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“Aiee, these boys mustn’t leave Van Reenen. We need them. They taught me all about computers, something I did not know before,” says Thembi Moloi, the cheerful assistant at the Sweet Shop beside the garage.
The Van Reenen Info Centre is about a whole lot more than tourism. Prince Moloi and Mbuso Ndaba who run the office, have been enrolled in a computer course (sponsored by N3TC) for the past year and are sharing their newly acquired skills with the locals. They epitomise a generosity of spirit which seems to abound in the village. On Friday afternoons, learners from nearby schools head to the centre to learn how to use search engines, send emails and create documents. “Just knowing what a computer does, is helpful,” says Prince, “now the kids really love computers and want to stay the whole day. Even I did not know how to touch a laptop a few years ago, now it is so useful.”
On a drive around Entokozweni township, Mbuso points out a couple of sites where he and Prince are keen to set up an internet café. He says earnestly, “We’d like to offer photocopying and faxing too as there is nowhere in Van Reenen that the community can get these services” he adds. He has already done some research into possibilities of funding assistance. Despite being newcomers to the world of social media and technology, they already have plans to start a Facebook page for Van Reenen and open a Twitter account too – “People are especially interested in the weather, so we could share that info.”
At the Tourism Indaba this year, they were astonished at how much is happening in Africa in the tourism arena and enjoyed the networking opportunities – absorbing a little of Cape Town, Johannesburg and Zimbabwe too as they explored the huge array of exhibits. To their surprise, they discovered that the challenges of sustainability and sponsorship are universal.
Both young men grew up in the area and are very proud to be able to contribute to their community now as Managers of the Tourism Association. They make a good team, complimenting one another’s strengths and weaknesses. Both of them love being outdoors in the ‘refreshing air’, and particularly going on walks down to see the Bushman paintings in a rock overhang on the edge of the village. “This is real history and through learning about this art, I have become more interested in history.” Another favourite spot is the Little Church, where Prince is determined he will be married. “We have learnt about many things we didn’t know before and are trying to teach others.” Mbuso’s cousin, Bonginkosi, is a local bird guide who has really inspired them and taught them a lot about the natural environment. “In the past tourism was seen as a ‘white thing’, but we are working hard to change that. Now everyone can see that tourism has made a difference and they can gain something by supporting tourism”, Mbuso adds.
This year, they have had to take on the organising of the multi-cultural events which mentor, Elsa Human, initiated. As there are limited opportunities for youth activities in the area, they feel this is very important. The Annual Soccer tournament went well, despite the fact that a major partner pulled out at the last moment, meaning they had to find another one quickly. Both Mbuso and Prince have soccer teams which they help train – ‘Van Reenen Magic’ and ‘Powerboys’. Ballroom dancing is popular with some of the youth who practice regularly in the community hall and will participate in the Annual Yenza Cultural Festival. “We partner with the municipality for the festival, they do things so slowly it can be frustrating, we have to ensure they deliver!” quips Prince. The Over the Edge mountain bike race, which brings many cyclists to the area, takes place in October and they are up for the challenge. Apparently, it gets a little hectic with late entries at the start, but the guys are certain that all will go well – particularly because of the combined community effort. Local landowner and member of the Van Reenen Tourism Committee, Lew Harris, has marked the trail, Green Lantern Inn provides the venue for the start and finish, the Tourism Association is right behind them and N3TC’s sponsorship is a great help too, of course.
Although they are happy in Van Reenen, broader horizons beckon “sometimes you need changes in life”. They have dreams of owning a guesthouse in the area decorated in local cultural style, serving traditional food – particularly their favourites – isijingi (mashed pumpkin and mielie meal) and ujeqe nobhontshisi (steamed bread and beans). How about two guesthouses? One tucked into the hillside where Mbuso’s family live, with views across the plains and fresh food from the garden, and another in the vibrant township house Prince shares with his mother. Why not a funky little internet café too? Anything is possible. With the natural beauty of the area, the friendliness of the people and deep roots in hospitality, Van Reenen’s two young stars are certain to make a success of the ventures they dream of.