blankets to
needy communities in Lesotho.
(Imagse: Kath Fourie)
• Elmarie de Marillac
Four Wheel Drive Club of SA
+27 861 393 272
I’ve been snapping pics since 7:30am, travelling through the eastern reaches of the tiny kingdom, which at this time of year is a harsh, dry, bleached, frozen landscape.
Stretching my legs while the members of the Land Cruiser Club Southern Africa (LCCSA) sort out who is sleeping where for the night, I come across three tiny girls with shaved heads each wielding a knife. They reach my hip in height and I wonder what they’re up to as they peer between the rockeries of a stone wall.
When they see me sneaking up on them there is much giggling and hiding of faces under scrappy blankets, but I soon find out that they’re collecting ‘cabbage’. This turns out to be an assortment of paltry green-yellow leaves, weeds really, which are the only edible things that grow unassisted during the winter.
We walk along a little while, and exchange names. It’s a simple interaction, and, I suppose, typical of a white person venturing into these parts. I can’t help but fall in love with Thato; she has the most sticky-out ears and painfully thin body yet carries herself with perfect grace. Eventually I walk on and they hurry back to their homes with the greens for dinner.
This is the reality of Lesotho; a country landlocked by South Africa with a population of just over 2-million people, a disturbing HIV rate and a severe lack of employment opportunities. Children are skinny; the people are cold and desperate.
The Basotho are a tough nation, make no mistake, but that doesn’t make having so little any easier. This is why we’re here, to hand out blankets to people who drastically need them.
Supporting a worthy cause
Structural engineer Kelvyn Davidson says: “My dad is a member of the Lions Club of Durban Host and I found out from him about their initiative to collect blankets for those in need this winter. I’m a member of LCCSA and I thought this would be a really worthy cause for us to support.”
Davidson is one of the 5 000+ members of the LCCSA. The club has actually been around for a good while, but was formally structured in 2005. It predominantly operates with an online presence, consisting of a website and forum that collectively house one of the world’s biggest banks of information regarding absolutely anything to do with Land Cruisers.
Hennie Kotze, a formidable Afrikaner who wears shirt sleeves as we huddle in our scarves and beanies, is one of the club’s volunteer custodians from Gauteng province.
“A lot of the money used to buy the blankets came from club members who couldn’t make the actual trip,” he said. “It didn’t take more than a thread on the forum to get this whole thing going. That’s the beauty of the internet these days.”
It also doesn’t take much to get a bunch of Land Cruiser enthusiasts on board for a trip to a place with terrible roads, a decent chance of snowfall and plenty of ice.
With 100 blankets from the Lions Club of Durban Host and 274 from LCCSA, nine Land Cruisers wind their way up through the frozen dog-legs of the treacherous Sani Pass from KwaZulu-Natal into a frigid Lesotho and on to the Harvesters Hillock church in Mohkotlong.
Here we’re greeted by the smiling pastor Ntate Ntsimane, and waste no time in setting out about half the blankets on a plastic tarpaulin next to the church. A crowd of children and women have been hanging around the church since 8 that morning, as they weren’t sure of our expected arrival time.
“But look here,” Ntsimane says, lifting his left arm in the air and pulling down his sleeve, “This is Africa, no one wears a watch!”
After the feeding scheme dishes out hot samp (made from maize kernels) and beans – which we are all offered, and want, but don’t take because it’s clear there isn’t enough – a short ceremony takes place and the blankets are handed out.
Ntsimane tries to check each blanket off against his list of names before it gets too tedious, clearly wanting to make sure we know the blankets are going straight to the people for whom they’re intended.
It’s a sentiment that I appreciate, as all too often in any desperate country corruption diverts 90% of goodwill into private pockets. I’m fairly certain that these thrilled kids, receiving blankets from the hands of the more privileged kids of the Land Cruiser families, are getting something they really need.
Ntsimane wishes us well, and a good portion of blankets are loaded into the back of his pickup to be driven high up into the remote villages and handed out later. Before we leave he points up to the hills far in the distance and says: “That is where all these people are heading now, they have a far way to go.”
My legs feel distinctly lucky as they squish up between two other taller people in the back of a 1990 Land Cruiser 62 series wagon, fondly named Maddy by her owner Warwick Chapman.
Chapman’s brother Barry and his father Richard talk Land Cruiser-speak non-stop. I marvel at how much technical jargon they know, and I realise that yes, I may think Land Cruisers look cool; but that’s nowhere near enough to contribute towards to the conversation.
I think my final faux pas is accidentally saying, “So how many Land Rovers are there on this trip?” This is greeted first by stunned silence and then shortly followed by a disgusted “None. But there are nine Land Cruisers.” I decide to keep quiet.
Making a difference
Fast-forward a few hours and I’ve already met the three little foragers from earlier in my story, and we’ve now settled into the basic accommodation at St James mission. Fires blaze inside and out, there is plenty of food and a few sneaky bottles of wine and sherry. It’s pleasant, but everyone is acutely aware of the people living in the pitch black around us. We know the huts are there, filled with families who will face the night without warm sleeping bags and nourishing mutton stew.
Hennie stands up, still in shirt sleeves: “I just want to say what a wonderful trip this has been. I felt today, when we arrived at that church with our big, shiny Land Cruisers all in a row, that it might look bad, you know? We are so lucky to have what we have. But I realised as we handed out the blankets that what we were doing was really important.”
Hennie’s right; yes, a big shiny Land Cruiser can be seen as a distinct division between a poor Basotho and a comparatively rich South African, but driving from all corners of South Africa to bring people something they need and can’t afford is a fine display of compassion.
The temperature in the night drops to -11 ̊C, and tent dwellers wake to ripples of ice formed by the condensation of their breath. We say goodbye and split into two teams, those going out of Lesotho in the north and those heading back into KwaZulu-Natal. On the way we distribute the remainder of the blankets, stopping at villages that look worse off than others.
But we begin at the village below St James, and I look around surreptitiously for my three little friends. I’m just heading back to the car when I spy Thato peering from behind a hut. I dash back to grab a blanket from a Cruiser, and Thato looks bewildered when I hand it to her.
I fight the urge to bend down and hug her. Thato wouldn’t be pleased with me squeezing her; she is too distinguished for that. Staring up at me, with a look that suggests she thinks I may very well be insane, Thato smiles quizzically. She waves goodbye as we move off, the bulk of the grey blanket highlighting how slim she is. Like a wispy, winter leaf.