In one of the many hidden valleys of the Soutpansberg in central Limpopo, you’ll find Fair Trade Tourism certified Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge. A place where life and art, mirror people and place, where village life and rich culture blend to create a hip and happening rural style, and where guests are invited to join in on this glorious dance called ‘life’.
And what makes this ‘life’ at Madi a Thavha special, are the sustainable relationships that they have built with their surrounding communities. Most of the staff is from the local community, with some being rescued out of a life of poverty. Like Paul Sephodi, an unemployed man who came to dig a hole for a septic tank – a two week job that in the end lasted 11 years and has equipped him with skills that would make any handyman proud.
Alfred Ramolefo, who started out as the foreman on the farm, is now a qualified tour guide and Musa Matchume, the lodge administrator, with his passion for guiding tours and sharing his local and indigenous knowledge with guests. The tours offered at Madi a Thavha are anything but contrived and sterile – guests get to walk along dusty streets with traditionally painted homesteads, hear the melodious sound of children laughing and the tinkling of Nguni cattle bells. Experience rural life with its local hair-salons and spaza shops, visit a local school or community project and meet crafters and local artists in their rural workshops.
One such crafter is Sophia Baloyi, a ‘gogo’ who is a master at creating traditional Tsonga beaded items. Together with her sister Lerisa, they create jewellery, beaded baskets, traditional calabash and walking sticks – all with a contemporary edge learned during workshops at Madi a Thavha. These workshops teach local crafters how to use heritage based techniques and materials to make contemporary products that will appeal to tourists and interior decorators. Products, from 30 rural artists and crafters are sold at the craft art shop at the lodge.
One of the other popular stops on a tour is to visit Thomas Kubayi, a talented wood carver, drum builder, musician and story teller. His Vhutshila Art Centre is where guests can enjoy musical performances as well as woodcarving and music workshops, and a place where he imparts his knowledge of carving and traditional music to other local young artists, such as Pilato Bulala, a schoolboy who does scrap art living close to him.
It is heart-warming to visit to the Vhutshilo Mountain School where many HIV positive and vulnerable children from extremely impoverished circumstances are cared for. Madi a Thavha also supports Vhutshilo in their quest for proper education, clothes, nutritious meals and health check-ups for the children and young adults, many of whom are orphans. In addition to this, an income generating scheme for school leavers ensures that they are able to support themselves financially.
These are just a few of the rich experiences that represent Madi a Thavha’s integrated approach to ‘doing’ tourism. An approach that is in line with the principles of responsible tourism and that benefits the local community, and one of the key reasons for their Fair Trade Tourism certification.
Guests of Madi a Thavha Mountain Lodge leave with dust in their shoes, wonderful memories and a suitcase full of art and crafts – each of these with a special story that represents the life and traditions of the colourful people of the northern frontiers of South Africa.
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