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Trip Report with Texas A&M and University of Tampa 2016

Texas A&M’s faculty of Agri-Business recently concluded a field trip to southern Africa along with students and faculty leaders from the University of Tampa. This trip was facilitated by African Quiver, a tour operation specializing in special interest tours with a strong conservation bias.

Map of our trip: 

 

Day 1-3: Johannesburg: Apartheid Museum, IRR, Soweto Bike Ride

The trip began in Johannesburg with a visit to the Institute of Race Relations, here Dr Frans Cronje provided the students with an expert analysis of South Africa’s socio/political and economic scenario. This aspect has been designed to provide the travellers with an in-depth understanding of what makes South Africa tick and learn from this unique country, whose young democracy is under scrutiny.

This seminar is followed by a bicycle trip around Soweto, taking in the epicentre of South Africa’s revolutionary period. All visitors are heartily welcomed in Soweto which bears testimony to the miraculous transformation that has occurred since 1994. A subsequent visit to the well curated Apartheid Museum further entrenches the real scale of the South Africa’s modern history.

Armed with this understanding and infusion into the workings of South Africa, the group had ample ammunition as a backdrop to perfect their Qualitative Marketing Strategy techniques, and with this we headed for the magical Kingdom of Swaziland. Read more on Swaziland here, but in short, this is where animals are to be seen, adventure is to be had and culture is to be immersed into.

Day 4: The Kingdom of Swaziland: Travel day and Ngwenya Glass visit

We entered via Ngwenya Glass, whose own story is that of a forebear to sustainable and responsible trading, while producing world class glass products, from recycled glass, powered by KFC cooking oil!

Day 5: Tree Top Canopy Tour and Meeting Nedbank

Onwards then to Malolotja National Park, a mountain reserve with few peers. The fascinating Canopy Tours were well enjoyed by all, while taking in breath-taking scenery, bird spotting and warming up next to log fires in the cabins.

This trip was followed by a visit to Nedbank where Ms Fikile Nkosi, MD, generously provided her time to explain to the group the workings of the banking system in Swaziland. Of great interest is their partnership with SWADE and a heart-warming story of rags to riches for impoverished villagers – led by a public private partnership that, well, just works!

Day 6: Museums, Shisa Nyama, Sunset Game Drive at Hlane Royal National Park

No thorough introduction into Swaziland is complete without a step on guided tour of Swaziland’s Museum and Sobhuza memorial, this interesting excursion was followed by a hearty Shisa Nyama – an opportunity to barbeque meat and mingle with the locals.

Day 7: Hlane and Village Tour

We headed down into the Lowveld to visit and base ourselves at Hlane Royal National Park. The rhino sightings at the waterhole were epic, while under the watchful gaze of the heavily armed rangers.

It was appropriate to move into second academic gear at Hlane considering the topic under discussion was the rhino poaching crisis. Swaziland’s Big Game Parks, of which Hlane is a member, has held the record for the most successful anti-poaching success and our group were to meet with the CEO and founder, Mr Ted Reilly soon after.

While at Hlane, the group went to visit an authentic village high on the Lebombo mountain range, walking past a church group singing anthems. This was en-route to see a traditional healer and to sample umcomboti.

 Day 8 SWADE site visits

We followed this excursion up with another to learn about LUSIP under the watchful guidance of SWADE and RMI. This is the project Nedbank is involved with and essentially it is about knowledge sharing, training previously impoverished farmers how to take their product to market and being able to irrigate from the LUSIP system. The travellers from the agri-business faculty found this most fascinating.

 Day 9 Mkhaya Game Reserve

Our next stop, also in the Lowveld was to Mkhaya Game Reserve, “A refuge for endangered animals”. It is also under heavy surveillance by professionally militarily trained rangers, armed with automatic weapons. This reserve has the most unique accommodation we stayed in – the open sided stone and thatch chalets at Stone Camp. With black rhino sightings, white rhino sightings while on foot, this winter viewing opportunity afforded great encounters with large animals. The visit was made more complete by the fortunate encounter of some of the conservation world’s heroes. Ted Reilly, David Cook and George Hughes. At this impromptu fireside gathering, the students were afforded the opportunity to test their interviewing skills at these masters of conservation. Much was learnt on both sides of the fire but a wonderful evening was had by all.

