Sunday, May 22, 2011

Truth and Lies: A History of Loopeng

There are books about the history of South Africa. There are even books about the history of Kuruman. But there are no books about the history of Loopeng. In fact, there are no authoritative historical records whatsoever. Loopeng's history is recorded only in the minds of its residents, and memory alone is a notoriously imperfect source. Still, I feel that Loopeng's history is worth noting and so I want to record as much of it as I can here. I make no guarantees about accuracy, but this is the truth as I've found it.

Loopeng, or Lop City as it affectionately known to its young people, is like the Atlanta, Georgia of rural South Africa. It is a city of neighborhoods. Each neighborhood was once its own village, but the population has grown to a point where the villages have melded together. To the east, there's Tlhaping. Tlhaping is, and was, a farming community. (Cultural note: The Batswana are *historically* cattle herders.) Tlhaping has been around for generations. If you wander around the fields that side, you're sure to stumble upon the remnants of a farm house or two, and maybe the rusted heap of a motor vehicle.

Just down the river is Agrico. Agrico is not really a village. It refers to the collection of homes around the Loopeng Agricultural Cooperative (basically, a farm supply store and the office of a deparment of agriculture official). These residences are a result of Loopeng's growing population. They are relatively new and laid out in a neat grid pattern, like an African village version of suburbia.

Across the road from Agrico is Slough. Slough is the site of an enormous resettlement that dates to the years of apartheid. Here is where the history gets tricky (and remarkable similar to that of my former village). The most detailed version I've heard is that in December of 1976, several thousand people were moved from the village of Gatlhose to Loopeng and surrounding villages. Those who were removed from Gatlhose and sent to Slough were given R500 and a tent (or in some cases, a tin shack) and instructed to use mud, sticks and cow dung to build a more permanent structure for themselves. They were allowed to bring along any livestock they owned, and the primary school from Gatlhose was even torn down, transported and rebuilt in Slough. Deorham's history is the same, right down to the date.

Gatlhose was not the only village to suffer a forced removal in the area of Sishen, there were others. Once all residents were removed, the region was taken over by the South African Defense Force and renamed Lohatla. It you look up Lohatla online, you will find it in reference to the military presence there. I have found no mention of the forced removals that took place there.

The primary motivation behind the forced removal of Gatlhose was to move its residents to the homeland or Bantu state of Bophutatswana, thus depriving them of their rights as South African citizens and removing them from the responsibility of the apartheid government. The removals had neither the consent of those forced to move, nor their new neighbors. As bad as it was, the end result was virtually no change in the standard of living of the peoplef from Gatlhose. They lived in mud houses in Slough. Well, that's what they had in Gatlhose. They had taps in Gatlhose, the government built taps in Slough. There was no electricity in Gatlhose. Well, neither was there in Slough, or all of Loopeng, for that matter. It would come after the end of apartheid.

While Slough greatly increased the size of Lop City, at first its residents lived in remarkably similar circumstances to their neighbors. Gradually, life there actually improved. With the help of a Catholic mission, the government built a clinic and a middle school before brothers at the mission built the high school I teach at today. While Slough is still rough around the edges, it has morphed from the least desirable part of the village to the one with the most amenities. Similar to Agrico, it is also laid out in a formal grid pattern.

Less grid-like neighborhoods are found on the other side of the river in Mampestad and Loopeng proper. Yes, the name Loopeng does have a namesake. Squished across the river from Slough and between Agrico and Mampestad is Loopeng. It is home to a "downtown" district of two tuck shops, a tavern and a bottle store, everything a rural South African village needs.

Tucked right next to Loopeng is Mampestad. Mampestad gives Slough a run for its money in terms of size, and is also the home of another primary school. The roads in this part of the village are little more than glorified pathways and they wind in and out of fields and more tightly-packed residential areas. The further west you go, the windier, sandier and generally unkempt the "roads" get. Pretty soon, the paths start crossing over to the other side of the river and you're in the final neighborhood of Loopeng. I wish I could spell it. I can't even say it. I know it starts with L.

Anyway, L is basically a reflection of Tlhaping. It is generations-old and traditionally a farming community. While Tlhaping hugs tightly one side of the valley, L meanders along both sides of the riverbank. L slowly peters out into a series of farms before the next major village in the valley is reached.

And there you have it, a guided walking tour of Loopeng today! While it is difficult to find where one neighborhood ends and the next begins, native Loopengians are very aware of the distinctions. Neighborly relations are increasingly difficult as the government gears up to distribute R57 000 to each family who lost land at Lohatla due to the forced removals. The residents of Slough are now looked at with increasing envy. The schools and clinics might be shared with all residents of Lop City, but R57 000 is a lot of money to be distributed to only one portion of the local population.

Oh well, I live in Slough. I know some people who plan to buy cars with the money. Now there's something I can get onboard with!


  1. What is Peace Corps all about and were you specifically trying to archive in Loopeng (or generally South Africa)? Do you have any plan of gatherhig more info about the village e.g write a book for future reference of upcoming generations?

  2. Nice on author. I wish u cud hve disclosed your cotact. Lenna ke bloma Loopeng

  3. Nice on author. I wish u cud hve disclosed your cotact. Lenna ke bloma Loopeng

  4. Ke a go leboga,now i know a history of where i live