Couple leaves Joburg for simpler life in rural Limpopo, become province's unofficial ambassadors

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Young Joburg couple Thabiso Sekhula and Paul Paunde relocated to rural Limpopo to live a slower, simpler life.
Young Joburg couple Thabiso Sekhula and Paul Paunde relocated to rural Limpopo to live a slower, simpler life.
  • Thabiso Sekhula and Paul Paunde packed up their lives in the hustling and bustling city of Johannesburg to start a slower life in rural Limpopo.
  • At the time, they were leading successful lives as young professionals in corporate South Africa.
  • What started out as a hobby of documenting their adventures in Limpopo, has turned them into Limpopo's unofficial ambassadors.
  • GOOD NEWS DAY IS BACK! News24 celebrates the people restoring pride in our country. Read their stories here

When Thabiso Sekhula and Paul Paunde decided they were ready to pack up and leave behind the life they had built in Johannesburg as young working professionals and parents to a 10-year-old boy, their friends and family thought they had lost their minds. 

"A lot of people didn't understand. A lot of my friends were just like, why are you guys leaving? You've got things good here. You guys are fine. You've got the job. You've got a company. Why are you leaving to go to Limpopo? What's happening there?"

The year was 2019, Sekhula's mother had succumbed to an illness, and Sekhula's family home had been sitting vacant and idle. She and her partner of 10 years, Paunde, had decided that perhaps they should see what life had in store for them in another corner of the country. In the back of their minds, they were hoping for a slower, quieter, safer life with a close-knit community. This, they knew, would be great, not only for their peace of mind as a couple but also for their son. 

Despite the worry and cautionary tales from those close to them, the young couple set out curating an exciting road trip that would see them travelling to Sekhula's home village of Sekgosese. 

"We made the kilometres count. Instead of going straight to my mother's home in Limpopo, we made a road trip of it, starting at a place we had never been to before. Watching Paul fall in love with Limpopo, I could not help but see the province with new eyes.

"I was born in Limpopo, but like most people who grew up in a rural village, I couldn't see much beauty in it and couldn't wait to leave after matric. But only a decade later, my love relationship with Limpopo grew once again."

Woman sitting on bench with giraffe's in the backg
Thabiso Sekhula at one of the lodges in Mooketsi, Limpopo.

And just like that, the idea of creating @1000LimpopoSecrets was born.

"We decided, instead of always explaining [why we moved away], let's… show our friends our life in Limpopo, what makes it so special, and why we would decide to leave everything and move [there].

"[@1000LimpopoSecrets] started as a hobby and a place to be present on social media, and also just to show a bit about Limpopo because a lot of people from Limpopo, including myself, don't know what happens in this province.

"There are many one-of-a-kind gems, from the salt mining of Baleni, which only women are allowed to mine, to the only place in the world you will find rock art painted on the mountains hundreds of years ago by the Khoi, San and Bapedi in the mountains of Blouberg, to the hills of Mapungubwe where you can be in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana at the same time.

"The marketing is so terrible, [and most] people only know Polokwane maybe and the Kruger [National Park]. So we wanted to show off the real, authentic life and sense of Limpopo, which is all these incredible places that are untouched. Then as time went by, it just got bigger than us."

Woman sitting in the middle of a forest with her y
Thabiso Sekhula at Glenogle farm in Magoebasklooft with her daughter.

Since establishing their online presence through social media and showcasing the best-kept secrets of what the region has to offer, the couple has been getting requests ranging from hosting events, writing about the experiences of locals, starting a podcast about the best Limpopo has to offer and many others. 

The couple now works with local businesses and farmers to promote their products through @1000LimpopoSecret's social media pages. They've also been curating itineraries for non-locals who want to experience Limpopo through the same lens as the couple. This, Paunde says, is what reignites the passion project that they've stumbled upon.

Paunde says:

We want to be seen as the plug to Limpopo, not just locally or nationally but internationally. And, what's crazy is that when we put ourselves out there to say, 'Hey guys, bother us when you want to come here, bother us if you need anything from Limpopo,' I don't mean to sound cheesy, but the universe just complies with that.

"And then you start getting people from all walks of life, all over the world, saying, 'Hey, can you organise an itinerary or can you help us plan an event or open up a shop?' That's what we're passionate about because we're not just working with brands… but you actually work with somebody who made something, and this is their story, and you're like, 'Wow, you deserve to have your story heard by as many people as possible, all over. Oh my gosh, I need to get [people] to buy your product, to hear your story, to share your good news,' and that's where we are right now.

"So it has just gone from one post to one reel, to one event, to an office, to so many other things. But at the heart of it, we just want to tell Limpopo stories because it's such a gold mine of stories," adds Sekhula.

The pair has big dreams for the region, including the establishment of a Limpopo Art Park inspired by the popular Nirox Sculpture Park based in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, near Muldersdrift, in Gauteng. The Gauteng-based sculpture park sits on 30 hectares of land and hosts more than 50 permanent and long-term installations by artists from across the world, according to its website.

Sekhula and Paunde want to give Limpopo-born and raised artists the opportunity to display their work for the people in their home province to see, learn about and appreciate in their backyard.

Man standing at horse stable with young daughter o
Paul Paunde standing with his daughter at a horse stable in Glenogle farm in Magoebaskloof.

They have been granted a title deed for 100 hectares of land by Kgošigadi (Queen) Raphahlelo of the Raphahlelo village to create the art park in an area strategically selected for its cultural heritage and local handcraft talent. The area also links the popular Tzaneen/Magoebaskloof travel route with the famous Vhembe region.

"Parks like Nirox sculpture park have managed to turn art into a medium that the youth identify with. They do this through giant sculptures that blend into the environment and enhance the stories they want to convey in the park. 

"Imagine walking on a hill with mountains and rivers in the background. On every turn, you see giant art which tells you unique stories of Limpopo. This would bring a tourist attraction to an area that is between Magoebaskloof/Tzaneen and the Ribola art route because, at the moment, tourists have nothing to stop here for.

"There are many artists in Limpopo who could be commissioned to do this work, and we could have a gallery where their other work can be displayed. It would be the kind of place where you can see what is possible for the art scene in Limpopo as well as lead to jobs being created."

Sekhula and Paunde don't take the queen's faith in them lightly. They know that she expects them to bring their vision to life, so the locals in the area can benefit from job creation through the tourist attraction. 

They have been gifted 1 000 dragon fruit trees they have planted on the plot of land and plan to host picnics during significant holidays, like Christmas and New Year's. 

In the meantime, the parents of two, are looking for like-minded people equally passionate about highlighting the best Limpopo has to offer to join them on their mission to invest in the province and its people.

Couple sitting the ground viewing the lake.
Young Joburg couple Thabiso Sekhula and Paul Paunde sitting near a pool at LindEnd guest farm in Tzaneen.

This includes putting up a fence on the perimeter of the plot of land, funding for the local artists to start working on their pieces, a borehole to allow for the land to have consistent access to water as well as about 80 hours' worth of time on a front loader to work the land.

To get in touch with Thabiso and Paul contact or follow them on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram under the handle @1000Limpoposecrets.

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