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Culture, Reality

Pondo Fever

by Tamlin Wightman / 19.09.2010

I had always been told a trip to the Transkei would end in murder – mine. What a crock. I’ve never met such peaceful people. Maybe it’s the devil weed. The giggle twig. The mountain cabbage. The rainy day woman. Or whitey paranoia is unfounded. Embellished.

The Xhosa village of Gwexintaba, near Magwa Falls is in the heart of Pondoland. The Wild Coast. Land and sea stretch far as you can see. I’m here to meet the Magwa Volunteers who run a permaculture and community-projects centre.

Louis Fourie greets me at Jungle Monkey Backpackers in Port St Johns and we ride through Goso Forest’s ancient Afromontane woods to the village. You want Tarzan to fly past on monkey vines. He doesn’t. Too busy doing Jane. Just Louis – a beefy barefoot man with a big stick for walking. Louis founded the place. After getting the say-so from the tribal chief to rent a piece of land, he built this sanctuary for eco-conscious volunteers.

Mud Pack

I tossed my bag atop a bed hanging from the ceiling with guy ropes. There was one other volunteer – a guy nicknamed Three Metre. A tall, blonde-haired kid from Holland with a penchant for graffiti. It meant run-ins with the law back home so his parents sent him off to Deep Dark Africa to reform his ways.
There’s no electricity; everything’s solar powered. We light candles, gather around a fire. As we dig into the samp and beans, kids stream in. Its the local band, Pam and his brothers. They pop in nightly. We shared dinner with them and a rural rock concert began. Djembe drums, guitars and African dancing. Pam insisted I take over, lead the gig. All I could think of in my heady state was Newton Faulkner. God help me. “I’m gonna grow myself a giant afro (incredible) whoa/ When the alarm goes off I just won’t go.” My audience weren’t wise to my direction so Pam, with gumboots and toothy smile, took over. Three boys picked up stools and started dancing with them.

Louis told me the owners of Zula Bar had been here and were keen to get Pam’s band recorded and play in Cape Town. It hasn’t happened yet, far as I know. Out of the Mary Jane cloud, Vusa and Zoe, read this and remember.

Our days involved soccer matches, Black Label quarts, existential talks on cliffs, jamming to Eminem cassettes in huts with locals, marvelling at car-boot-sized collections of drying dagga hanging from the ceilings in said huts, visits to the local school, jols in the tea plantation, and gazing at the mighty, almost 150 metre Magwa waterfall. Nights entailed more beer and the band.

Djembe Guitars

On the last night the Jeep broke down an hour from town. Louis left to call a friend to pick us up. In the meantime, a gang of men in balaclavas walked towards us. I practised lessons from The Secret and thought positively. Pam looked the most nervous. I took out his guitar, handed it to him and said, ‘sing me that song about God’. I took the djembe and together we made music on the side of the freeway in the middle of nowhere. The gang walked straight past.

We were soon back on the road. Until that day, neither Pam nor Lungele had left Gwexintaba. Neither had seen the sea. Jesus, I thought, I’m a spoiled brat! Travellers poured into Amapondo: locals, foreigners, black, white, coloured. A sweet dopey haze hovered above like a rain cloud in a Peanuts comic – such is Pondoland.

Pam sat down beside a girl at the piano. He’d never one before but could soon play Chopsticks after she showed him. He began creating his own harmonies. I pictured his tunes on a Putamayo CD one day. All it takes is one person, the right person, and he and his band could be performing with the likes of Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Black Sunshine and Johnny Clegg, collecting awards at the SAMAs.
Next morning I dipped my toes in the wild sea. Had to shake off some drunken policemen who got too close. Pondoland: too friendly for its own good. As I climbed into a taxi and waved goodbye to new friends¸ I sympathised with Kerouac: “What is the feeling when you’re driving away from people, and they recede on the plain till you see their specks dispersing? – it’s the too huge world vaulting us, and it’s good-bye. But we lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies.”

African Capillaries

Bath Time

Sacred Forest



Wall Art


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All images © Tamlin Wightman.

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