Images and impressions from a three-day ramble through the coastal villages of eastern Pondoland, between the Mzamba and Mtentu rivers, with the Amadiba Community tourism project, September 2017.
DAY 1, MORNING: My first sketch was done from the stoep of our cabin overlooking the Mtamvuna gorge, before we headed for the Wild Coast Sun hotel, where our walk began. It was a rainy, leaf-dripping morning, amongst some of my favourite KZN South Coast plants, including wild banana (strelizia nicolae), Natal fig (ficus natalensis), and the thorny indigenous date palm (phoenix reclinata).
DAY 1, DUSK: It was an easy walk to Sgidi, for our first home stay. We took our time, and arrived as the sun went down. On the hill opposite, a farmer was ploughing his field, and I made a sketch on the spot, standing right there in the loamy earth as the plough, pulled by five oxen and a very well behaved bull with giant knackers, went back and forth at high speed to the crack of the whip as the ploughman shouted at the oxen, calling them each by name.
Back at our homestead the jovial old man of the house was making a cowhide whip, hammering the long piece of dried skin with a yellow-handled hammer. On another hill nearby, two boys on a wooden sled drawn by a team of oxen moved across the green at high speed, while another team was yoked in to work the field adjacent to the one already being ploughed. Next morning, in the lilac pre-dawn, they were at it again. Dawn and dusk are busy times in Amadibaland.
DAY TWO, MIDDAY: Water, water: everywhere … stepping stones over clear little brooks, muddy swamps clogged with reeds, hidden waterfalls, idyllic pools where ancestral legends add to the mystical ambience … big rivers moving slowly, sun-drenched lagoons like the Mphelane estuary, where we stopped to eat the lunch packs provided by our Sgidi host. While the others went for a swim in a string of magical pools, I sat under a wild banana palm with ants crawling up my shorts and made this impressionistic watercolour, dispensing with linework and detail, just trying to catch the dance of the leaves and water in the breeze, under a motile cloudscape that played constant tricks with the quality of the light.
DAY THREE, EARLY MORNING: I got up early to make this sketch of the ancient anthropomorphic stones that have stood for ever on a green field above the dramatic Mnyameni river gorge, situated behind the village where we spent our second night. To me, such rocks have always seemed, somehow, like ancestral spirits given form by the action, across the millennia, of wind and rain. Reminders, maybe, that our human origins are somehow embedded in these lichen-covered structures, in a way that we, as the descendants of a centuries-old scientific tradition, have lost the capacity to ever fully understand.
DAY THREE, MIDDAY: We stopped to eat lunch in this tract of red desert, its weird stalactites baked hard by the sun. This is what the landscape between the Mzamba and Mtentu rivers might look like after the mining, if it is allowed to go ahead. The reason is that the topsoil in Amadibaland is quite shallow, only half a metre deep in some places, underneath which is this red earth, so full of ilmanite (which can be smelted to produce titanium slag, rutile, zircon and leucoxene) that it literally sparkles in the sun. Wherever you find a donga caused by a jeep track, a footpath cut too deep, or the legacy of bad farming methods, you can see how the topsoil has been blown away, leaving these strangely beautiful yet frightening landscapes.
DAY 4, MORNING: This quaint little bay is around the corner from the Mtentu river mouth and the Mtentu Backpackers Lodge, with the Mkhambathi nature reserve behind.
Help grow Pondoland community tourism (a viable alternative to dune mining) by heading out on a wonderful multi-day hike, staying in homestays along the way with meals provided by your hosts. For more info contact Bongani Mlotywa at https://absolutewildcoast.co.za/ .