We boarded our trusty Mercedes van for the drive from East London to Mthatha on the N2 highway—narrowly avoiding wayward donkeys and daring sheep. There was an almost immediate transition from urban to rural as we wove along the Wild Coast region (once known as the Transkei, the largest of the black “homelands” during apartheid). The landscape was dry, vast, and as big as the prairies and patches of brightly coloured rondavel housing dotted the rolling hills. Our road trip included a stop in Butterworth at Msobomvu high school and Qunu, the hometown of Nelson Mandela.
The Transkei was one of 10 “Bantustans” or “homelands” that were established in 1962 as separate territories for black South Africans. Mthatha, the capital of the Transkei during the apartheid era, is the main campus of Walter Sisulu University and their Centre for Rural Development (our primary partner) is housed in the former parliament and palace of the Transkei president. We had our first formal introductions to the Centre for Rural Development and discussed our work and research involvement. The students at WSU are on strike (possibly with some violence) so we have yet to actually see the campus.
I did however try springbok carpaccio (a type of antelope) and beans and samp (staple food) while staying at the Ebony & Ivory lodge (cue Stevie Wonder). I had my own bachelorette pad, outfitted with an emergency panic button and sliding bars on my front door—not sure if that was comforting or concerning!
On our last day of our first trip to Mthata, we visited the Ikhwezi Lokusa Crafts organization which is a forested compound that has workshops in leatherwork, pottery, and beadwork that are created and staffed by residents with physical and mental disabilities. To gain an even greater understanding of the vastness of South Africa, we drove to Mfundisweni; the land and buildings of a former Jesuit college that has been reclaimed by the community with a 10 year plan to create sustainable income generation through its B&B, conference centre, agricultural work, bakery, and crafts.