There’s nothing here to recommend this port city (built up in the 70s) but, once away from the industrial area, the surrounding countryside is quite beautiful.
With a bit of trepidation we joined three other couples to go to Shakaland – a Zulu “cultural village” that was actually built as a set for a TV miniseries. Our previous experiences with cultural villages and shows didn’t bode well but it was highly recommended by others, so we all decided to check it out.
Upon arrival, after a spirited greeting by the local Zulu chief, we were given a lunch of African curries and vegetables which we washed down with the local beer and wine – quite delicious. Following a 15 minute video which explained Zulu history through dramatic scenes from the miniseries, we met our Zulu guide who gave us a cultural tour through the village, aided by various people who enacted the customs and traditions of which she spoke. Finally, we were treated to some amazing Zulu dances, accompanied by great drumming and a fascinating instrument that was quite new to me. It was a drum, open on one end, with a stick poked through the drumskin on the other end. After dipping his hand in water, the musician rubbed a watery hand up and down the stick, making a noise that I would characterize as a rhino in heat! Perhaps I’ll find out on our upcoming safari if I was right 😉 I made a video of it but can’t, unfortunately, attach it to this page until we get home.
In the end it was a positive experience. The people were genuine – sincerely interested in highlighting their historical and cultural traditions, using this “village” as a means to retain some of those traditions. Although they didn’t actually live there, most were from a nearby village that, through their elders, did maintain some of the traditions of old. On our way back to Richards Bay, Debbie, the guide whom we he hired to take us there, told me that Shakaland really is very authentic but that many similar “villages” were of the “tacky touristy” variety and she would gently try to discourage her clients to go.
I was lucky enough to sit beside her as we returned and she gave me a bit about her life – growing up in Kruger National Park (her father was a ranger) and then going to a private school near Durban for high school. It was, at the time, an all white school but she said that in 1992 (2 yrs. before apartheid was lifted) they began integration. She talked about the real concern for the country – 40% unemployment and more and more people pouring over the borders every day from countries such as Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique where unemployment is as high as 95%. Reduced job opportunities for South Africans increases racial tensions and many former soldiers from war torn countries bring guns with them, further fuelling the already high crime rate. It is a sad situation and you wonder what the future is for this country. The lecturer on the ship (an economics professor from University of Cape Town) has not managed to increase our optimism.