18 November 2011 by Julienne du Toit

Venda Blender

One of the most delightful things about travel is immersing yourself, however briefly, in a new culture. And few cultures are as photogenic as those of the Venda in the northernmost reaches of South Africa.

While staying at Shiluvari Lakeside Lodge (one of the first establishments to be accredited as Fair Trade in Tourism South Africa), owners Clare and Michel Girardin pointed us at a number of exceptional artists living in the area. You may have heard of the Venda Art Route? World-class sculptors like Noria Mabasa the talented Thomas Kubayi, and Phineas Masuvhelele, maker of the Millennium Drum? There are many others, and it’s worth coming all the way to South Africa just to see them.

What no one really tells you about is the beauty of the Venda cultural dress, which is still worn today. In dusty little towns in the region, you’ll invariably find a squad of companionable women, bent over whirring sewing machines, fashioning the distinctive colourful fabric into tie-around skirts and cloaks, criss-crossed with the characteristic thin strips of material. At one stage Leger & Viney were doing a brisk trade in ottomans covered in this lovely striped fabric.

Also, few mention the beauty of the Venda dances. We chanced upon a cultural event quite by chance while visiting sculptor Thomas Kubayi with our fearless guide and mentor, Daniel Khosa of the Ribolla Tourism Association.

What a luck. These women, mostly middle-aged and older, threw their hips about like young teenagers. About their waists were bouncing beaded pompoms and tassels, and on their feet, pirate Nikes or Mille, with rattles around the ankles. In their hands they had ceremonial axes, and the drummers whacked away in a compelling rhythm.

After a few enthusiastic dances, we donated R100 to the dance group, causing ululations of joy.


At the entrance though, were two distinctively dressed ladies, looking traditional yet sophisticated in their dark glasses. Their names were Cynthia Modiba and Gertrucia Maingo. They told us they were fashion designers, mixing modern with traditional Tsonga and Venda clothing.

And once again, I had to reflect on the incredible creativity of the Venda people - magnificent sculptors, exceptional potters, dancers and now fashion designers. What a privilege to meet these astounding people on their home ground.

Once again, I have to just say, shouldn’t Responsible Tourism rather be called Discovery Tourism?

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