Promoting road safety, motivating pupils and showcasing heritage
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By: Unathi Kondile
Mbizana, Eastern Cape - We get to the late Sol Kerzner’s sprawling 700-hectare Wild Coast Sun in Mbizana just after 10pm on Wednesday. Casino closing. Restaurants closed. A few patrons quaff their last drinks at the bar as we check-in. Quite a number of familiar faces perambulate up and down the lobby. Radio personalities, actors and influencers all looking glam doing nothing.
We missed the gala dinner and Minister of Tourism Mmamokolo Kubayi-Ngubane’s keynote address.
A few hours later I am standing in a breakfast queue, similar to those you see outside Post Offices lately. It is terrible what Covid-19 protocols have done to hotel breakfast buffets. You wait and wait.
By 7.30 on the Thursday morning we are all heading out to our designated SUVs; ours is the latest Toyota Fortuner 2.4 GD-6. We are taking part in the 3rd annual Eastern Cape SUV Challenge (March 3-7) organised by the Siyavuya Foundation.
“The aim is to promote road safety, motivate school children as well as showcase our heritage and tourism destinations along the Eastern Cape’s 800km coastal stretch,” says Willowvale-born organiser, Siyavuya Mbete.
“Ziimoto zantoni ezi?” asks a local woman, curious to see so many cars, as we turn into the gravel road towards Mbhongweni village. “Yima, ayingo Dumisani na lo!?” as she realises my co-driver is actor Dumisani Mbebe. I eventually lost count of how many photo requests we stopped for. Everywhere. The excitement was palpable. Andile Ncube, Mpho Popps, TT Mbha, Simhle Plaatjes, Gabriel Temudzani and local influencers like Lelwar Smith deep in the rurals.
If the aim was to showcase the Eastern Cape’s beauty to a wider audience then this sure was the best way. #SUVChallenge trended on Friday and throughout the weekend.
It takes us a solid two hours to get to Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s home in Mbhongweni.
At the Madikizela homestead things are not as scenic. Two dilapidated faded-pink houses greet you as you drive through the gate. A rondavel on the far left and another further back in the yard.
Miss South Africa, Shudufadzo Musida, steps out of her Mercedes GLC and also takes selfies in the yard. She too expresses her excitement and how beautiful the Wild Coast is.
“There is nothing uglier than a child without a dream!” I overhear radio personality, Putco Mafani, telling schoolchildren to dream big and one day own such cars too.
Other celebrities entertain schoolchildren with selfies, jokes and goodie bags filled with sanitisers, t-shirts, masks and a snack. The University of Fort Hare’s Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Remote Sensing department head, accompanied by the South African National Space Agency (SANSA), also shared career insights with the youth. “You can study Space Science at Fort Hare!”
Madikizela elders, herdsmen and the local chief held a separate meeting with the South African National Roads Agency (SANRAL) and the SUV Challenge organisers. SANRAL promised a number of road developments whilst the family elders shared how many politicians had frequented the Madikizela home making all sorts of promises to even renovate the home.
An hour later we were at Oliver Tambo’s village of Nkantolo where Bishop Andile Mbete opened in prayer, Putco warmed up the crowds, Bethusile Mcinga belted some gospel hits as Mayor Daniswa Mafumbatha surprised everyone by revealing that Mbizana Local Municipality would now be known as the Winnie Madikizela-Mandela Local Municipality.
The next stop was meant to be SANRAL’s multibillion-rand Msikaba bridge site, but it was nearing 16h00 and the last thing you want is a convoy of 40+ SUVs driving at night. So, straight to Mthatha.
Umhlobo Wenene FM’s Mafa Bavuma, Luckeez and Baby Zee provided live radio updates to their 5-million-plus listeners thus creating a buzz in each small town we drove through. Elderly and young aligned pavements and screamed their favourite celebrity names “Uphi uMafa, yiz’ apha kwedini!”
Friday, 08h00, we are on our way to Mqhekezweni Great Place but take a detour to Coffee Bay, for photographs. You cannot not do the Hole in the Wall when touring the Eastern Cape.
Four hours later we are at Mqhekezweni, an abaThembu royal homestead, where Nelson Rholihlahla Mandela was raised and went to initiation school.
Miss South Africa, Shudu, gave an emphatic talk on the importance of mental health. SA Tourism CEO, Sisa Ntshona, encouraged young people from Mqhekezweni and surrounds to take up the responsibility of being local tour guides.
18h00. We had to go.
We get to East London just after 21h00 and head straight to Oh! Mi! Gin Bar at Hemingway’s for dinner. It’s actually a restaurant that cooks up quite a storm if you are looking for traditional food. Don’t let the Gin Bar part sway you.
By 09h00 on Saturday we were ready to hit the R72. A number of Slummies residents aligned Fleet Street, hooting away and cheering the convoy on. Some cars tried to follow us; people wanted to know which celebrity is in which car.
Port Alfred was a quick snack and photoshoot at the Waterfront there.
“Who lives here? Who owns these houses?” murmured two celebrities whilst snapping pictures of docked yachts at the marina on departure.
The last leg of this trip must have been the most exhausting. From Port Alfred to Baviaanskloof non-stop.
We whizzed past Gqeberha, straight to Hankey where they are building a huge Sarah Baartman remembrance centre as you enter.
Then Patensie. Very sleepy dorpie. Not much to see besides a beautiful NG Kerk building.
Then out of nowhere, gravel.
A few minutes later we are parked in front of the Baviaanskloof World Heritage site. Other vehicles proceed up the mountains to get a better view of the breath-taking mountains. It really is a sight to behold.
Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism rangers closed off the whole SUV Challenge by preparing us braai meat, pap, chakalaka and dombolo (bread) for dinner.
p.s.: The new Landrover Defender was the star of the show. Especially for Eastern Cape roads.
*Unathi Kondile is the founding editor of I’solezwe lesiXhosa and Iphepha Lam newspapers.