The Karoo conference – a meeting of the minds
The last time we visited the central Karoo town of Beaufort West, it was in the middle of a desperate drought. There was a nationwide call for in-transit motorists to bring bottles of water to Beaufort West, and to drop them off at the municipal offices and local filling stations.
Last week, however, the mood in a drought-relieved Beaufort West was entirely different. Amid an admirable downpour of rain, hundreds of delegates gathered in a church hall to attend the 2nd Karoo Development Conference.
Despite the threat of shale-gas fracking in this vast heartland, the mood among delegates was upbeat – the Karoo has been firmly ensconced in the world imagination as one of the great desert destinations, alongside Australia’s Outback and the New Mexico-Arizona states of the United States.
The Karoo has been firmly ensconced in the world imagination as one of the great desert destinations, alongside Australia’s Outback and the New Mexico-Arizona states of the United States
Long regarded as a tourism backwater, the 80-odd towns and settlements with their more than 1-million residents (spanning 4 provinces) were represented at the conference on all sorts of levels.
While scientists spoke about the water and the geology, others explored the themes of regional tourism routes, wildlife stocks, wilderness corridors, farming issues and small-town poverty.
There was also a chance for the growing group of Karoo authors to speak about their latest work and promote their books.
It has become clear over the past 5 years that the Karoo is enjoying a ‘repopulation renaissance’ like never before. Not only are more travellers spending time in our arid areas on farms, at festivals, in quiet country retreats and in tucked-away little villages, but there has been a boom in ‘in-migration’ from the urban centres.
And for once the relatively isolated voices of the Karoo could speak as one. With new technology, a faster internet and the promise of mega-projects like the Square Kilometre Array space radio telescope programme, it’s all systems go for the dry country, its residents and the people who want to escape the madding crowds.