I am Mawande
Like all locals, Gigi Lewis loves WANDU. She is an ace photographer and indomitable adventurer who insists on enjoying life to the full – which is no wonder she interviewed me at my 'eKasi' Home in Knysna (her take on me follows :-)
Mawande has a restaurant in the Knysna Township. He oozes charm and good feeling and his food is very good indeed.
His stories about his life and the Xhosa traditions are wonderful. I don't think I have heard him say anything negative about anyone. He laughs and he tells stories, and he talks about his vision for the future.
I greet him cautiously in isiXhosa - “Molo, Mawande” - to hide my embarrassment for being a day late for the interview...
The directions given by Mawande Kondlo, 36, were perfect but I had taken the wrong Uniondale road the previous afternoon - the one that turns off the N2 in Plett instead of the one at Nekkies in Knysna. He smiles and politely apologises for causing me such inconvenience.
We tour his remarkable two-storey, brick-clad house, converted from an ordinary government subsidised dwelling on a hill in Khayalethu into a comfortable three-bedroomed home, topped on the first floor by his cosy restaurant, Here, and on a covered patio on the same floor, visitors can experience authentic African hospitality and, in addition to a three-course traditional meal, listen to the rhythmic beats of local drummers by the fireside. His restaurant is popular with locals and visitors alike.“It all started one weekend in 2009, when my wife Penny (‘Vuyisa’ in isiXhosa) went to visit family in Oudtshoorn,” he chuckles. “During her absence, to avoid any confrontation, I transformed our main bedroom upstairs into the restaurant.” He and Vuyisa never look back on those times, knowing that their sons Wandu, 5, and Chume, 3, will grow up comfortably in the future.
Born in Oudtshoorn in 1975, Mawande remembers: “When I matriculated in my home town, I had to pay a fee of R48 for the test papers, which was at a time when my parents earned very low wages and could not afford my further education.”
He has strong beliefs about his Xhosa identity and although he recently completed his second year of studying theology through distance learning, he is convinced that he can bring his own culture into the modern age. A theology degree will help him to counsel members of his community, especially HIV/Aids victims, and provide pastoral care. Asked if he went to a tribal initiation school, he answers calmly: “Yes, of course. As a member of the Mfengu culture, I completed my Ukwaluka (initiation period) in Oudtshoorn. In fact, when I heard my matric results through a friend, I was in white clay.”
Boys are mainly initiated during the Christmas holiday period, so he added: “I wish those who go through Ukwaluka at this time that they go well, and respect and honour the direction which they have been given.”
Mawande moved to Knysna in 1995 to seek a better life and eventually hit upon a position at Knysna Log Inn. Here he saw a chance to get a foot into the tourism industry and was soon promoted to night manager. During his six years here, he earnt many aspects of the business, from helping to cook in the kitchen to managing the front desk.“Then, I was into earing jackets and ties,” he pulls a funny face. “I noticed that Knysna people were so involved with tourism that all I craved for was to be part of it. I wanted a badge with my name on, as flaunted by the tourist guides who strutted through the hotel.”
Inspired by the buzz of it all, Mawande signed up for a course with the Livingstone Tourism Academy. He studied at night, while it was quiet at work, and qualified as first accredited black tourist guide on the Garden Route.He continues: “I listened to people when they asked if they could go into the townships, if there were restaurants or bars or places to stay and, in my free time, arranged trips for them.” When demands for his tours sped upin 2006, Mawande left his employment and started Bayambo Tours, his own company. He explains: “I simply have three motivations for my work. Firstly, I want to show visitors that things are changing for the better in our country. Secondly, I am keen to promote our Xhosa culture and maintain our heritage. Thirdly, I’d like to generate a township brand that can create its own economy.”
The idea behind these strategies is that everyone must benefit from a township tour, be it the school, informal settlement, sangoma, shebeen or restaurant - they all contribute to a whole new township experience and so earn the right to some of the pickings paid for by appreciating tourists.Massive media exposure during last year’s Soccer World Cup put Mawande in the limelight. The Danish and French football teams that stayed in Knysna, along with their media and VIPs visited his township restaurant and enjoyed the African ‘ubuntu’. Then Knysna mayor Eleanore Bouw-Spies took a visiting French mayor and other dignitaries from the municipality and Knysna Tourism for a meal.Today,many locals have enjoyed interaction with township people that was previously impossible. Mawande sets a shining example - having found his own calling with a tenacity that provided him with two companies so far, he also received an invitation in January from Knysna Tourism CEO Shaun van Eck to attend an international tourism exhibition in Utrecht in the Netherlands. “To exchange ideas with people from all over the world surpassed my wildest dreams. I now plan to fully convert my home into a guesthouse with a restaurant. Mawande answers my standard questions as follows:“The highlight in my working life so far is my trip to Utrecht and to have had contact and exchanged ideas with tour operators from all over the world. In my private life, my family, my boys, take precedence. I was always hoping not to have children before the age of 30. Wandu was born in that year.
“Important to me in life is doing things right and having the passion and patience needed to connect with people, especially my family.“When I have time to relax, I like sitting in my living room and watching a good programme on TV, or reading some inspiring Christian books. I also do a lot of outdoor activities with family and friends.“The advice I would give people who want to come out of their mould is to seek guidance from their elders. Find out your speciality. By that I mean find out what you are good at and what you can do and then do it, one step at a time. I have to work hard for example when I prepare for a speech or a sermon – but I know I can do it. And don’t copy other people, be yourself.“My business is eco-tourism, therefore it is complementing the environment and the legacy we leave behind for future generations. We must all contribute to preserving nature by altering our lifestyle.“If successful people in business could talk to and help those that are starting out, it would certainly bring about the changes in South Africa that could make this country a Garden of Eden to live in. “I devised my own favourite quotation: ‘Never forget where you come from but also focus on where you are going.’”