Background and context of Tara Rokpa Centre

TRC is situated on two portions of the farm Rhenosterfontein in Kuilfontein. ‘Rhenoster’ is the Afrikaans word for Rhino and ‘Kuil’ is a hollow in the ground from which water emerges – most often used to describe spring in a boggy area. ‘Fontein’ is a fountain.

The first Voortrekkers who inhabited the area arrived in the 1870s. They chose to settle in the valley due to an abundance of wildlife (including rhino) and plenty of available water. By all accounts, at the time, the land was uninhabited. This may be true as historically it was an area inhabited at different times by different tribes who hunted, planted valley food crops, and kept livestock. They appear to have used the area for varying amounts of time. There are reported to have been constant battles with inhabitants retreating to fortified hilltops (some thought to be the 16th century) in times of war. Different ethnic groups were constantly being driven out and moved on.

The first white man, Mr Oberholzer, was granted an enormous farm. He in time had sons who had sons who had sons, all of whom inherited smaller and smaller sections of land. Each was allocated a piece of land on which to build a family home, a few surrounding fields for cultivation and all the rest of the land was used for communal grazing. Verbal history from older inhabitants of the valley talk of endless struggles to survive off the land. Numerous crops were tried and most failed due to lack of sufficient rain, unpredictable climate, predators and pests. Stock farming proved equally challenging with many, mainly tick-borne, diseases affecting the stock. To survive the men often had to go seek employment in the gold mines or on the railways, leaving their wives and families behind.

Oom Piet, the oldest living resident in the valley, says when he was a child there were over 350 white children in the local village school. Most people moved to towns as soon as they found sufficient means. Some returned to their farms after retiring and continue to eke out an existence on pensions. Over the past 25 years, the newcomers have arrived, buying up farmland for farming, game farming and for leisure.

TRC was found by Mark Bennett, a sangha member and ‘dreamer’ from Johannesburg following advice offered to him by Akong Rinpoche. The land was needed to develop a multipurpose ‘healing’ centre. Mark visited the valley with Geoffrey Freeman and stayed in the existing farmhouse which was a B&B owned by Michelle Ward, TRC’s neighbour. He learned that the property adjoining (an old fish farm) was possibly for sale and within no time bought it.

Ven. Akong Rinpoche was brought to view the valley on his next visit to SA in 2002. He immediately pronounced that it was suitable but far too small and that more land was needed. Negotiations began to buy Michelle’s farm which was bought in 2003. This was purchased through the sale of ‘life rights’ and was the first 2-hectare piece of land owned by TRC. Mark later generous donated his piece of land of 21 hectares.

After Rinpoche’s visit in 2004 over a period of 2 years eight-tenths of another section of the farm was bought from four different owners mostly from loaned funds offered by well-wishers and Rokpa International. An adjoining portion of land on which the ‘informal settlement’ is situated was purchased in 2008. TRC now owns 280 hectares situated on undivided, but shared land.

Ven. Akong Rinpoche was deeply committed to the development of TRC. He wants it to be a multipurpose centre offering opportunities for spiritual, emotional, social and environmental ‘healing’. The whole centre is Tara’s centre and in time he says all 21 aspects of Tara will be present in some form.

Structural development was initially steered by an enthusiastic architect Paul Marias. Over the years a variety of site managers with varied skills have come and gone. Most of the building team is from ‘die Stad’, the local informal settlement. Funds have mainly come through generous donations and generated through activities, specifically Rob Nairn’s popular long retreats. Much energy to date has been directed to building up facilities for retreats and therapy activities and casual use. It has been a non-stop building site for 6 years!

Pippa Cope, who has been resident at Tara Rokpa Centre since mid-2002, was the pioneer who fearlessly managed TRC and the development of the site. She has since retired from day-to-day management and concentrates on community relations.

TRC is currently managed by Tanja Camacho, a professional in the hospitality industry. She is supported by a management committee, TRC staff and residents. The centre is overseen by a structure comprising Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche (on behalf of Akong Rinpoche), trustees, a Council and management committee all of whom have and continue to offer dedicated voluntary support to the Centre’s growth and development.

Some community training has taken place. At present, the main community activity is supporting a small creché – ‘Tirisano’ for the local disadvantaged children in the nearby settlement of Rietvaley. And the permaculture site is being developed towards providing a Training Centre.

Akong Rinpoche had a vast 1000 year vision for the Centre’s development. He said it will be a centre which will benefit many people for a long time to come. If at all possible, more land should be acquired to ensure the conservation of wildlife.

For all this to unfold dedicated ongoing support is needed.