It’s the journey that matters

2011-08-25 00:00

THERE is an isivivane near Umzumbe on the KwaZulu-Natal south coast, said to have been created by King Shaka­ KaSenzagakhona. An isivivane is a traveller’s cairn and in Zulu tradition anyone passing an isivivane picks up a stone, spits on it and adds it to the pile for good luck.

The isivivane near Umzumbe is featured on plenty of websites. The entry on the Zululand Tourism website, says that “some 10 km from Umzumbe lies what is perhaps the most famous isivivane in the country”.

According to the website the area around the Mzumbe River was “once the stronghold of a Hlongwa band of cannibals”. In 1828 they were overrun by King Shaka who was “leading his armies south on a raid into Pondoland and Transkei. Many Hlongwa were killed and several of their villages destroyed.

“Resuming their march, Shaka and his impis reached a ridge overlooking the valley of the KwaMalukaak River, a tributary of the Mzumbe. At this spot Shaka decided to ask the spirits of his forefathers for their blessing on his venture by carrying out an ancient Zulu custom. He picked up a pebble­ with the toes of his left foot, transferred it to his right hand, spat on it, murmured a prayer and then placed it on the ground. One by one the impis repeated the ritual and built a large mound of supplicatory pebbles. The pile is still intact next to a remote path which rises and falls on its serpentine way through several valleys.”

When an interview took me down to Ramsgate it seemed like a good idea to try to find this isivivane on the return journey.

Given its status as the “most famous isivivane­” it shouldn’t be hard to find I thought. That was until I found it didn’t feature on any map of the area. So, a week before the trip, I e-mailed Hibiscus Coast Tourism requesting details of its location. I’m still waiting for a reply.

I also consulted T. V. Bulpin’s Discovering Southern Africa. Bulpin says it lies 10 kilometres from Umzumbe up district road D453 and suggests stopping at Govender­’s Store and requesting a guide as beyond the store the “road is rough for three kilometres, degenerating into a track and involving a final walk of 0,5 kilometres along the path”.

This information was from the sixth edition of Bulpin’s book published in 2006 which repeats the same information found in the earlier 1983 third edition. Was it still accurate?

My interview in Ramsgate over I drove back along the coastal road, the R102.

At the Shelley Beach Mall I went to the tourism office. The woman there had not heard of the isivivane but kindly offered to Google it for me. “But then you’ve probably already done that haven’t you?” “Yes,” I replied. “I was rather hoping you would say ‘oh yes. It’s at such-and-such a place and here’s how to get there’.”

Next stop was CNA where I bought a KZN road map. Mistake. The district roads were not indicated. Undeterred I drove to Umzumbe, turned inland onto the sole candidate for the D453 — there was no sign — and headed off into the rural hinterland.

The road condition gradually deteriorated and at a T-junction the tar turned to dirt. It was a coin toss which way to go. I turned left, but when the dirt road branched into three I decided it was time to ask for help and drove back to the T-junction, where there was a “Buy and Save” store, to ask for directions. No one there knew anything about an isivivane. Simply wandering the maze of unmarked rural roads seemed pointless so I returned to the R102 and drove to Hibberdene.

Crossing over the Mzumbe River bridge I began to have second thoughts. There’s a point in any undertaking where you commit to the process. It could be when writing an article. There’s a point where the writing takes over and you have to get out of the way. The same applies to looking for isivivanes. You have to let the journey take over. I turned around and drove back to Umzumbe.

My first stop, in one of the leafy lanes leading down to the seafront, was the Mantis and Moon Backpackers Lodge. Backpackers are the sort of people who know where things are I thought. Alas, no one was home.

Down at the ocean’s edge was the Pumula Beach Hotel. The receptionist had not heard of the isivivane but thought the owner might know its whereabouts. Enter Philip Gibson. I told him the story, during the course of which I mentioned Govender’s Store. This rang a bell and he took out his cellphone and called his friend, Eric.

Eric knew of Govender’s Store though he thought its name had changed long ago. Philip had been out in this area with Eric and knew the location. He kindly drew me a map and I headed out of Umzumbe once again.

This time, following the map, I turned right at the “Buy and Save” store on the T-junction.

This took me up and down a valley and along a ridge with spectacular views across the Mzumbe River valley. Homesteads dotted the hills stretching into the distance like tumbled children’s building blocks covered with green cloth. The river sparkled in the valley floor.

As indicated by Philip’s map I passed the Nyamazane Butchery beyond which should be Govender’s Store. Govender’s Store turned out to be the Capital Bar. I continued on along the valley ridge. The road didn’t degenerate into a track as per Bulpin but when I had driven the required distance, plus a bit more for luck, there was still no sign of any isivivane.

Earlier I had passed a Telkom van where a man in blue overalls was busy working on the lines. When I returned he was busy putting his ladder on the side of the vehicle. Squinting against the sun I told him what I was looking for. He pointed into the back of the van. A woman wearing a yellow hard hat was sitting at a work bench. I hadn’t seen her because of the sun in my eyes.

Her name was Phikile Sikobi, a Telkom technician. I repeated my story. She rang her supervisor on a cellphone. After a long conversation in Zulu she reported back: “He doesn’t know about the isivivane but he does know that somewhere here is a rock that King Shaka sat on. But he knows someone else who knows about the isivivane. He will call back.”

While waiting I noticed our vehicles were parked alongside a Shembe temple. A circle of white painted stones snugged into the green grass marked the sacred space. A small group of stones at the centre represented the presence of God. Not an isivivane, but holy ground. You must take off your shoes to enter.

Phikile’s supervisor called back. The isivivane was probably on another road on the other side of the Mzumbe River valley. There was no certainty about the exact location. I wasn’t going to find the isivivane today. But by now Phikile had got caught up in the quest.

“I drive around these roads all the time and like to know what is here. I’d like to find that isivivane myself and put a stone on it for good luck. With the equipment I have in my van I can get its exact GPS co-ordinates. When I find it I’ll give you a call.”

Though this “most famous” of isivivanes proved rather elusive the search for it demonstrated what can happen when you get out the way and let the journey take over. With a little help from modern technology. And a dash of ubuntu.

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