The African Angels of the Karoo are a group of mostly Xhosa women, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, living in Cradock in the Eastern Cape. They have been offered a chance to uplift themselves and others by studying beauty therapy and cosmetology – the art of pampering and massage – for tourists and locals.

Did you know?

Many of the 'African Angels' come from very poor rural areas.

At first glance, the little Karoo town of Cradock seems an unlikely place to start a beauty therapy school called African Angels. Why here, in this rural area among merino sheep, angora goats, fields of lucerne, pecan nuts and maize?

A hundred years ago, the reasons might have been clearer. In those days Cradock was renowned as a health-giving place where those suffering from tuberculosis (often referred to as consumption) went to recover.

The altitude, the dry, clean air and the exhilarating, bacteria-killing cold of winter helped restore those with weak lungs, and some of Cradock’s foremost citizens today are descended from people who came for its healing powers.

When Lucille Ferreira, a health and beauty therapist with 12 years’ experience, moved to Cradock, she immediately saw its potential. She also saw there was a crying need for disadvantaged young women to be offered opportunities.

And so the 'Hum and Sun' ritual came about. As tour groups arrived at the historic Victoria Manor hotel with its street of restored 1850s houses, so visitors were offered a welcoming ritual.

The Xhosa women would sing, and while the visitors relaxed in the Karoo sun, the trained women would massage their hands or tired feet.

It was highly popular, and has now been expanded to greater training opportunities for more young women – who are called African Angels.

A formal training school is to be set up for the first 20 of them in beauty therapy and cosmetology. They are trained for three years and their first ‘tasks’ involve working with hospice and hospital patients, in maternity wards and at old age homes – anywhere that pampering and the laying on of comforting hands is appreciated.

They then carry on to exercise their skills through corporate functions, wellness tents, private functions and the like.

Several private game reserves in the Eastern Cape, like Amakhala and Kuzuko, take the African Angels on for several months at a time.

It's a win-win arrangement. The Angels get experience, and guests love it.

In addition, a wellness sanctuary is being envisaged for Cradock – which would neatly close the healing circle that first made the town famous so many years ago.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

The Comfort Zone, Cradock
Lucille Ferreira
Tel: +27 (0) 82 773 5083

How to get here

From the airport at Port Elizabeth, it's about 250km or 2-and-a-half hours' drive on a good road - the N10 - to Cradock. You'll go over a mountain pass, the Olifantskop pass, and you will notice a dramatic difference in vegetation on either side as you move further into the Karoo.

Best time to visit

Midsummers are very hot (December, January and February) and it's very chilly in mid-winter (June, July and August). The rest of the time, the weather is mostly dry, sunny and delightful.

Around the area

A short drive out of town (about 12km) is the Mountain Zebra National Park.

What will it cost

A half-hour treatment from an African Angel will cost approx R160. But you could also rent an African Angel for the entire day (handy for a large group) including products and equipment, for approx R500. If you would like to sponsor an African Angel's studies for a year it will cost approx R15 000 - and with that money, 2 other community members are taught handcraft skills as well.

Length of stay

Cradock is a good centre to explore various nearby attractions. Stay at least 2 nights.

Where to stay

The most famous option is the Victoria Manor and Tuishuise in Cradock's Market Street.

But there are also several guest houses, self-catering cottages and bed & breakfasts. You could also stay at the nearby Mountain Zebra National Park.

What to eat

You're in the Karoo, where the sheep nibble on fragrant, herbed bushes. Foodies are crazy about Karoo lamb and mutton. In winter, try the venison.

Best buys

Cradock falls within the Mohair Meander - you'll find good-value angora fleece here, woven into socks, blankets and beanies.