Mdantsane is a unique, vibrating, eclectic, African place. Follow us on a pilgrimage to Mdantsane to discover the street culture, fashion, food, people, music, homes, taverns, humor, businesses, history and what's hot in the second biggest township in South-Africa, located close to the city of East London in the Province of the Eastern Cape. Join us on this journey while we capture the spirit of this amazing place for you in the here and in the now. We are going to introduce you to many individuals, artists, musicians, groups and associations.
They are the HEROES OF DAILY LIFE. They are the people who create, innovate and improve their life and their stories deserve to be told. This is a place for only good and positive stories of humanity, that will send out a message of courage, endurance and strength to the world through their pictures and words.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

A Perfectly Beautiful, Organic And Sustainable Piece Of Xhosa Jewelry And The Story Of Its Origin

If You Cross The River Bring A Bangle Back For Me

A Photographic Story By Chocolat

When the waters do not want to marry.....

There are times, when the waters do not want to marry! Like some people do not want to be together.
What happened here? What is going on here, you might ask me when you look at the two colors of the sea? The razor sharp line, that separates them seems a tiny little bit unreal. You have never seen such a clear and straight line between waters, you say to me!

I can only tell you, that this land, that belongs to the Xhosa for so long, and that some name the Transkei is a very special one. It is a land of rolling green hills, mighty bulls and clear, clear blue sky. I say clear. It is truly clear and bright like a child's face. It's the land of many rivers.

So, when the rains have been falling for some days and the Xhosa are happy because their hills are getting even greener and their bulls are getting fatter - the rivers from the mountains run into the sea. And sometimes the waters do not want to marry. And that is what you see.

Some of us others - and we are getting more by the day - wish for a cleaner, better and purer life. But we can not find it where we are. So we start to travel!

The Craft And Traditions Of Days Of Old

On my travels I have seen bangles so beautiful, shining and in a way pure, made by female Xhosa hands in the same old way for centuries. They come straight from the earth, entirely woven out of grass. This land of the Xhosa people, I told you about, has a very special type of grass.

The bangles, they last. 

A perfectly beautiful, organic and sustainable piece of Xhosa jewelry

But to have it, you have to cross at least one river. Only once, have I seen someone bringing them to the city. 
It takes a special place to make a special thing.
So, if you have to cross the river, bring a bangle back, just for me.

Finding a place on the ferry at Kei Mouth can sometimes take a while

Your travel, you will share with everyone. And that is nice.

The waters of the Kei River are brown after heavy rains

The river tells you if you are going on or not.

The easiest way to cross the river

Amongst the many others who have all a reason to cross the river, you can find her. There is she.
But she, she goes forth and back on the river. The river is where she works.  

Crossing the river to do business

It seems strange and still makes sense. For her it's what she does - travelling the river with her stuff. All day long.

Bracelets and baskets are handwoven by the Xhosa women in a traditional way in the Transkei since centuries

She has learned this craft form her forefathers and knows to do it as well as her mother and her grandmother. In the Transkei there is no work, so this is what she does.

A serious look - the Transkei has been my home - always

On the ferry, she shows her things to the ones that cross to the other side. The ones who buy are the tourists and she can tell you, there are not really many of them in this region. Christmas and Easter is a good time for her and the other women because she is not the only one doing this.
So she travels from one side to the other, her face protected against the sun like the Xhosa women have always done it.

In the distance the sea

The grasses of the Transkei in the Eastern Cape are used to make handwoven products

 She needs that grass on the other side of the river, to make the things she does.

Handwoven Baskets - Origin Transkei Eastern Cape

Her baskets are really beautiful and some of the tourists say:"Yes they are, but what would I do with it, I really have no need for it".
"Just buy one, I give it cheap for you", she says.
And may be she is lucky. Being on the ferry is to her advantage because she can talk to the tourists and convince them that they need a basket or a bangle until the ferry touches ground the other side.

Then off they drive with dust and noise.

Cheap Chinese import products have found their way into the Transkei

But her bangles and her baskets are not all she sells. 

Lately, she has added things that she knows come from China. Cheap things that are nothing like hers. Things that are made by even cheaper labor than in South Africa. Things that break and do not last like hers. But the young girls buy it.

To live here you have to be strong - and you are born like that

The remotest areas and all the small villages in South Africa have been flooded by cheap Chinese goods. No small village in the rural areas without a Chinese shop, selling dresses and shoes and lotions and potions to the locals. The same dresses you can buy at Woolworths in town, just 30 % more expensive than here.

The boats men

But we have heard that China is Africa's new big friend. Right? China is helping Africa so much and sending all that money!

And The Passengers

So what is a perfectly beautiful, organic and sustainable piece of Xhosa jewelry worth in our global world? Does it count more or as much as goods, that are produced by child labor. 
And the question is: who wants it? Me, I do.
But I am completely irrelevant int this process. 

