Notes to broadcasters
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One hundred years ago the southern Free State of South Africa was a grassy, fertile region with abundant game and wetland areas, where migrating duck and geese refreshed themselves. The Kalahari Desert and its sandstorms lay far to the west. The Free State farms were large and focused mostly on beef cattle and sheep, with some maize and wheat cultivation. Then, in the mid 1900’s, there was an increase in population around the capital Bloemfontein, with a resulting demand for fruit and fresh vegetables as well as milk and dairy products. Large farms were cut up into 50- or 20-hectare plots, and boreholes were sunk indiscriminately. Land became overgrazed as dairy cattle herds proliferated. Trees were cut down for fuel or to make place for small maize and mixed crop farms. Within 50 years the southern Free State has become a semi-arid region with scarce water supplies and devastating dust storms that sweep Kalahari sand across the bare veld. Grazing grasslands have been replaced by small, inedible scrub bushes suitable only for firewood. The desert has arrived, after a slow march of 50 years.
The following program is set in 1950 so the voices and atmosphere should reflect that era. The program highlights some of the controversy about appropriate land use and management. It raises issues such as:
- Using land for purposes for which it is not suited
- Excessive use of groundwater
- Dropping water tables
- Destruction of grasslands by plowing, and subsequent loss of topsoil
- Consequences of loss of trees that prevent wind and soil erosion
The program can be a starting point for further programming and discussion about sustainable land use in your community.
The sound effects are used to tell this story in an alternative way. Throughout the program, two background sounds compete with each other: the sound of running water and the sound of the wind. In the beginning the water sounds are loud but they gradually fade. The opposite happens with the wind. It slowly grows in volume until, by the end of the program, it wipes out the sound of the water.
SOUND OF A WINDMILL: RATTLE OF THE WHEEL TURNING AND REGULAR CLANKING OF THE ROD INSIDE THE PIPES AS IT PUMPS THE WATER FROM UNDERGROUND. THE WATER SPLASHES RHYTHMICALLY INTO A RESERVOIR.
SOUNDS OF COUNTRYSIDE IN THE BACKGROUND.
My name is Solomon. Yes, just like that wise king in the bible. But I’m not a king, I’m a farmer. I’m not as wise or a rich as King Solomon. But I am rich in another way. I own a herd of fat beef cattle. They have plenty of water to drink at the rainwater catchment dam. There are enough trees for them to shelter from the sun and the rain.
The year is 1950. We are halfway to 2000, and in ten years. I am going to be rich man.
SOUND OF TRUCK RATTLING UPAND THE BEEP BEEP OF THE HORN.
Now, who is this, making such a noise? Oh, it’s that young man, Jacko, from down the road who always in such a hurry. What does he want?
TRUCK DOOR SLAMS. FOOTSTEPS.
Hullo, hullo, hullo, Uncle Sol! How are you? How much money have you made this morning? A dollar [please use local currency] before breakfast is worth ten dollars in the afternoon. The early bird makes its fortune, while the others sleep.
Good morning Jacko. Slow down young man. You take my breath away! Why are you in such a hurry?
Uncle Sol, we are going to make a fortune. Do you know how many new families have moved into the town? Over 2000! And do you know what they need?
Why do I think you’re going to tell me anyway?
Food! Vegetables. They need to eat. And who is going to provide all the cabbages and carrots and beans?
Me! I have bought the big farm that stretches from the hills over there in the west to Stony Mountain in the east. I’m going to cut up the farm into 50-hectare plots and put down a borehole in each plot, and turn the whole area into market gardens.
That means about 80 boreholes, each pumping out hundreds of litres an hour. That’s a lot of water. How long do you think that will last?
Don’t worry Uncle Sol, there’s lots of water underground. It will never dry up. It has always been there, even before you were born.
Yes, but I hope there will still be water there after I am dead. What worries me is that people like you are cashing in on the population growth. My neighbour on this side has sold his cattle, and is plowing all the fields to grow maize. Just one dry season – and the top soil will blow away – and his land will turn to dust. Already I keep the door and windows closed because when the window blows the red dust covers everything. The Kalahari desert is slowly marching in.
I don’t worry about the Kalahari, or the drought. In the end the rains always come.
But by that time it will be too late. This region is not meant for plowing. The topsoil will alway blow away. The ground won’t be fit for plowing of for grazing. And another thing. What are you going to do with the willow trees and the bluegum trees and the poplars all over the farm?
Oh, we’ve got a use for them. After we cut them down we can turn them into fencing poles and sheds. We can also sell the wood for firewood. Everybody needs firewood.
So let me see if I understand you correctly. In order to supply the town with cabbage and carrots you are going to pump out all the underground water. To get firewood you are going to cut down all the trees. And to feed the people with maize meal you are going to plough up all the grazing land. And you are not worried about the Kalahari? Am I right?
Yes, that’s right. What’s the problem?
THE SOUND OF THE RUNNINGWATER IS REPLACED BY THE SOUND OF PETROLWATER PUMPS. FIRST ONE, THEN MANY MORE. THEN THE SOUND OF THE WIND GETS LOUDER. WE CAN HARDLY HEAR SOLOMON OVER THE NOISE OF THE WIND.
Now do you understand the problem?
As you heard, Solomon had doubts about the plans being made by his neighbour, Jacko.
Solomon believed that:
- The land was suited for grazing, but not for intensive market gardening.
- The groundwater would be used up.
- The grasslands would be destroyed as the topsoil was lost.
In the end, Solomon’s worst fears came true.
WIND HOWLING. FADE TO MUSIC. FADE MUSIC AND HOLD UNDER NARRATOR.
The way we use land must suit the land itself. How do we manage the land in our community? And what are the most appropriate uses for our land? How do we use the water responsibly so that it continues to be there for our children and grandchildren?
- Contributed by John Van Zyl, Executive Director, ABC Ulwazi, Radio Training and Production House, South Africa.
- Reviewed by Friederike Knabe, Consultant Specializing in Dryland Issues in the Context of Sustainable Development, Ottawa, Canada.