Ex­plore town­ship life on horse­back

An en­ter­pris­ing young man is in­vest­ing in his roots and of­fer­ing novel trails in the Mid­lands. re­ports

Sunday Tribune - - KZN BUSINESS REPORT - Tr­ish Beaver

SABELO Xaba, 28, has lived in Mpophomeni out­side How­ick in the Kwazulu-na­tal Mid­lands his whole life and feels a deep pas­sion for the area. Un­like town­ships at­tached to big cities, Mpophomeni is where many ru­ral tra­di­tions are still prac­ticed.

Bat­tling to find funds to fin­ish his Mas­ter’s de­gree in chi­ro­prac­tics at the Dur­ban Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, Xaba be­lieved that tourism was a way for him to make some money, share his knowl­edge of his home “kasi”, and add an ex­tra in­gre­di­ent to the ex­ist­ing town­ship tour of­fered by Frank Mchunu, who runs the Zulu Mpophomeni Tourism Ex­pe­ri­ence.

Xaba’s neigh­bours owned two horses, and as his tourism idea per­co­lated he be­gan to think of them for his ven­ture. Horse­back trails are a pop­u­lar as­pect of tourism else­where.

Step one of his ven­ture was to get per­mis­sion to use the an­i­mals.

Step two was to learn to ride.

Xaba had never rid­den be­fore. His in­struc­tors were the two teens, Sfundo and Kwanele Zondi. Each week,

Xaba be­came more con­fi­dent and com­fort­able.

This re­porter and her friend booked a town­ship horse ride, and although the friend was an ex­pe­ri­enced rider, I had been rid­ing only once or twice.

I em­pha­sised that I needed a slow horse with zero per­son­al­ity.

We met Xaba at the Mphopomeni Tourism Cen­tre, where res­i­dents have launched a weekly farm­ers’ mar­ket.

The horses, un­like typ­i­cal ur­ban steeds, were not sta­bled. These an­i­mals are tough and hardy, and of­ten find shel­ter in the crags of a moun­tain and un­der trees. Xaba has ob­tained rid­ing hel­mets and sad­dles.

I was a lit­tle ner­vous. The two teens ob­served me hoist­ing my­self up on the horse with undis­guised mirth. I had been al­lo­cated Mlan­duli, ap­par­ently a very se­date horse, whose name means “the com­plainer”.

My friend Jen­nifer was neatly and con­fi­dently astride SMS (no trans­la­tion nec­es­sary). So far, so good.

Xaba broke springy sticks from a bush for us to use as crops. I hoped I would not need mine. Learn­ing to steer in the right di­rec­tion,i did a few in­vol­un­tary 360 de­gree cir­cles on Mlan­duli be­fore head­ing off.

We weaved our way past the sewage treat­ment plant to­wards the nearby moun­tains.

Mpophomeni is in a val­ley be­tween hills and streams flow­ing into a wet­land at the base of the moun­tain. Var­i­ous con­ser­va­tion bod­ies have been try­ing to es­tab­lish this as an of­fi­cial wet­land and in the rainy sea­son many birds come here. I com­mented to Xaba that it was a pity the scenery was marred by lit­ter along the paths used by res­i­dents.

He said that although the nearby um­n­geni mu­nic­i­pal­ity did a weekly lit­ter col­lec­tion, res­i­dents found it ex­pen­sive to buy black plas­tic bags to col­lect the rub­bish.

It is eas­ier to take their refuse to va­cant stands where the rub­bish is reg­u­larly burnt. On these un­of­fi­cial tips, goats and cat­tle are to be found rum­mag­ing for ed­i­bles.

Mpophomeni is more than 10km out­side How­ick and there is no al­lo­cated dump.

We wound our way fur­ther up the moun­tain and I no­ticed a va­ri­ety of in­dige­nous plants re­cov­er­ing from a fire.

“When I was a boy, we would come to this area with our dogs to hunt rab­bits and small duik­ers,” Xaba re­called. “The wildlife was plen­ti­ful and we would see a lot of birds, but these days the area has not been pro­tected and the hu­man pop­u­la­tion has more than dou­bled.”