International Brands Have Given Their Names And Labels To Africa

Some are not so sure about this trip

But many do not know about all that and are just worried about this trip. There is no time to care cause life is really sometimes not easy. It's the century old, courageous story of African people who can not swim, traveling on rough and long rivers to get to where they want to be. Well, this river is small but it is the same.
Don't look and you will be fine!

She comes home....

And for her, at the end of the day she comes home!
Tired but with may be some money.

Too shy but lots of reason to be proud

At first there was shyness.

What more can you ask for?

But then she showed me her pride.

Different Designs of Grass or Reed Bracelets

Detail of different grass bracelets

Delicate and Fine

A time consuming craft

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Selling Your Dreadlocks To Make Some Money

Our latest Walter Sisulu University article was written by 2nd year journalism student Andisa Bonani. This article explores the new trend of dreadlocks implantations which has become a source of income for many by selling their locks.
Plaiting of dreadlocks has become one of the most sought after hairstyles currently and salon owners are going all out to meet the needs of their loyal customers.

Dreadlocks also known as “locks” or “dreads” are matted coils of hair usually intentionally formed; because of the variety of textures and the fact that normal hair takes long to grow, people have resorted to plaiting them onto their heads.

Dreads’ origin lies with Rastafarians. They often just allow their hair to grow without combing or brushing over a long period of time, and the hair “locked” upon itself and remains in whatever shape it grows from the scalp.

Ras Isaac, 46, a Rastafarian from Duncan Village said: “I feel that the Rastafari movement is being undermined because growing dreadlocks on our heads is one way for people to identify us. People making money of our identity is theft. I believe if this was an issue of a particular culture something would have been done.”

This new trend of dreads implantation became popular here in the Eastern Cape late 2010. It has played a major role in boosting hairstylists businesses especially those that specialise on dreads.

Supervisor at African Roots dreadlocks salon, Sibonelo Mgiba, based in Oxford Street in East London, said: “In most cases we approach people that already have locks or sometimes they would come to us since they know our business. We’d make them an offer between R400 and R500 depending on the length and thickness of the hair.”

Dreadlock Implantations - Image by Andisa Bonani, Walter Sisulu University

To people like Anda Nqonji, 21, from Butterworth, having dreadlocks has always been her dream: “I’ve wanted dreadlocks almost all my life, but because of my hair type, it’s been impossible, as I have very soft hair. I however jumped at an opportunity to plait them the day I heard it was possible.”

According to Mgiba, people with normal hair, especially the unemployed, would promise to grow dreadlocks in order to sell them to him or grow them on their children to sell them to hairdressers and earn money effortlessly, no matter how long it takes.

Zikhona Ndamane, 32, from Steynsburg who grew her dreads to sell them said: “With the rate of unemployment I had to find a way to make money and growing locks was the only way I could think of at the time, apart from the small business that I have.”

Article and Image by By Andisa Bonani, Walter Sisulu University

Monday, February 25, 2013

Where Does The Name Mdantsane Come From ?

What does the name Mdantsane mean ? Where does it come from? 
Nobody knows. It does not mean anything. Really, we don't know. It's just a name.
We have heard that more than once. 
But it was rather hard to believe for us! In Africa every name has a meaning! Every name comes from somewhere. In Africa behind every name there is a story. In Africa every name has significance and stands for an event, a place, a great happening or a story. Like the guy, named ambulance, whom we met and who in works in an upholstery in town. His mother gave birth in an ambulance. That is logic, that is real! That's a great story!

So we asked again and again most of the time receiving the same answers - until we came, across a  document about the history of East London and Mdantsane, that satisfied our curiosity!


Mdantsane is said to have received its name from the farm Umdanzani on whose ground it was established

By the 1940s, living quarters for black East London workers were hard to find and the existing locations and the already big township Duncan Village were overcrowded. Duncan Village is a township, that existed long before Mdantsane.
More Residential areas for black labor were needed and lengthy discussions took place on the level of the town council concerning the most suitable location for another "Bantu Residential Area". More information can be found in our article The Origin of Mdantsane.

In 1954 the City Engineer was requested to find space for expansion, especially on suitable land adjoining Duncan Village.
But the survey was refused by the national government and the area was declared to be for white people only. 

Areas near Newlands, Macleantown, Kwelegha and a farm with the name “Umdanzani”, were examined. 
The latter was found to be suitable as it lay alongside the national road and railway line, and in 1958 the new site was declared.
The municipality undertook the planning which was based on the "neighbourhood concept" of a garden city, first suggested by E. Howard in 1898. This envisaged a central CBD (Central Business District) with neighbourhoods clustering around it. 
In each neighbourhood there would be low order central areas, which would house shops, churches and educational facilities. 

