Once Upon A Town… in the Kalahari

Posted on 7 December 2015

Internationally renowned street artist, Falko, is road-tripping around SA, painting dorpies as he goes. The more obscure the place, the better. His mission: to change the locals’ perception of value. Along for the ride that is Once Upon A Town, is photographer Luke Daniel. This is Luke’s dispatch from Witdraai and Andriesvale in the Kalahari…

Also see: The latest video from the Once Upon A Town project


Falko in Witdraai.

Falko in Witdraai.

The road stretching from Pofadder to Kakamas is long and straight – cutting through the barren landscape of the Riemvasmaak Community Conservancy area. Kakamas appears as a sudden mirage – an oasis of grape fields and lush vegetation. The sudden splash of green on this land is a welcome reprieve from the scorched Northern Cape earth, owing its blessing of fertility to the Orange River which runs wide through the small town. Then, as suddenly as it appeared, it vanishes into the rear view mirror. It’s more dust and dirt on through Upington, heading north to the Botswana border. The stretch of tar between Rooiputs and Askham is desolate; no other cars pass by for hours, the kilometres seem endless and the destination almost unreachable. The grey landscape slowly turns a golden brown, as the lazy sun eventually falls behind the flat horizon.

A few trucks barreling down from the border grunt past us, as we count the distance from Askham to the Molopo Lodge in dark of night. Minutes later it’s onto dirt roads and soft sand, rolling past small tin shacks and straw huts in the middle of nowhere.

Dawid ‘Am-Am’ has lived in this area his entire life. His small, scarred frame stands prominent and respected amongst the red sand dunes between Witdraai and Mier – an area with an incredible history, now owned by the Khoi-San which have survived in this harsh environment for thousands of years.


Dawid Am-Am and Falko.

Dawid ‘Am-Am’ and Falko.

Dawid was given his name by the late great Dawid Kruiper – leader of the Khomani-San, who spoke for rights of indigenous people to the United Nations in 1994. This led the way for successful land-claims for the San people in South Africa, with thousands of hectares of Kalahari earth returning to the people of the land. Today, Dawid ‘Am-Am’ lives on one of the reclaimed five farms. He talks with Falko inside a dimly lit room, away from the brutal midday sun. He fashions a paint brush from a piece of wood and gemsbok tail hairs – he crushes a reddish-brown rock into a fine powder, which he mixes with water, for paint. Am-Am spends the afternoon with Falko – on this still Saturday in Witdraai, they create an artwork on Am-Am’s modest concrete room, under the boiling Kalahari sun, in an area so remote it couldn’t be found, unless you knew where to look.


Falko in Andriesvale.

Falko in Andriesvale.

Witdraai is an isolated community of a few modest brick homes and corrugated steel shacks, standing out against the beautifully desolate backdrop of the Kalahari. No roads run through the community, which consists of three families that have lived in the surrounding areas for years. Water is scarce and commodities even more so.

A few kilometers away, visible from the R31, is the community of Andriesvale – which, like Witdraai, is owned by San. Jan ‘Kerrie’ Tittis meets us in Andriesvale – he talks to Falko about the lay of the land. It’s a bigger community than Witdraai – a few old caravans dot the landscape and act as small shops, with limited supplies. There’s a primary school nestled under a few lone trees which shades a water tank and some wooden prefabs. The kids gather around as Falko transforms the wooden walls of the school building – the colours popping off the monotonous landscape.


Bright new colours come to Andriesvale.

Bright new colours come to Andriesvale.

Jan negotiates with the locals, explaining the concept of Once Upon A Town. Before our time in Andriesvale is finished, a few homes and caravans stand out in vivid colour – an unusual sight around these parts. The red Kalahari sun hangs over the golden horizon once more. The air remains warm and dry, as San men, women and kids slowly move back into their homes for the night. The donkeys are left to roam the nearby farms, and a few older locals sit around a fire under a giant doringboom. They sip on cheap liquor and recount stories of old, with a vivid memory and a humorous twist. Laughter crackles through the still night air, as another day in Andriesvale comes to an end.

See more imagery and watch the video of Once Upon A Town in the Kalahari here.

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