Res­i­dents from more out­ly­ing ru­ral ar­eas like Im­pen­dle have moved to Mpophomeni to try to ac­cess jobs and bet­ter schools. Xaba at­tended the two lo­cal schools and ma­tric­u­lated well. He said while schools were not well re­sourced, teach­ers were com­mit­ted.

A troop of boys on horse­back swept past us whoop­ing and cheer­ing. I was aghast to see they were rid­ing bare­back and go­ing at full throt­tle.

Xaba ex­plained that they were prac­tis­ing for a horse race. This is an­other project the lo­cals hope will en­cour­age out­siders to visit the area.

“We have ap­proached the coun­cil for a piece of land to hold reg­u­lar races so that peo­ple can come and watch and sup­port their favourite teams,” he said.

The lo­cal rid­ers were cu­ri­ous about two ur­ban women se­dately rid­ing up the moun­tain. They greeted us and then con­tin­ued in their quest to race to the fin­ish.

We jour­neyed to the top of the moun­tain and stopped at the reser­voir to give the horses a rest. Be­low us we could see the sprawl­ing town­ship on one side and on the other side the sparkling wa­ter of Mid­mar Dam.

Our horses were ec­static when they re­alised Xaba had brought some car­rots from the farm­ers’ mar­ket as a treat. They nib­bled and munched loudly.

Xaba said: “This is the short tour, we go up and down the moun­tain.

But we are also of­fer­ing a longer tour where we go into the town­ship and meet a few of the lo­cal per­son­al­i­ties and have a tra­di­tional meal.”

Of course, any town­ship tour in­cludes as­pects of tra­di­tional Zulu cul­ture, and a visit to a san­goma is par for the course. For­eign tourists em­brace the unique as­pects of a for­eign cul­ture. For lo­cals like us, this town­ship tour on horse­back was also a nov­elty and an eye-opener.

Xaba spent the first money he made on print­ing T-shirts with his com­pany logo. Ev­ery horse tour means in­come for him and op­por­tu­ni­ties for his neigh­bours, from whom he hires the horses. If peo­ple book a tour, they can also sup­port the lo­cals who are sell­ing their goods at the weekly farm­ers’ mar­ket.

This tourism en­ter­prise was ini­ti­ated by Xaba, but it is also a ven­ture which ben­e­fits the larger com­mu­nity in typ­i­cal ubuntu style.

He plans to mar­ket his busi­ness more ag­gres­sively and also hopes to in­vest in more rid­ing gear so he can ac­com­mo­date more vis­i­tors.

He is ap­peal­ing to horse-rid­ing in­sti­tu­tions for any old equip­ment and rid­ing gear they no longer need.

From the top of the moun­tain, we en­joyed the scenery and jux­ta­posed view and slowly be­gan to make our way back down. The horses picked their way care­fully, avoid­ing rocks and hard sur­faces.

They don’t have “shoes” and pre­fer to walk on the soft grass. They stopped to drink at a stream and I no­ticed my very re­laxed horse was now pick­ing up the pace, and he was soon charg­ing home.

I em­pathised as I’m was not the light­est pas­sen­ger…. I also couldn’t seem to find the brakes.

As we trot­ted to­wards the town­ship, I could hear the voices of church-go­ers uni­fied in hymn in a huge white tent.

Fur­ther down I heard cries and cheers from a soc­cer club team as they tack­led and kicked the ball. This town­ship is alive with ac­tiv­ity.

Mlan­duli was un­doubt­edly re­lieved as I dis­mounted in­el­e­gantly, us­ing my car as a step. But his daily task was not yet over. A small queue had formed with young­sters will­ing to pay for a ride on a horse.

Xaba’s neigh­bours and as­sis­tants are ready to step in and give short rides to the chil­dren. To ex­pe­ri­ence this un­usual and fas­ci­nat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, con­tact Sabelo Xaba and book one of his town­ship out­rides. Call him on 078 492 7515, or visit his Face­book page Mpophomeni Horse­back Tours.

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