The nature of the topography, ridges and valleys, dictated much of the layout, which tried to avoid the formal grid pattern and worked around curves, loops and triangles. 

By the end of 1963 the first 300 residents occupied the new houses.
In 1966 it was proclaimed a "Ciskei homeland" town and excised from East London. The advantage at least was that this did allow for freehold title. It was originally only intended to make provision for 120 000, but it grew very rapidly and today it is divided into eighteen zones which are still expanding, with the newest unit known as Unit P.

The original Name Umdanzani transformed over time to Mdantsane.

Amagqirha - The Way Of Divine Healing In The Xhosa Tradition

A while ago we published the article "A Young Circumcision Surgeon's Quest To Preserve Tradition" by Siyanda Nkonyeni and with today's post we are following up on the great interest this topic has created amongst our readers, South African and foreign alike. 

The historical images shown today on our site are all property (we do not claim any rights to them, they are shown here for the sake of sharing them with our readers) and are exhibited at the Amathole Museum in King Williams Town in the Eastern Cape. 

We also encourage our South African readers to make use of the cultural and historical sites we have in South Africa. Museums have to be visited to keep them growing and glowing. Our interest in the past of our country is the encouragement, that institutions like museums and galleries need to continue doing their work in a passionate and dedicated manner.

Historical Picture of A Mfengu Diviner (Amagqirha ), Grahamstown 1982 - The Amathole Museum in King Williams Town
Amagqirha have been labelled as witchdoctors, diviners, traditional doctors, Sangoma and Ngaka, but in the Eastern Cape of South Africa they are known as the Amagqirha. 
They are the custodians of customs that survived through the centuries and remain the foundation of tribal life.  

In Southern Africa there are two main types of traditional practitioners.The first group are the herbalists - in the Xhosa language their name is amaxhwele and in the Zulu language izinyanga. 
The diviners belong to the second group, called in Xhosa amagqirha and in Zulu izangoma.

Explanation of the role a diviner - Amathole Museum in King Wiliiams Town

A Diviner In His Consulting Room at Grahamstown 1982 - Amathole Museum King Williams Town

It is the diviner's work to discover the hidden causes behind misfortune and prescribe appropriate action. This action occurs usually in the form of divination or healing, using plant remedies, which could be practised without a knowledge of divination since all diviners are also healers at the same time, and have an extensive knowledge of medicines.
ASC (altered states of consciousness) are an important feature in the initiation and training of diviners in South Africa, as well as in their divination practices. 

As elsewhere around the world diviners make use of trance/ ASC to connect with what are believed to be spiritual powers or higher human awareness. 

In Southern Africa dance, song and psychoactive plants are all inducers of visionary phenomena.

The Diviner's Consulting Room - Amathole Museum King Williams Town

Through the use of these inducers, the diviner is able to connect with the ancestral "spirits" which is crucial in diagnosing the problem the patient has. 

Powerful healers are said to be able to see the illness in the body of the patient which is reminiscent of similar abilities employed by shamans around the world.

The Southern African diviner is characterised by his/her ability to communicate with and learn from the ancestor spirits (Amadlozi).
Diviners are most commonly not possessed by their spirits but communicate with them or use a medium by which their guidance is interpreted.

The healers mostly use the bones and dreams to communicate with their ancestors. Their spirits may also communicate information to them through thoughts. The ancestors always close. 
It appears that the ancestral spirits, who are said to be responsible for the initiation illness, and for sending visions and giving information to the healer, are an intangible force or power that the healer is connected to..


Amathole Museum in King Williams Town About How A Person Is Called By The Ancestors To Become An Amagqirha

Diviners  are specifically called to their profession by their ancestors through the sending of a illness syndrome, referred to as thwasa or intwaso. This term is derived from the verb ukuthwasa which refers to the process of gradually becoming or emerging as a diviner. 

The person does not to choose to be a diviner but is chosen by the ancestors.

The intwaso condition is characterized by the initiate suffering from various illnesses, dreams, visions and mental disturbances such as madness and anxiety sent by the ancestors.

A Diviner In the Ciskei Circa 1984

To become a diviner the initiate has to be first cured of the illness (intwaso) through a series of rituals, which include the use of special plant based medicines of the home and training in techniques of divination and curing.

Medicine Bag Of A Diviner

This novice or candidate diviner (umkwetha) becomes now the apprentice of a experienced practising healer who teaches him/her the ways of traditional healing.

Diviner Pondoland Circa 1930's - Amathole Museum in King Williams Town

The Amagqirha are an integral, deeply embedded and important part of the South African Society. They can be seen in the big cities, rural areas as well as in townships, like Mdantsane. Divination and Healing through traditional herbal remedies exists side by side with modern western medicine. Moreoften the two complement each other.

Historical Image of A Diviner - Amathole Museum Kind Williams Town
Often patients who undergo a classical on western medicine based treatment consult an Amagqirha as well.

