As thousands of Eastern Cape-born workers in Johannesburg have done, I spent the better part my time off in December somewhere among the rolling hills of the former Transkei area.
Like many people you will come across from that side, I could talk for days about home and there is nothing I miss about Johannesburg when I am there. But home evolves, landscapes change and people either leave or adapt to new socio-economics.
One trend I have seen changing the dynamics of rural life in my mother’s hometown of Tsolo is the advent of foreign-owned business taking over markets that were largely run by locals or South Africans from the region.
Now before you start defending this in the name of job creation and development – this town has changed very little over the past 20 years.
There have always been two major supermarkets, one major textile establishment, a few clothing outlets and one or two Steinhoff-owned chains such as Pep. In a rural town, competition can be just as robust as in the urban environment, but the effects can be devastating if all of the money is actually leaving the community.
Foreign-owned businesses and the xenophobia question are not just issues that affect South Africa’s urban areas and perhaps people in rural areas are even more vulnerable to losing out to outside competition.
Despite this, it is only in the urban areas such as Johannesburg and Durban where residents initiate violent attacks on foreign-owned establishments. This does not mean the problems behind the attacks do not exist elsewhere.
Fear of being priced out of business was one of the arguments which sparked attacks against spaza shops run by Somalian and Pakistani nationals (the ownership model is another story) in urban areas, but in rural Eastern Cape, for instance, the competition does not end with just spaza shops.
Locals who spoke to me complained that the few areas where local dwellers had a chance of doing business – spaza shops and traditional textiles – have been completely taken over by Chinese or Pakistani nationals. Ceremonies such as weddings, funerals, initiations and other ritualistic and traditional activities come with entire mini-industries of products.
It is now not uncommon to buy a makoti or ikrwala outfit complete with the traditional equipment and even the ingredients for umqomboti from a Chinese-owned establishment at a rural town near you.
It paints a worrying picture about the future of entrepreneurship in places such as these where jobs are hard to come by and subsistence and small scale commercial farming have been taking a step back with each year that passes.
That brings me to another thing that dampens my childhood memories about this place. Like the rest of the country – our rivers are drying up. Subsistence farming was long the backbone of this side of the Eastern Cape. But today, conditions for even the most basic subsistence farming are in need of intervention.
The effects of global warming and the recent dry spells that have hit the country have evidently taken their toll on my Eastern Cape.