The ride from Heilbron through to Vereeniging was going to be tedious. The 52km stretch of road from Heilbron to just short of Sasolburg where you turn toward Vereeniging is straight and boring. Add traffic, a crosswind, and a road without a rideable verge and it's not fun. Apart from the first 18 km which is a gentle climb the rest is mostly flat. Did I also mention that it is boring?
The landscape is completely uninspiring. I guess the drought hasn't helped but I suspect the grimness is not so much the result of drought as the farming methods employed. That part of the world is maize country. Being pre-planting season the fields were barren. Some had been ploughed while others were post-harvest scruffy from the last season and were waiting for the first rains before their turn with tractor and plough.
What really stood out for me was the condition of the road verges. Normally you would expect there to be some form of grass from the edge of the road to the farm fence. There wasn't a blade of grass to be seen. The verges were a tangle of dead weeds. Winter had taken care of them.
I concluded that maize farming was to blame for the scruffy verges. It is fair to conclude that the strain of maize grown in those fields were genetically modified. That's an easy conclusion as most commercial maize in SA is of a GM variety - http://www.thejournalist.org.za/kau-kauru/gm-staples
Anyway, you might have noticed how clean maize fields are. They are generally free of weeds...and grass...and anything else that isn't maize. Clever guys in white coats who hang out in laboratories have created maize varieties that are weedkiller resistant. Farmers plant maize and when it gets hip high they spray the fields with glyphosphate (Roundup - the same stuff you spray your driveway and paving with) that kills everything except the maize. When they spray there is always a little drift and the weedkiller is carried over the fence and makes short work of any plants growing on the road verge. The first species to grow back in these conditions are weeds. Lots of weeds. A good example being khakibos.
I've got nothing against maize farming or khakibos but it makes it impossible to find a good spot to have a 10 minute nap. The road verges offered no comfort in bedding (simply nowhere soft and friendly to lay down) or privacy (no cover offered by the scraggly remains)
A roadside shop halfway to Sasolburg gave me opportunity to have a break. I went in and got a can of Iron Brew. It cost R11. I gave the shopkeeper R20. He asked if I had R1. I didn't think I did so told him to keep the change. He didn't like that idea. I didn't fancy lugging R9 in silver coins so I told him he could use it to help a needy person. The shopkeeper became agitated. He reached into his cash register and gave me R10 and told me not to worry about the R1. If he wasn't going to accept my charity I wasn't about to accept his. I checked my pockets and found a R1 coin which I handed over.
I walked outside a little perplexed at his reaction. He followed me out and explained that he didn't believe in charity. If somebody wanted something then that had to work for it. He went on to explain that he would never give anything to another person. He would rather burn something than give it away.
"That's why we have so many beggars!" he added.
I was keen to get on with my ride and didn't engage, I just muttered occasionally. With my cool drink finished I straddled my bike in the hope that he would stop talking.
"When a beggar gets R10 his profit margin is R10. He does nothing for it!" he continued.
He kept on about the evils of charity until I was out of earshot.