Zulu Diviners

With Western medicine not having all the answers the West has become more and more interested in traditional healing techniques like the ones practized in Africa for centuries.

Divinatory Charges, Grahamstown  in 1982

Rain Maker Kei Road circa 1940's - Amathole Museum inKing Williams Town

A Display Of A Proprietary Medicines From A Trading Store circa 1940's at Ngqutu Transkei

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Velile And His Mdantsane Township Tours

Velile Ndlumbini - Owner Of Imonti Tours

Velile Ndlumbini is the one and only you can not pass by when talking about the Mdantsane township. We are very pleased to tell his story today. This interview has been long overdue.

Velile is an integral, motivated and important role player in the East London business community. As the owner of  Imonti Tours he has been conducting township tours to Mdantsane for many years.
When you meet Velile for the first time you can not not notice the aura that surrounds him. We were shooting the movie "Mdantsane Another African Story" and our German cameraman's remark when filming him was: "What an impressive personality".

To this package of charisma and originality he adds an infatuating smile and an absolute positive outlook on life.
"I am willing to try out many things as long as they are positive" he says with that broad smile on his face. 

Velile touring Mdantsane - on our backseat this time

Black man, African entrepreneur, successful business owner, who has left his mark on the East London business community little by little. Married and a father of a turbulent three year old boy. 

We have asked him what is his recipe for success, if there is one? And how and why did he start the Mdantsane township tours in a township, that nobody knows, in a province that is regarded the poorest of South Africa. How did the boy born in the Transkei at the Wildcoast become the successful man he is today?

Coming in contact with locals

Velile comes from the Libode area in the Transkei. An amazingly beautiful but isolated, rough land that the Xhosa people have inhabited since centuries. After school he decided to study tourism.

"But like many others of my generation I could not finish my studies due to family and financial problems", says Velile," however this was not a reason for me to give up on my dreams and plans. There is one thing I have learned in life, that you need a support system. You can not win alone"

Velile saw an opportunity in his immediate environment, that nobody from the tourism industry had seen before. One of the great overseas Mercedes Benz production plants is situated in East London. That meant there would be always German expatriates working in East London. And they would have visitors from their country on a regular basis.

" I had the idea of organizing township tours in Mdantsane many years back. But when I saw the potential of Mdantsane  I started doing my research".

Township tours became the in-thing after South Africa became independent in 1994 and today millions of tourists of hundreds of different nationalities are rolling in big air conditioned buses through the streets of Soweto and Khayelitsha. 

Velile traveled Johannesburg and Cape Town and booked himself township tours for Soweto,  Kayelistha and other townships as well.

I took the best of everything I had seen and designed my own tour for Mdantsane

"I observed very carefully how the tour organizers conducted their tours. I made notes and I looked at all the details. Then I took the best of every tour to design my own tour for Mdantsane".

No time to waste- follow your dreams even if it is difficult and accept help

Once he knew what he wanted, he did not waste time to prepare the process of becoming a registered tour guide and setting up his own business.

And he had help from a German lady in her mid fifties, the wife of a German Mercedes Benz employee who had immigrated 30 years ago to East London and had made South Africa his home. 

Velile described his relationship with Gabriele Renz as a mother and son connection. The warm hearted, very educated and generous woman helped him in many ways. 
At the time Velile did not have a car and Gabriele drove him to the places and institutions he needed to see. 

Apart from that, Gabriele, who worked as a free lance translator for Mercedes Benz had many connection in the German community. 

"Gabriele was one of those people who could genuinely feel for others and her death is a great loss to me. I could not believe it" said Velile about the sudden death  of Gabriele who died last year of lung cancer.  

Showing other people that townships are interesting

 "I organized my tours in such a way, that my visitors can establish a personal contact with the inhabitants of Mdantsane. We do not only drive through the township and take them to an eatery. Instead I have selected families, we buy and bring food to them and my overseas visitors can enjoy a traditional meal in a the home of a Mdantsane family", explains Velile.
"And that is only one of the possibilities, that I create for the tourists to interact with the locals"

Velile is without any doubt the black man that is most known to the German community in East London. 

His business card is handed over from one frequent visitors receiving German expat-wife to the next. 
"Here is Velile Ndlumbini's number you might hear them say. He can take your visitors for a day off your hands". 

Chilling out

A foreigner, often isolated in the East London community, will understand better the mentality and the life style of the locals if he is going on a tour with Imonti Tours.

Something collectable

Velile will make you eat local food, smell local medicine, dance the local dances, drive the sometimes bumpy Mdantsane roads ( so you can feel later you have been to a different place) but all the while he will take good care of your security and life.

A place worth to see

And if times get a bit more difficult you don't have to be shy to get your hands dirty  and to do the things yourself, he says.

Beauty growing up in Mdantsane


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