 Day 10: Mlilwane, Candles Factory, Roan Antelope Game Drive

Our merry band of travellers then headed up to the middleveld region, home to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary and HQ of Big Game Parks. The group got to test the beehive accommodation units before settling into Sondzela Backpackers, the Wildest Backpackers in Swaziland. Mlilwane is an outdoor lover’s paradise and an opportunity to embark on personal discovery in the company of plains game – the absence of dangerous animals makes this a unique opportunity.

Days 11,12,13&14: Rock of Execution Hike, Sondzela Backpackers, Nguni Cattle Visit & Overnight Horseback Cave Trail

We sampled much of what makes Mlilwane famous – among those pursuits were a scramble up the infamous Rock of Execution – a 3hr hike that can be described as strenuous but so far accomplished by every member on an African Quiver expedition – this was followed by the overnight horseback trail where our lodgings for the night on this fully inclusive horseback trip was a cave, expertly hosted by various members of Chubeka Trails (the trailing division on Mlilwane). Some of us took to the hills via fresh trails marked for their annual Imvelo MTB Classic, we whizzed past wildebeest, kudu, warthog Nyalas, blesbok, while searching for crocodiles and hippos. Some of the group enjoyed an adventure caving experience at Gobholo caves, reputed to be the second largest chain of granite caves in the world, this was followed by wallowing in the Cuddle Puddle hot springs munching on awesome pizza.

We arranged to view the Nguni Cattle on Mlilwane, a breed endemic to Swaziland which faced extinction in the early 1980’s owing to their small size. Here we learnt about the importance of cattle to the Swazi’s as well as the different types of Ngunis. It was here again that we encountered Ted and his fellow conservationists where we had another great evening’s discussion and learning at over 150 year’s worth of hand’s on conservation experience.

Day 16, 17 and 18 Transfer to Kruger National Park

Our Intrepid group then headed for a three night safari expedition in Kruger National Park. We were based at Lower Sabie for two nights before rounding the whole trip up with a wonderful stay at Berg en Dal. Lion, Elephant, white and black rhino, buffalo were all to be seen, what remained elusive on this trip was the leopard. Next time!

See what the clients said:

 

 



About African Quiver

This trip represents an area of expertise for African Quiver, we know this area exceptionally well and thus able to tailor trips suited for specific groups. We recently conducted a similar trip for a group of 7 adventurers, also from America – stay tuned for the next trip report of the King Expedition to southern Africa.

While not on tour, African Quiver has been involved with several television productions, most notably to French and the Polish version of “Who is the Mole.” These major productions required logistical planning, accommodation and general fixing and the areas covered so far: Johannesburg (Soweto, CBD & Haartbeestpoort Dam) The Panorama Route in Mpumalanga, The Kruger National Park, Pilgrim’s Rest, Zimbali / Durban / Pietermaritzburg, the Drakensberg.

We have arranged a Botswana tour as well as extensions in and around South Africa – Lukimbi, Idube, Shepherd’s Tree Lodge, Ivory Tree Lodge as well as Cape Town…fantastic 3 and 4 day packages.

Contact us on info@africanquiver.co.za to arrange your affordable trip that is steeped in adventure, wildlife and immersion into our wonderful territory.

Mike Richardson

African Quiver

Nelspruit

+27 13 492 0769

info@africanquiver.co.za

www.africanquiver.co.za


Reeds en-route to the Queen Mother's residence

Swaziland’s Umhlanga Festival Report

The 2015 Umhlanga / Reed Dance

This year’s event will sadly be remembered for the tragic road accident, the first of its kind in the festival’s history, on Friday the 29th of August where 11 maidens and 2 “Tindvuna” suffered fatal injuries. There were rumours from all parts of the Kingdom, that King Mswati III was so upset that he considered cancelling the event.


This accident revealed the fascinating dynamics that govern this tiny Kingdom. Primary of which is the way in which the numbers of fatalities were reported in South African media and even in the Dutch media, as discovered by our visiting Dutch TV crew. Over 30-odd fatalities were reported by these media houses, a number seemingly to have originated from a known Swazi detractor of a defunct trade union. This was taken on face value and repeated further afield.  Embarrassing reporting to such an extent so as to be mischievous. This dynamic has been plaguing the Swazi nation for a long time and shows no sign of abating.

