AS we continue to look at community-based tourism projects, this week we explore where to go, how to go, what to do and how to do it!

Where to go?

The buzz this week has been the opening up of national parks across the country and, of course, Victoria Falls. Even though travel for most is still quite restrictive, the excitement is in the knowledge that life has begun elsewhere and finally the lockdown and all its restrictions may be coming to an end.

Victoria Falls is the destination of choice for many and as it is one of the first places to open up in this season of Covid-19, we will start with some examples from there.  Knowing about community-based tourism is one thing, it is also important to know where this is being practiced so that the eco-tourism initiatives can be supported.

How to go?

The how I am referring to here is not travel by rail, road or air – all of which will get you to Victoria Falls. The how is the things you should be aware of when visiting communities. How to behave, how to respond and how to participate.

Respect goes without saying. To participate in community-based tourism the locals are allowing you to enter into their personal space. It is important to go prepared to learn and share experiences.

In the more organised visits, a guide will be there to help with language barriers and they will inform on what should or should not be done as well as the types of tokens of appreciation that can be carried to the village. It is important to remember that it is a cultural exchange.

It is also important to know what the community is like beforehand. In Victoria Falls for example, the villages are mostly Nambya villages. Going in knowing their value systems will help develop a better relationship and understanding.

In certain communities, in different parts of the world, there may be certain things that are not permissible. For instance, dress codes can be strict in some communities, like they don’t allow women to wear trousers, short dresses or skirts.

So background information on the community will make the visit more meaningful. Most, however, are understanding and accepting as they understand how diverse and sometimes ignorant tourists can be.

What to do?

Cultural village tours  

Victoria Falls is, without a doubt, the most popular destination in Zimbabwe. It is one of the seven natural wonders of the world, the falls are the largest waterfalls in the world and one of the top Unesco sites.

There are quite a number of activities one can do in Victoria Falls and one of the activities offered by a number of organisations but rarely taken up are cultural village tours.

Mrs Trish Mambinge, the general manager sales and marketing of Shearwater, says there has been a growing interest in village tours as they offer an authentic tourism visit. Villages are about 12km out of the main town and a full tour takes about two hours.

Organisations that do village tours have a number of villages that they set aside and visit with tourists on a rotational basis. When being visited, the villages are not pre-warned as the idea is to find everything in its natural state.

This adds excitement to the visit as tourists find the villagers in their daily routine be it gardening, herding their livestock or cooking and they get to participate and learn about whatever activity they would be doing.

The headman or senior person then takes them around the village and tells them about their way of life their daily routines and history of the place.

Mrs Mambinge says that these tours really help the villagers. Tourists are encouraged to bring something to give as a donation to the villages to help with their upkeep.

During the school term, a visit is also made to the nearby schools and sometimes tourists sponsor educational goods as well. She also said that as an organisation, 10 percent of the income made from the tour is given back to the village.

The villagers get the proceeds in cash which they share equally or they ask the organisation to embark on a project on their behalf. Boreholes have been dug and various projects such as poultry and other agricultural projects have been started from the money made from village tours.

The communities are taught not to rely overly on tourism but engage in these community projects. The projects not only become a source of livelihood, but also serve as an attraction for the tourists. Successful community projects end up supplying farming products back to the organisations.

How to do it

Having this knowledge in mind helps to prepare for a visit. Money or goods can be set aside to exchange with souvenirs that would have been made by the community. Sometimes you may also be able to buy food stuffs from the community, if they are fishermen, there may be some fish or wild fruit like baobab fruit, amacimbi (mopane worms) all depending on the area or region visited.

Currently, these activities have been popular with international visitors only. Domestic travellers have got a lot to gain from village tours and unlike international tourists, they can make time for the visits.

Part of the reasons the tours have not been popular has got to do with time constraints. Domestic tourists can make the time to visit as a day excursion or weekend break. These tours are culturally enriching particularly for younger travellers who have grown up in urban environments. Try spending not just a day, but a night as well with the communities for a truly, full authentic cultural experience.

Cecil John Rhodes Ndebele Cultural Village

This is a great stop-over if you are driving to Victoria Falls, particularly now as flights are not operational. The Cecil John Rhodes Cultural Village is about four kilometres from Matobo National Park and was founded by David Mhabinyane Ngwenya in 1992. The village is supported by Campfire through the rural district council of Matopos.

Some of the structures there are amaqhugwana (huts made out of grass) and when you are there, Baba Ngwenya will explain how and why he had to seek permission from the chief to be allowed to build the village and to use the name Cecil John Rhodes for a Ndebele Village.

He also explains traditional rituals that were done such as dragging a branch across the space the hut was to be built and their meanings.

When you get to the village, entry into the village and tours and site seeing are all free. One can go trekking or see the numerous rock paintings within the area. You can also spend the night at the village, the largest group hosted there was a group of 44 Europeans.

When spending a night you are hosted by the villagers in their homes. The charge for spending the night is as little as $10 a night for a full traditional Ndebele experience including all meals. Once in the village you can buy traditional baskets and wood carvings and beads made by the villagers.

Baba Ngwenya is a well of wisdom and much can be learnt from him. This is a definite must visit if your travel interests involve cultural and historical aspects.

Happy travelling!

Mazwi Shamu is a teacher and travel and tourism consultant and blogger. She can be reached on 0712893354 or [email protected]