Thursday, August 4, 2011

Oldies go Bos

About ten years ago, my husband was retrenched from his job when his employers closed down the entire department.  It was a very stressful time for him but he was lucky to be given a small settlement. We knew that his age and the new SA would be prohibitive stumbling blocks to ever finding another job.

Once the shock and hurt of being discarded was over, the decision of what to do with the gratuity had to be made. I was all for buying a studio apartment to rent out but he, being  conservative where money is involved (and most other things), preferred to let the money molder in the bank for the next five years, earning minimal interest. In 2005 we walked along Hadrian's Wall in England and on our return, for some reason, the light dawned with realization that he had to do something more worthwhile with the money before he got much older.

By that time, any tiny apartment was priced way beyond the value of his nest egg and property prices were climbing fast. We started looking around for somewhere to put his money and spotted an advert referring to a group of smallholdings for sale near to Suurbraak, about 260 km from Cape Town. These smallholdings were variously 1 - 4 hectares in size. We learned from a friend that a smallholding this size is a rarity. Most smallholdings are so much bigger.  To us, big meant difficult to manage and control from a distance. These smaller sizes sounded perfect to us.

We learned later that these smallholdings had been created from state and private land for the upliftment of the people in Suurbraak. The idea was that they would become self-sufficient on these pieces of ground. It was an admirable idea but seems to have failed over the years. The only evidence of their attempts can be seen in remnants of  foundations of old dwellings and in a few rare instances, the old buildings still standing. A few of these smallholdings are still owned by the descendants of those families. However, one more successful  person from Suurbraak bought up quite a number of these smallholdings from the others in the late 1980's and it was these that were now on the market.


So on a glorious late winter Saturday in August that year, we arrived at the general area and had to wait about an hour for the agent to pitch up because he was ensconced somewhere in Swellendam, watching the Rugby. While we waited, we speculated about which smallholdings would still be available and after strolling about, decided which spot was the most beautiful to us. When the agent arrived, he told us that the "cheapy" one, which also attractively included an old labourer's cottage, had definitely been sold the previous day. However, he told us that the one where we were standing was available. It was the beautiful one we had admired. We were a bit dubious at the price and went along with him to view some cheaper plots in the village of Suurbraak, which is about 10 km away. While we were there, the agent received a call from someone else who wanted to buy a smallholding in Rietkuil and, in that moment, the thought of losing that beautiful plot caused us to abandon caution and, hearts pounding, we demanded to buy it. We decided that we would supplement our funds with a small mortgage on our house. The chap on the phone went on to buy, unseen, two smallholdings next to ours.


A month later, the ground was ours. The oats on the land still had to be harvested by the previous owner but thereafter, we could do with it as we pleased.  Although it was mainly an investment, the idea of having some fun with it began to appeal.

And so we started to plan what we were going to do with this unexpected piece of countryside in our autumn years!

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