11 December 2010 by Julienne du Toit

Protecting a Sacred Lake

A white 4x4 hesitantly pulled off the road and three tourists climbed out. Before them was a wasteland of cracked mud, a lake, a dozen Nguni cows looking bored and their herdboys fooling about in the water.

Two of the newcomers lit cigarettes, looking up at the green-covered hills surrounding the lake. They all drank a cooldrink, stubbed their smokes out and drove away. The magic of this place left them completely cold.

I turned to Phineas Mabila, who was watching them while absentmindedly scratching his cow Matafa’s back. He shrugged. This was exactly what Chief Ntsaneleni Netshiavha had been talking about. Perhaps, if they had approached this place, the sacred lake Fundudzi with a guide, the expressions on their departing faces would not have been so disappointed.

It is a place full of import to the Venda people who live here - the Vhavatsindi, People of the Pool. There are fascinating legends, and beliefs about the lake water’s healing properties.

The tourists in the 4x4 had driven away knowing nothing of that, having only followed the road and provincial tourism signs to the lake. They didn’t even know the special way strangers should gaze on the lake for the first time, by looking through stretched legs, upside down - a salute called the ukodola.

But all this is about to change. The area around Lake Fundudzi - which is close to Thohoyandou - is being fenced to keep casual visitors away from sacred ground. There are plans afoot to turn this into National Heritage Site, which will make it a more meaningful tourism attraction. Chief Netshiavha is delighted.

Hopefully the customs and beliefs that kept this area pristine for centuries will be finally celebrated and upheld again.

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