"Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Experience"

In the tourist office in Howick I picked up a glossy, attractively produced pamphlet entitled “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience – Traditional Zulu hospitality. Under History is the following information:-“The Zulu-Mpophomeni Experience serves as a unique metaphor for the miracle in South Africa. Mpophomeni was founded in 1972 when the original settlement was moved under the segregationist policies of the apartheid government. There was much unhappiness about the move and the farmer whose land was expropriated committed suicide and his ashes scattered over the land.

Mpophomeni housed most of the workers at the British Tyre and Rubber Plant in Howick and in 1984, a massive strike was called to protest low wages. The entire workforce was fired and some of the shop stewards were subsequently shot.

A wall of Reconciliation was built to commemorate the 120 people who died in the violence and fittingly, is named after Nokulunga Gumede, the five year old who was run over by a military vehicle during the cycle of violence.”

There was mention of Township Tours which included visits to the Wall of Reconciliation, an old farmhouse, and income-generating projects as part of community development. As well as a visit to a Sangoma (traditional Healer), a cemetery, Shembe Traditional Church and cultural activities such as Zulu dance and Township jive.

Accomodation is offered in thirteen private homes with comfortable en-suite Bed and Breakfast accomodation, which includes double,twin and single beds.

Donnette had never visited the village so we set off with two of her children for our “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience.” We were all full of anticipation as we drove through the breathtaking countryside. We turned off the main road when we saw a sign for the “Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience”.

Suddenly we were in another world and for the first time on this trip I met Africa as I know it. I looked like everyone else. I was no longer a black face amongst a majority of white ones as in the shopping malls. No longer were the only “black” faces seen in town packing bags in supermarkets, cutting the verges, pushing and carrying and cleaning. Donnette and her two children perched on the back seat of the car were now a very obvious minority.

My heart lifted with delight at seeing goats and chickens and dogs with litters of puppies roaming around freely. Rows of neat houses lined one side of the road.

We drove confidently down the road for about two miles and then came to what appeared to be the centre of the town. We saw absolutely nothing that gave any information as to the Mpophomeni Experience. We were keenly aware that we were being carefully observed by a very wary population. I wanted to photograph the long queue of people waiting for transport but felt that this would not be appreciated by the townspeople so I didn’t

I was automatically addressed in Zulu (a lovely language) and people looked bewildered when I said that I didn’t speak the language. Donnette managed to find someone who spoke English and finally a young man with a car said we should follow him. A slightly inebriated gentleman squeezed onto the back seat with the children. We drove back the way we had come and the car we were following stopped in front of the community centre. We said a friendly goodbye to both men.

Truth to tell by this time we were all rather apprehensive and mystified. People we had actually spoken to were perfectly friendly but the general atmosphere was not. It was so odd that no one appeared to have heard of the Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience which was supposed to take place in their small town.

Donnette said that she didn’t feel safe and I reluctantly had to agree. She got out of the car to ask some women for directions but left the engine running. We followed their directions which seemed to lead further and further out of the town. No matter where we looked we just didn’t see anything that was remotely like what we were looking for. By this time, Donnette’s daughter who is very sensitive was nervous and upset. The decision to abandon the expedition was unanimous.

We did, however, drive further along the road to see if there was perhaps another entrance. The road started to climb as we approached the foothills of the Drakensberg Mountains. After several kilometers we turned round and headed in the direction of home.

We stopped at a Nursery which offered teas. The place was idyllic with wonderful views and beautiful trees and plants. It is run by a brother, sister and sister-in-law, two of whom had just returned to South Africa after ten unsatisfactory years in England. They too had never heard of the “Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism experience” which should have been a few miles away from them. I had a very welcome pot of Earl Grey tea and excellent scones with cream and strawberry jam. The whole expedition was not helped by heavily overcast skies and spitting rain.

Donnette and I have come to the conclusion that the Zulu-Mpophomeni Tourism Experience with traditional Zulu hospitality exists only when bus loads of overseas visitors roll into town. No doubt it is an interesting and entertaining experience but one which offers a totally stage-managed view of traditional Zulu life. I suspect that as an ethnologist I would have found it highly unsatisfactory.

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