It is a whisper after 07:30 on a winter’s morning. The sun is struggling to climb the cliffs that make the Wild Coast so spectacular. The dust hangs in the air – and there is a lot of dust. The road from Hole in the Wall heading inland towards Mthatha is busy.

We have passed a couple of taxis that kindly moved out of our way and are closing in on a few more.

One mist covered morning in the Transkei. Picture: Colin Windell
Mist covered morning in the Transkei. Picture: Colin Windell

Somewhat unexpected traffic. The dirt roads here play host to free roaming cattle, sheep, goats and lots of little black pigs. They also play host to human traffic.

On this morning, and every weekday morning, the traffic is schoolchildren. The taxis are packed with children. Dozens of other trudge along the road, many waving as we ease past trying to keep our contribution to the dust factor to the minimum.

These children are impeccably dressed in school uniform. Shirts and blouses are bright white, shoes (albeit dusty) are polished and creases ironed to razor sharpness. As with schoolchildren anywhere, there is always one – tie lopsided and shirt untucked, but only one.

There are several primary and secondary schools along this road. It is a warm and fuzzy kind of moment – all these young people who actually want to learn. Who make the long haul twice a day for the sake of education. Who take pride in their appearance – and who live in less than ideal conditions where fresh water is limited, electricity almost non-existent.

There is something else in that area that we lack. Honesty and trust. Getting goods and product in and out of this wild place is not easy – yet deliveries of Maas and milk are left in crates on the side of the road for the Spaza owner to collect, and nobody dares to go near them.

Hit the tar road and into Mthatha and suddenly all of this changes for the worse. Potentially the ugliest, dirtiest hellhole of a town in South Africa, it epitomises everything that is wrong with humanity.

What changes from that positive to make it negative? Far cleverer people than me have still not found the answers, but I’ll stick with the images from that dirt road. That gives me hope.

Colin Windell is a petrolhead, rock music addict, and apprentice retiree who has managed all three into a love of travel that specifically excludes security and most airline staff He has worked on newspapers and magazines in South Africa and England and currently bides his time between excursions at an intimate watering hole on the KZN South Coast thinking about where he would like to be. Having missed it the first time around he would like to ‘drop out’ before he actually drops dead.