The other more revealing dynamic that emerged from this tragedy is how the collective consciousness of the Swazi Nation revealed itself. For this is a great indicator of a country’s spirit. The passing of these unfortunate souls was likened, in some quarters, to losing soldiers in battle. Taking that analogy into account, the correct decision was made by the surviving comrades to dance and perform in honour of those who lost their lives. This analogy was borne out by the absolute fervour with which the festival was celebrated. It is very difficult to be expressive, sing joyously and indeed celebrate, spontaneously if you are not motivated. The spectacle that our Dutch TV crew recorded in high definition bore first hand testimony to the beating heart of a vibrant and healthy Kingdom.

African Quiver was contracted to be the fixers for this film crew and provide ground handling support to aid their documentary. We have many years of experience in Swaziland and therefore have a distinct knowledge of key customs and traditions. Our first task was to carefully manage the expectations of the crew because like many outside of Swaziland’s borders, much is misunderstood about Swaziland and the Umhlanga Festival is key among those misunderstandings. I knew the task was complete when the sound technician took umbrage to the reported headline in his own country’s respected media house’s claim that “King Mswati III chooses a new bride”. In fact the technician dusted off his twitter account to let the media know exactly what he thought about this lazy journalism.

The Dutch sought to cover the event as seen through the eyes of the maidens. To do this we had to identify a maiden who was able to explain the festival and who was participating in it. We naturally had to get permissions to do this as it is quite an invasion of custom. However, the prevailing sense of the festival is one of happiness and celebration. In fact it was very clear to see firsthand the following facts:

  1. The Festival is an opportunity for maidens to present the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi) with reeds to refurbish the wind breaks around the royal residence.
  2. It is entirely voluntary for maidens to anticipate
  3. 90 000 maidens were reported to have registered
  4. Only virgin maidens may present the reeds to the Queen Mother
  5. The festival strongly promotes chastity and reinforces moral ethics
  6. The Imbali Foundation uses this festival as an opportunity for peer counselling.
  7. The King attends and mingles with the maidens at the appropriate times
  8. Everyone involved is eligible for food parcels at the end of the event.

A major myth that the Dutch crew dispelled was that the King does not hold this event in order to choose a bride. If, in fact he has found a “bride to be” during the course of the year, he may choose to reveal her at this occasion much to the delight of the nation.

A very telling observation made by the Dutch producer was that he doubted if any of the expert event organisers in his country would willingly accept a task as massive as:

  • Collecting maidens from all parts of the Kingdom
  • Identifying where to cut the reeds
  • Organising the orderly procession of presenting the reeds to the Queen Mother
  • Providing accommodation for all involved
  • Orchestrating the intricate dance routines
  • Choreographing the movements
  • Arranging the songs
  • Arranging the dress codes
  • Safety and security for all
  • Media control / background checks and protocol requirements
  • Massive food distribution at the end of the event.

The Festival is indeed growing from strength to strength with increased reported numbers of registrations, delegations from as far afield as the Kingdom of the Ashanti in Ghana as well as Swaziland’s neighbour – the Zulus were well represented.

For visitors, the festival is becoming very accessible as well – accommodation close to the event, in the Ezulwini Valley is now under pressure. The preeminent hotels have created a super, professional and affordable food centre in an air conditioned marquee that gives respite to the long days.

But perhaps the most telling development is the emergence of Princess Sikhanyiso as a moral compass through her Imbali Foundation. At 28 she still embodies the virtues of chastity and has used her lofty position as the eldest daughter of the King to be a genuine role model. Through her and her brother, Prince Makhosonkhe – they have identified a major way of making a significant difference to the lives of the maidens. Peer education from the Princess who has an elite English University education is a powerful tool to communicate all the critical info available today as far as healthy living is concerned. That is the biggest success story – while World Vision, Medicin Sans Frontiers (Doctors without borders) and the like have brilliant causes – quite often their biggest challenges are to effectively communicate with their targets on the ground. The Imbali Foundation does just that. it is home grown well positioned and very relevant.

African Quiver has a tour set up for next year to provide excellent and comfortable access to the Umhlanga Festival and designed in such a way as to appreciate the relevance of the dances and general festivities. For more information on this tour – contact info@africanquiver.co.za

 

Article written by Mike Richardson

 

 

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African Quiver assists BNN-Vara with Swazi Reed Dance

The Kingdom of Swaziland is currently experiencing one of its most famous festivals, the Swazi Reed Dance or more accurately, The Umhlanga Festival.

A most colourful festival, it has reportedly seen the registration of over 90 000 maidens. While the festival is predominantly associated with exciting attire, it is severely misunderstood and often viciously portrayed in the international media.

