Tourism’s new mission

2009-08-27 00:00

GET thee to a monastery! That’s how the Ingwe

Municipality in southern KwaZulu-Natal hopes to boost the local economy, while creating a new form of tourism.

The Ingwe Municipality is centred around Bulwer, Donnybrook and Creighton. “Eight years ago we did an audit to find out what generic assets we have,” says Dudley Smith, the municipality’s corporate services manager, who is also responsible for economic development. “This area has a sophisticated agriculture-based economy based on dairy farming and timber. But there are 120 000 poor people who are not able to access this.”

The provincial government indicated that it would be disposed favourably to a tourism-based economic plan, hence the audit. “We found that we have great scenery, a great climate, plenty of cross-cultural activities and the area is safe,” says Smith. “But these factors are not enough to create a tourism destination.”

However, the audit also found three potential tourism assets in the area. Firstly, a good railway line which provides access to the area from Pietermaritzburg via Underberg, offers the possibility of rail-based tourism.

Secondly, birds. At first glance this didn’t look promising. The successful Zululand Birding Route offers 408 bird species, compared with 268 in southern KwaZulu-Natal. “But for international birder, endemism is the big thing,” says Smith. “They want to see unique species. Zululand has two, we have 68.” This led to the Sappi-funded development of the Marutswa Forest boardwalk near Creighton.

Thirdly, there is a network of Catholic mission stations. “What the Brits did with bullet and bayonet in Zululand was done here by missionaries with the Bible,” says Smith. “There was also huge transition and cultural upheaval. We realised that story needed to be told.”

Smith says that the late David Rattray’s enormously successful recorded talks, Day of the Dead Moon, on the Anglo-Zulu War, provided a model. “We felt the story of Francis Pfanner and the Trappist missions could similarly provide the basis for a tourism route.”

Which is where historian Steve Kotze came in. “Dudley knew I had worked with David and he asked: ‘Do you think the missionary story might work?’”

Kotze had spent five years working as a tour guide on the Anglo-Zulu battlefields, much of it for Rattray, while also training local guides. “Not only do I have experience with the battlefields,” says Kotze, “I know that tourism is a force for social change. David encouraged donations from visitors and that led to the building of libraries, computer centres and classrooms that are second to none in central Zululand. None of that existed before 1989.”

Kotze felt that the mission station story is an ideal anchor for tourism in southern KwaZulu-Natal. “The stations are studded right across the area, all the way to the sea.

“On one level, the story of the Catholic missionaries is similar to the story of the Anglo-Zulu war in that it’s a story of colonial conquest,” says Kotze, “but it was not all one way. The Trappists were transformed by their experience in Africa.

“The monks lost their medieval identity and broke from the main order in 1909. You don’t set about transforming something without transforming yourself. The story is as relevant now as it was 100 years ago.”

Kotze was commissioned by the municipality to script and produce an audio CD detailing the story. The result is Hidden Trea sures, an attractively designed double audio CD that features Kotze telling the story of the Trappist missionaries during the 19th century and beyond, as well as the story of the amaBhaca, amaKhuze and amaHlangwini people with whom they came into contact.

The two-and half-hour CD is ideal for playing in the car while touring and it comes with a fold-out map showing the location of the mission stations found in southern KwaZulu-Natal and over the border in the Eastern Cape. “There are 20 stations, all named after shrines to Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Europe,” says Kotze.

The hidden treasures are many, but one that stands out is Centocow Mission, with its beautiful stained glass window featuring many of the personalities of all races who play a role in the story. Centocow was founded in 1888 by Abbot Francis Pfanner on the banks of the Umzimkulu River. He named the station after the shrine of our Lady of Czestochowa in Poland, as a Polish princess gave a donation to buy the land. Czestochowa became simplified into Centocow.

Another “hidden treasure” is artist Gerard Bhengu who was born and educated at Centocow. Killie Campbell collected 260 originals that are now in the Campbell Collections of the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “They will be made available to us to create an art gallery,” says Smith. “We will be able use original artworks in a properly constituted gallery with a curator.”

There is already self-catering accommodation available at Centocow in renovated Trappist buildings, as well as a restaurant.

“Mission tourism” could well be an idea, the time for which has come. Michael Green recently wrote the well-received For the Sake of Silence that also focuses on the Mariannhill missionaries. “His book came at an opportune time for us,” says Kotze. “I knew the story from other source material but he has put it all into a dramatic narrative. If Donald Morris’s The Washing of the Spears was the muse of the battlefields, then For the Sake of Silence may be the equivalent for the mission tours of southern KwaZulu-Natal.

MISSION tours are offered once a month, based at Smithfield Guest House in Creighton. The full weekend tours cost R1 200 per person, including all accommodation, meals and guiding on a self-drive basis. Places are available for the weekend of September 5 to 6. There is an opening special of R1 000 per person for the first tour in August. For bookings or further information on Mission Tours, contact Steve Kotze at info@missiontours. or Gail Gemmell at 039 833 1029.

THE CD Hidden Treasures can be obtained via the website or by contacting the Ingwe Municipality at 039 833 1038. The municipality can also organise accommodation at Centocow.


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