21 March 2011 by Julienne du Toit

The Cata Experience

I’m still searching for a way to describe Cata village. The best I can come up with so far is: The best tourism and upliftment model I have ever seen.

Cata is in the Eastern Cape, set among high forested mountains with astonishing views. There are thick swathes of indigenous forest in which the elusive and endangered Cape parrot can be found.

It used to be an economically depressed town, with plenty of crime and with most people living on welfare. You’d never guess these days. As you walk past people’s houses (and peer into their lives, since the doors are often left open) you get the strong impression of an egalitarian sense of stability here. No one seems very rich, but no one seems terribly poor either.

The trigger for village’s relative prosperity was a R12 million compensation for an injustice perpetrated under Apartheid. They were compensated because many local families were removed from their small farms and forced to live in villages like this one. It was easier for Apartheid administrators to govern them in this way.

But justice for the loss of land was eventually done, and the money has been invested wisely. A hall was built for community meetings (and it is perpetually busy). Classrooms were constructed, as was the Amatola Guest House on top of the hill.

The lovely Cata river was cleaned up and the alien trees removed. There have been trout for decades in the river, but no one had paid them much mind. Now flyfishers are coming there to try their luck.

Since tourists are arriving, half a dozen jobless youths have been taken through stringent training to become tour guides. From shy, somewhat aimless youths they are now confident, knowledgeable and filled with enthusiasm for the place they live. And they know all the best places for fishing….

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