The name Shangaan loosely translated means 'lost tribe'. A name coined when the Tsonga people split from the powerful Zulu Nation. However, one proud man, Rexon Ntimane, believes his people have found hope.
Dixie is a small rural village on the outskirts of the Sabie Sand Game Reserve in South Africa. Just 1km away from these humble dirt roads, leopards embrace the night and herds of buffalo roam the savanna. A small structure serves as a curio shop for the passing patrons of sculpture and craft. Chickens, cattle and goats loiter the roads. The usual rural African village seems different though.
There are no children in the streets running up to us to have their picture taken. They are all at Wisani Nursery School. Many of these kids are oblivious to the fact that the man visiting them is responsible for their being there, and perhaps even their future. Their innocent eyes are more focused on the porridge that is being dished up in their enamel bowls.
When Rexon first started his community work he was met with resistance. These people have seen individuals sell precious land for empty promises. Rexon managed to win the trust of the community and the elders.
This was not easy. Rexon explains that the Shangaan people are steeped in tradition and this often makes it difficult to initiate change.
The beauty lies between the lines. Here is man hanging on to traditions in a modern world. A man who seeks the approval from the elders but knows his generation is the the vehicle for change - all for the benefit of future generations. Nothing is black or white in the rainbow nation.
Rex is certainly forward thinking. He established the nursery school to free the mothers from their children so they could work. Most of them now work in the game lodges or tend vegetable gardens. 'My main aim is to build something the community can run because they are the future.' says Rexon as we head off to see his other labour of love.
'We hope construction will be finished by June. but we have to work hard'. Rex walks us through a small building that will later serve as the hub of the community. HIV counselling, art, ethnic education and even woman's soccer. Rex somehow finds time for these projects in between his hectic schedule with Wild Earth and his role as patriarch in his family.
It takes someone with imagination and courage to dedicate his life to the upliftment of his people and overcome immense odds to get things done. Rexon praises his father for being such an honourable man who taught him the history of his culture. The influence on his character seems obvious. Rexon is wise beyond the limitations of language. Self taught in written and spoken English.
The bush was his University. 'What's the difference between your upbringing and that of these lighties?' I ask.
'We grew up hunting small game in the area. Herding cattle. Collecting wood, making fences. A lot has changed. Our culture is diluted.' Rex hopes the youth will embrace their culture. He realises that the only way to succeed in that is to engage them in the community and pass down the knowledge that they too will pass on to their children. Rexon has hopes of his son becoming a lawyer. He firmly believes all his children should get a university degree. His stature within the community is now as firm as the foundations of the school building. 'I drive past here and sometimes my tears come off'. Seeing the faces of these kids in a safe, caring environment makes Rex feel proud of his work. Proud too of his community. The warmth of the Shangaan people is around every corner and the entire village benefit from the eco-tourism. Its evident that growing up near the African bush has shaped the beauty of these people. Their regard for wildlife has changed with the times but remains firmly ingrained in their nature.
Dixie is a place of hope that is slowly seeing change through the efforts of a man who seeks no reward. He is inspired by his heritage. The spirit of Africa to guides him on the path to uplifting his people and helping them live a life their ancestors would be proud of.
Written by Daniel Querido
(Note: The Wisani Nursery school was built with funds provided by the Buffelshoek Trust (www.buffelshoektrust.co.za). Djuma Game Reserve (www.djuma.com) is the largest contributor towards the monthly running costs of the creche.)