The Limpopo Province usually entertains visitors who like to spend time in nature during their trips.
This time, enlisting the help of Deon Pienaar from Love Limpopo, Melanie van Zyl is on a mission to meet the creatives and makers in Limpopo’s under-the-radar art communities.
The first stop on our art-inclined agenda is at a studio perched atop an old tea estate with Merle Payne and Virginia Ramohlola, the team behind Barok. Using different embroidery and embellishment techniques from various cultures, this refreshing team creates bags, cushions, skirts and more.
“We all brainstorm together to get ideas. It can take a week in total to make one handbag,” says Virginia.
The Brenda Fassie Leopard-Shepherd
Salvation Chauke, another team member, specialises in the finer embroidery. “I knew nothing about sewing before I arrived here one and a half years ago,” she says. I ask which her favourite work is. “I think the leopard-shepherd one is my favourite.”
Merle divulges how a meeting at a birthday party with the late iconic singer Brenda Fassie inspired it. “She had on these very tight leopard-skin pants and those cheap nails from Clicks. We were all very well-behaved until they brought out the wine. She started dancing, and chanting:
‘The Lord is my Shephard and I am his Leopard.’ I just never forgot it. I nearly fell off my chair laughing! Now we make these to keep her quirkiness alive.”
Limpopo’s Got Talent
Our next stop is towards Elim and the Ribola Art Route where Deon explains that Majozi and Ray Piri are from the area. From Fassie to hit single “Fire”, a musical magic current runs through these mountains.
In keeping with the theme, we head to Tshivhuyuni Village to meet the Vutshila Indigenous Band.
An extraordinary bunch, they take turns in playing different instruments for each song. From marimba to drums to the timing of a well-dinged cowbell, they perform perfectly and invite me to join their rehearsal.
Vutshila means “talent”, and there sure is a lot around here. Not only are the band’s instruments all handmade, but their craft extends to sculpture too. One band member, Kenneth Nonyana, shows us the small exhibition space where his slender, finely chiselled works line the shelves.
“First, we study the wood and find the grain. Then, we follow the nature of wood. You have to cut out the story that is already lying in the wood,” he says, pointing to a thick stump of crocodile lying in the shade, adorned with scales that trademark his work.
The subject of storytelling flowed straight into our next visit with Pilato Bulala. Famous for his “scrapture” creations, Pilato works by day as a mechanic, but his passion lies in devising incredible scenes using old metal parts, welding them together into “stories of democracy”, as he calls them.
A confident, ever-smiling host, he carefully explains every artwork, from South Africa’s coat of arms to giraffes made from spanners, cogs and bicycle chains.
From contemporary bands, sculptures carved according to local legend, and more modern scraptures, it is then time to delve even deeper with a visit to the art of the ancients.
A Step Back In Time
A real time capsule, walking with Ngoako Jonas Tlouamma, the tourism officer for the Blouberg area and excellent archaeological guide, we embark on a memorable outdoors history tour. “I love heritage with all my heart,” says Jonas.
His passion is palpable as we sit in a shallow overhang, below a stone canvas in Thabananthlana just outside of Polokwane. Jonas was part of a team of interpreters that worked to document Makgabeng Plateau’s rock art, which consists of over 800 separate sites. “We are all settlers up here,” continues Jonas.
The paintings at one standout site depict these different eras. From San, to KhoiKhoi to Northern Sotho and Afrikaans settlers the mural is a spectacle, artistically imbued with the turmoil and tragedy befitting a tale of war.
Exploring Limpopo’s brilliant (and admittedly bumpy) backroads reveals the unexpected… something not anticipated. How enriching it was to encounter people so willing to share; share their news, jokes, joys, histories, difficulties, heritage and, most impressively, time.
There’s a saying in these parts, “zwakala”, which means “come closer”. Melanie Van Zyl suggest you try it too.
Don’t miss our Little-Known Limpopo: Essentials post with all our tips for getting around and staying in Limpopo.
Words by Melanie van Zyl