African Quiver has been contracted to facilitate unprecedented access for television crews for BNN Vara whose intent it is to arrive at the festival with one set of expectations and leave with another and then portray it accurately.

To stay in touch with on the ground info from Saturday 29 August, tune into @africanquiver and follow the updates on Face Book – African Quiver Tourism

 

news_20150729reeddance

2015 Reed Dance Dates Confirmed – Umhlanga Festival, Swaziland

This is Swaziland’s best known cultural event, and has a more open feel than the Incwala. In this eight-day ceremony, young girls cut reeds, present them to the Queen Mother (Indlovukazi) – ostensibly to repair the windbreak around her royal residence – and then dance in celebration. Up to 40,000 girls take part, dressed up in brightly coloured attired – making it one of the biggest and most spectacular cultural events in Africa.

The proper festivities kick off on day six, when dancing gets under way in the afternoon. Each group drops their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters then moves to the main arena, where they dance and sing their songs. The dancing continues on day seven, when the king is present. Each regiment dances before him in turn.

Little can prepare you for the sheer scale of the pageantry, with column upon column of girls advancing like vast ululating centipedes across the parade grounds of Ludzidzini, each dissolving in turn into the pulsating mass of bodies around the royal kraal. Up close, it’s an almost overwhelming immersion in noise and colour, as the girls stamp, sing and sway in step, anklets rattling, naked flesh and dazzling costume blurring into a living, chanting kaleidoscope. The warrior escorts, adorned with cow tails and clutching knob-stick and shield, are sternly intent on their duties and seem contemptuous of tourists, but the girls are all smiles. It’s Swaziland’s biggest holiday and, after days of tramping the hillsides, cutting reeds and camping out, they’re determined to party.

Today the Umhlanga is as well attended as ever. Indeed cultural historians marvel at how its ever-increasing popularity in Swaziland defies the apparent decline of traditional culture elsewhere. It offers the visitor a unique experience. There are no special visitor arrangements – except for a special grandstand to accommodate visiting dignitaries – but simply turn up at Ludzidizini and follow the crowds. Police will direct you where to go, and where to park. Officially, permits are required for photography.

The event takes place around the last week of August / first week of September. The dates for the event are released relatively close to the time as they derive from ancestral astrology. The 2015 Reed Dance will begin on the 25th of August, with the main day (day 7) scheduled for the 31st of August.

 

Day One – 25 August 2015

The girls gather at the Queen Mother’s royal village. Today this is at Ludzidzini, in Sobhuza’s time it was at Lobamba. They come in groups from the 200 or so chiefdoms and are registered for security. Men, usually four, supervise them, appointed chiefs. They sleep in the huts of relatives in the village or in classrooms of nearby schools. This is a very exciting time for the maidens.

Day Two – 26 August 2015

The girls are separated into two groups, the older (about 14 to 22 years) and the younger (about 8 to 13 years). In the afternoon, they march to the reed-beds with their supervisors. The older girls often march about 30 kilometers, while the younger girls march about ten kilometers. If the older girls are sent further, government will provide trucks for their transport.

Day Three – 27 August 2015

The girls cut their reeds, usually about ten to twenty, using long knives. Each girl ties her reeds into a bundle. Nowadays they use strips of plastic for the tying, but those mindful of tradition will still cut grass and plaint it into rope.

Day Four – 28 August 2015

In the afternoon, the girls set off to return to the Queen Mother’s village, carrying their bundles of reeds. Again they return at night. This is done “to show they traveled a long way.”

Day Five – 29 August 2015

A day of rest where the girls make final preparations to their hair and dancing costumes. After all that walking, who doesn’t deserve a little pampering?

Day Six – 30 August 2015

First day of dancing, from about three to five in the afternoon. The girls drop their reeds outside the Queen Mother’s quarters. They move to the arena and dance, keeping their groups and each group singing different songs at the same time.

Day Seven – 31 August 2015

Second and last day of dancing. His Majesty the King will be present.

Day Eight – 1 September 2015

King commands that a number of cattle (perhaps 20 -25) be slaughtered for the girls. They receive pieces of meat and go home.

