Tennis tapestry
Farmer's Weekly|Farmer's Weekly 24 September 2021
There was a period in South Africa’s past when a well-kept tennis court was as much a part of a prosperous farm as a vegetable garden or a tractor. And this applied in the dusty Karoo as well as in the lush Lowveld, says Graham Jooste.
Graham Jooste

Once upon a time, the tennis court was the site of social and sporting gatherings on various farms in the platteland and bushveld areas. There were many reasons for this, including the relative isolation of many farming communities and the fact that there were few other forms of entertainment.

Each group of farms had its own structure. At some, a rotation system was formed to host the Sunday tennis day on different farms every month. The other, more favoured, choice was to always have the gathering on a certain, well-situated farm. It was run on a club-type basis, with different farmers providing refreshments, and always proved popular.

The best courts were made of compacted ant-heap soil softened with water, with a bit of lime added, and the sun-baked the mixture into a perfectly level surface. Lime was used to mark the lines on the court.

The tennis court also served another purpose: it was a playground for youngsters. You could play cricket, football, bok in die hok, and even marbles on the smooth surface. Many a baby was wheeled around the tennis court in a pram to bring about peaceful sleep, with the birds twittering in the surrounding trees.

The cost and upkeep was shared among the members of the ‘club’. The only forms of communication were by word of mouth or through the local telephone exchange. The owners of the venue would always know in advance about the attendance to be expected.

For young men or women returning home from university, it was an ideal opportunity to melt back into the community and catch up on the news. They were made to feel important by the many questions asked of them about their studies and aspirations in life. For the younger children, it was a time of playing in the open. For teenagers, it was a chance to catch the eye of a crush!

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