At the mouth of the Mzimvubu River, on the Wild Coast of South Africa, 330 kilometres north-east of East London and 98 kilometres east of Mthatha, lies a gorge known as the Gates of Saint John. A natural sight that opens up to a land as wonderous and genuine as it’s ancient inhabitants!
From time immemorial this beautiful piece of the old Transkei has been nurtured and cultivated by the people of Mpondoland.
A sentimental people, these scatterlings of the Mthwa clans have for centuries walked peacefully across these boundless hills of the Eastern Cape, with hearts beating to the rhythm of ancient beliefs in love, commitment and unity.
Under the rule of the wise King Faku in the 1800’s the AmaMpondo spirit of ‘oneness in diversity’ and their sense of sharing lead to a prosperous agreement with white traders down the Mzimvubu River. These white men named their settlement Port Saint Johns and respectfully paid customs and duties to the AmaMpondo Chief.
But in 1884 Port Saint Johns was annexed by the Cape Colony. Governed as a white enclave and taken from the local tribes, to be part of the Transkei Territories no more.
The Red People – a name given to the AmaMpondo people because of their traditional dress – never gave up. With their faces covered in rust-coloured clay (imbola), they danced and sang of days when hope would prevail.
Even as the Transkei became a self-governing Bantustan in 1963, the AmaMpondo people were still denied their land at the mouth of the Mzimvubu River. And still, they danced.
Eventually as politics changed, Chief KD Matanzima negotiated with the apartheid government in 1976 and in order to secure independence for Transkei was given back Port Saint Johns and all it’s natural glory. The long awaited era of change had come.
Sadly, due to political uncertainty and financial strain the town of Port Saint John has declined in recent years. Only about 6500 permanent inhabitants remain here thus endangering the sense of the wonder of this ancient tribe and it’s heritage.
Presently, the whole area suffers from an utter lack of infrastructure with consequences that eco throughout the surrounding towns like Mthatha and Lusikisiki. Young people are jobless and restless. There is not enough currency in the local sector to support community health and safety. Roads are inaccessible and the town of Port Saint John seems neglected.
What we have here is the treasure chest of South Africa’s wild coast. An area filled with precious cultures that need to be nurtured and lead in their quest to save their congenital wonder.
Just east of Port Saint Johns lies an unspoilt piece of land, a panorama of misty paradise, and home to the Noqhekwane community.
An AmaMpondo ancestral clan, the head of the family has reclaimed their rightful land from the South African government and they have been making due with its available natural resources.
These people walk many kilometres every day just to collect drinking water from the Ntlupeni stream to sustain their day-to-day needs. Strolling through their land, you are met with humility and grace, wrapped in traditional red blankets, the Noqhekwane community is eager to make connections with new brothers and sisters. Connections that may possibly be the saving grace they and their fellow tribesmen are constantly hoping for.
Eyabantu, led by local Eastern Cape enterpreneurs, with a man from local AmaGingqi tribe of Port Saint Johns, who spent their boyhood summers here on the riverbeds and beaches of Port Saint Johns, are opening their hearts and trying to empower this area that they remember so fondly. An undertaking to be the catalyst that drives further development and again places money in local hands.
Embracing the AmaMpondo belief of togetherness and sharing, they went to speak to the Noqhekwane Community and the Chief of Mthweni under whom Noqhekwane Community falls. They had a plan. They outlined a project of development for the area. They had identified and negotiated for a piece of land, three kilometres east of Port Saint John’s (town).
A local place of wonder!
This piece of land will be jointly owned with the community and developed for entrepreneurs who wish to develop tourism products.
This will be a platform where the skills and talents of the AmaMpondo people can be flaunted with pride, an infrastructure to support locals and to help them develop their abilities, re-establishing the age-old feeling of AmaMpondo pride.
Yet, there is so much more!
Imagine misty forests embracing vast emerald green hillsides;
The Indian Ocean rolling itself out onto seven kilometres of wild unspoilt beaches;
All this will be seen through the windows of the Port Saint Johns ECO HOTEL!
This will be a catalyst for development where we can all take hands and together reawaken and celebrate this awe-inspiring region. Where an investment can nurture and educate as it grows. To achieve this successfully the project is based on environmentally friendly development.
Roping in international developers with experience and international networks, educating and utilising local people and thus reinstating pride and honour amongst the AmaMpondo tribe.
The aim is to build an ECOHOTEL, Forest Chalets and Private Residences within secure borders within a valley surrounded by scenes of natural beauty seldom seen elsewhere.
As an ECOHOTEL development we pride ourselves in striving to be as environmentally responsible as possible and fully compliant with green living standards.
We aspire to be considerate of the natural habitat and to promote ecological sustainability. Traditional building methods will be applied by local craftsmen and structures implemented to incorporate cultural considerations.
All the raw and unspoilt attributes of the area are to be preserved as far as possible.
Only 15% of the 40 hectares of Noqhekwane Community donated land is to be used for construction. The target is to cultivate environmentally friendly building habitats.
Following ecological regulations all building distances will be taken into consideration by architects, including safe distances from the coastline in high tide, and forest barriers.
The main aim is to provide jobs and economic returns to the local community and reclaim the AmaMpondo sense of dignity.
This attract further development and lead to the rebirth of Port Saint Johns, the place that came about because of the wise decision of King Faku to let in white traders to establish a trading port.
The historical mandate of traditional leadership (Kings, Queens and Chiefs and Chieftainess) is being custodians of land for and on behalf of subjects (communities). That mandate commands these leaders to ensure that communities utilise the land in a harmonious manner ensuring that all benefit rich or poor.
The current generation of these leaders must rise to the challenges and prescripts of modern economy and find ways of unlocking the land for development and therefore benefit to the economy. The decision taken by King Faku in 1800 was a catalyst to development and therefore job creation for AmaMpondo.
Decisions taken today must be such that the land ownership models should unlock development funding whilst also protecting communities in terms of their interests and traditions. That is the balancing act and challenges faced by current generation of leaders.
This challenge I have decided to take up as the leader of AmaGingqi of Mthweni and not only accede to the request of the Community and developers but actively champion this development for the betterment of our communities by accepting the role of a promoter of the project and play a facilitating role instead of gatekeeping role.
I fully support the development.
Yours in service,
Chieftainess Nomntu “Zwelibanzi” Mditshwa
Mthweni Traditional Authority