Though coming to an end soon, September has been deservedly chosen as National Heritage Month here in South Africa. On September 24 Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburi (in her capacity as acting-president) attended the main Heritage Day function in the Free State where it was poetry galore. Some few years ago President Thabo Mbeki said that when this generation passes on it must not leave its offspring poverty as part of its legacy. People must always strive to pass over to the next generation something worth celebrating.
Tourism always remember to make sure that the local traveler is informed that approximately 70% of this country's heritage sites are in Limpopo Province. This is when we exclude Table Moutain, Cradle of Mankind and the majestic Eastern Transvaal scenic sights. While Limpopo shares the Kruger National Park which has vast heritage reserves with Mpumalanga it dawned on me this month during a tourism exposure that there's a need to take the South African Tourism's Sho't Left invitation very seriously. Art is poetry and this year's heritage theme is 'celebrating South African poetry'. Limpopo showed me that it has all the poetry as art as anyone can desire, especially the Vhembe District of the province.
Vhembe District boasts the most comprehensive indigenous knowledge management systems in the country if not the world. The world renowned Mapungubwe World Heritage Site, which is said to be the world's oldest stock exchange spanning thousands of years and very synonymous with the Chinese before they fell in love with the fong-kong and only discovered in the 1970s provides a spectacle only visible in this part of the world. Up there one will see evidence of this burgeouning civilization that undoubtedly dwarfs anything the Greek and Egyptians can put to the fore. From the top of the mountain you have the benefit of seeing both Zimbabwe and Botswana, across the Transfrontier park. There are indigenous games at the summit which indicate the oldness of our indigenous knowledge.
Eccentric Sculptor Noria Mabasa who lives in Tshino Village is known the world over for her use of wood to tell stories of her people. At her home which doubles as a workshop there are sculptors that tell of the floods that ravaged Mozambique and this part of the country a few years ago. There is also a depiction of the young woman who was forced to give birth ontop of a tree. As if she hasn't told enough already Mabasa also depicts suffering of African women by exploring their motherhood roles, much in the absense of a father. Her story of the floods does not only focus on the devastation but also the human tragedy that includes those who were devoured by crocodiles as rivers burst their banks. A trained sangoma who extorted her knowledge from the depth of mermaid infested dams, she says that her ansestors instructed her not to shave her hair if she wants to remain artistically potent and healthy. This was following a long illness that was eating into her self-esteem. Mabasa told Kasiekulture that all her wood work come to her in dreams and visions and it's her way of communicating the messages of her ansestors. She's a strong believer in spiritual guidance.
Also trivial is religiously-mythical Ha-Mbokota resident sculptor Jackson Hlungwani who historians say he had a vision that he should commit suicide. When he refused he had a vision of an arrow shot from a bow piercing his torso only to turn into a lethal snake that instructed him to burn his right leg, literally. Hlungwani's been incinerating his leg on open flame everyday for the past 20 years and only stopped the self-torture a few years ago. Nobody knows if it's the voices that stopped or he just decided that pain was enough. Between this years of self-hurt and answering to voices from the dark Hlungwani has become a world renowned sculptor whose works adorn majestic buildings overseas. It might be surprising that very few South Africans have seen his work given that we tend to celebrate everything that is not ours at the expense of our own treasures. He's got what he calls the portrait of god. It was a quizzical development when during our visit he instructed us to go see god. You should have seen how we ran behind his village house wanting to see the Creator only to find a creation, carved out of a rotting tree. And that's what he called god. A followerof his work Vonani Bila says that people must not perceive Hlungwani to be mentally disturbed due to his outbursts about god and faith but should understand where he's coming from and that Jesus often used parables to tell simple stories. Hlugwani is credited with using parables in the use of sculpting to tell stories. It means that you need to sit down with him to understand why would he call a dead tree god.
At Zamazama village in Makhado there is the late John Baloyi Gallery. Baloyi passed away a few years ago. His works, like those of Mabasa and Hlungwani are more celebrated overseas and in their respective villages than middle-class South Afrikan households. Also around this community is one of the few known ethnically-mixed dance groups that excel in tshigubu and tshigombela dances. It is a group of Balobedu and vhaTsonga. Here it seems the whole village is pottery territory as they make them in different ways and forms. This is also where the whole village is made up of streams that hide strong dark clay that gave birth to Mukondeni Potteries, a project that was opened by former Minister of Public Works Mr Jeff Radebe on 3 December 1998.
They say Americans are protesting that the Baobab tree at Madimbo is the oldest one in the world, without reason though, which we are still waiting to hear. The massive tree requires 39 adult people holding hands to cover the thick buck that is a kaleidoscope to mother nature. Closer inspection reveals puffadders, penises, people's backs, pointing hands, animal and human faces etc. The Big Tree, as this protected tree is known is reportedly 3000 years old, is 22 metres high, is 65% water with roots that cover five kilometres and branches that expand to 130 metres. Environmentalists argue that if we can plant six billion Baobab trees we would have reversed the gains of global warming. That is one tree for every sould breathing poisoned air today.
Most of these treasures at Vhembe are protected under national and international laws and form part of this country's heritage. While some are found all over the country, it is the ones in Limpopo and the Kruger National Park that should be attractive to an adventurous traveler from outside. This is the heritage that will be passed on to the next generation.
Other areas of interest for a traveler include eccentric drum maker Samson Mudzunga at Dopeni, Dzata Museum, Beitbridge Border Crossing between South Afrika and Zimbabwe, Popalin Ranch (where 22 lions are kept), Phafuri and Thulamela Heritage Sites and many more, especially the people of Vhembe with their ready smiles and a welcoming spirit that goes beyond the Sho't Left Promo.