Road tripping to magical Venda in South Africa
VENDA: A SOUTH AFRICAN HOMELAND
‘Bantustans’ were established by the Apartheid government as separate ‘black homelands,’ far removed from urban areas—located in the most rural corners of the country. A total of ten homelands were created. One, situated close to the border of Zimbabwe, which was given to the Venda speaking people in 1962.
The homelands were places where very few from the outside world ever ventured. After the Citizenship Act of 1970 was passed—allowing black people living throughout South Africa to be legal citizens in the homeland designated for their particular ethnic group, fears and prejudices grew far greater than ever before. Not only among white people, but also within varying black cultures.
Fear was the homeland’s greatest safety. Nothing that didn’t belong inside, got in! Conversely, nothing that belonged outside, went out. Years of isolation kept many things contained and safeguarded, anything from secrets, to sacred spaces and magical beliefs.
Today’s Venda is still shrouded under some of the greatest myths and legends. Whether you’d like to entertain a few mythical stories or not, the vast hills, ancient forests, disappearing waterfalls and mountain plateaus, remain the most dramatic and photogenic landscapes in all of Southern Africa.
LAKE FUNDUDZI AND THE TRADITIONAL DOMBA DANCE
Within the first few minutes of turning off the main road, passing rolling tea-plantations and heading in the direction of the mountains, well-maintained traditional homesteads peak out from every direction. With every meter climbed, the familiarization of reality begins to slip away. Only moments earlier, the very poor, very steep dirt road, begins to look more like a dried up river bed crawling down between lush green trees and giant boulders. The ‘4X4 ONLY’ sign I passed some meters back, now makes complete sense. Farther down the hill, vintage cars from days-gone-by are proudly parked in modest working-class driveways. Only women wrapped in traditional Venda cloth are in sight, walking briskly from one house to the next.
Fundudzi Cultural Camp lies right at the very top, above it all, where it is clear not many attempt to drive. After what feels like an impossibly slow climb, even for an off-road vehicle, I finally arrived at a cluster of huts, modestly painted in monochrome colors, much like the shades of earth below them.
Once inside, I found the hut to be swept clean, two paraffin lanterns and a box of matches were placed on the tiny tin table between two single beds, which were carefully covered with modest, but clean linens that smell like fabric softener. There were no windows. The smell rushes past my face, out the small door and into the open air. Everything feels strangely luxurious, and I cannot decide if it is the noticeable care taken in preparing the beds, or the design of the womb-like windowless-hut’s. I settle for both, lean my luggage against the wall, and close the door behind me as I walk out in a direction that seems to be an outdoor kitchen.
Two ladies lean over giant pots filled with water coming to a boil. They offer me tea and I sip the warm liquid, feeling the safety of a this particular kind of isolation settle into my bones. I understand the importance of organizations like The Transfrontier Parks having mandates to help facilitate and maintain low-impact sustainable tourism experiences such as these.
I stayed for two nights – setting and rising my body with the clock of the sun.
Special attractions in the area and what not to miss …
- Fruit Market between Louis Trichardt and the Fundudzi turn-off.
- The local tea plantations.
- Ask the local resident guide at the camp to organize live Domba dance entertainment, visit the nearby Lake Fundudzi, waterfalls and the Venda Sacred Forest.
How to get to Venda?
The easiest route from Johannesburg to Fundudzi is 510km, the drive should take you about 6 hours. Head straight north up the N1 towards Louis Trichardt and turn right onto the R523. Carry on for about 21km before turning left towards Fundudzi. Should you be using your phone as a GPS, it is advisable to download Off-Route Maps as reception in this part of the world is not reliable at all. Visit Transfrontier Parks for exact location and more details. https://www.tfpd.co.za/cultural-camps/fundudzi-cultural-camp
If you have any questions about visiting Venda, please leave a comment below.