The annual Rhino Conservation Awards

The annual Rhino Conservation Awards, which were founded by Dr Larry Hansen, are held in collaboration with the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) of South Africa and the Game Rangers’ Association of Africa (GRAA). Co-founder of the Awards, Ms Xiaoyang Yu, founding partner of China New Enterprise Investment (CNEI), co-sponsored the Awards with ZEISS. The awards were held in the same week as World Ranger Day, which is celebrated on the 31st July. – See more at:

The recent Annual Rhino Conservation Awards held at the Montecasino represent, on face value, a thorough appreciation of the plight of Rhinos. By delving a little bit, the organisers have unearthed unsung heroes and thereby provided a rare insight into the complexities of conservation. Most often, it is unglamorous and dangerous. In some instances there is serious political interference that would make even the hardiest conservationist hesitate over the extent to which he or she will protect their asset.

Conservation has to contend with economics as well as human and animal rights. These are burning issues for any range state, especially those that have serious social issues to address.

While all the winners at these awards are deserved, special mention must go to the pocket rocket nation of The Kingdom of Swaziland. To have achieved such results as they have requires a closer analysis. Swaziland is infamous for her alarming HIV infection rate, infamous for the “ruthless dictator, “ King Mswati III yet, look at how important the rhino and indeed conservation is for the King and his Kingdom. Stepping ever so briefly away from the issue at hand – I find that such an award reveals something about Mswati and the way he is portrayed. It leads me to conclude that the major issues we hear emanating from that tiny, landlocked country deal mainly with ideological issues. Mahatma Ghandi is credited for saying “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

What does this award therefore REALLY say about King Mswati and Swaziland? It shows, according to Ghandi, that Swaziland’s moral progress is leaps and bounds ahead of most countries!

To further that claim, King Mswati has been unwavering in his father’s legacy of being staunch supporters of conservation. King Sobhuza II is recognised as the enabler of conservation in Swaziland and that was no mean feat. He called the Nation to hear him declare the might with which he was prepared to protect and assist those involved in conservation and he sounded a warning to poachers to cease and desist. In fact, it may be argued that continuing this legacy has been more difficult for the reigning monarch who has to contend with a potent wave of supposed human wildlife abuses while protecting the dwindling natural habitats of Swaziland and balancing that with the needs of the poorer rural areas.

Fortunately the constant between the two monarchs has been the Reilly led, Big Game Parks of Swaziland. Formerly, Ted Reilly helped craft legislation with the Monarch’s approval that today has resulted in the records recognised by the Rhino Conservation Awards. Ted and BGP have lived this ethos, and with the new generation of leaders at BGP, with the Reilly influence still true to the founding principles, many range states can look with envy at Swaziland who have managed to combine, legislative support along with practical support for the very serious issue of conservation – the rhinos and elephants of Swaziland in particular being the greatest beneficiaries.

Well done to the organisers of these awards and to HM King Mswati III for being recognised as the most efficient conservationist today.

 

#SwaziBucketList- Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary


Our weekly ‪#‎SwaziBucketList‬ must visit spot is the exciting Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary.

Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary is Swaziland’s pioneer conservation area and was formerly a farming and tin mining area, the area has been rehabilitated and is now Swaziland’s most frequently visited reserve.
Covering 4,560 hectares this mountainous reserve comprises a southern section and northern section. The southern section’s grassland plains stretch up to the striking and historic Nyonyane Mountain with its exposed granite peak known as the ‘Rock of Execution’.

Mlilwane is famous for its habituated and mostly non-dangerous wildlife, which makes this reserve an ideal playground for the whole family to get up close and personal with a wide range of African Game while having fun on a variety of different activities which are suited to both the young and old. Any outdoor lover will be gripped by the reserve with the variety of activities to choose from, including Mountain Biking, Horse Riding, Hiking, Game Drives, Guided Birding tours and Overnight trails.
The wildlife you are likely to see while visiting are Blesbuck, Wildebeest, Zebra, Impala, Kudu, Nyala, Hippos, Warthogs and Vervet Monkeys to name just a few. It is the chance to view these habituated game species at very close quarters which also make Mlilwane a great wildlife photography venue.

We love this reserve because of its unique ability to cater for pretty much everyone and any budget, you can choose from Camping, Beehive Villages, Rest camp Huts, Self-catering cottages, the affordable Sondzela Backpackers and the luxurious Reilly’s Rock Hilltop Lodge.

To arrange your visit to Mlilwane Wildlife Sanctuary, drop us an email at info@africanquiver.co.za

(photo courtesy of thekingdomofswaziland.com)