Kwa-Khaya Lendaba – Home Of The Story

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In the midst of sprawling and bustling Soweto, beneath the high point of the Oppenheimer Tower, are the sacred gardens and living museum of the continent’s most revered holy man.

Kwa-Khaya Lendaba meaning “Home of the story” in isiZulu, was the first living museum built and designed by 98-year-old Sanusi, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa, who currently lives in his cultural village in Kuruman in the Northern Cape. A Sanusi is the highest grade of African sangoma (healer), a role that Credo was destined to, being the grandson of the High Witchdoctor to the Zulu King Dingane.

After initiation in 1937, Mutwa’s search for the “knowledge and truth about my people,” as he called it, was developed through a wanderlust that took him all over the continent, to document the story of the elders.

His work in the curio and safari market in Kenya, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and Johannesburg during the ’50s developed his imaginative synthesis of traditional history, indigenous medicine and sacred artifacts and sites, and resulted in the genius work Indaba My Children, published in 1966.

Lebo Sello explains the storytelling circle
Lebo Sello explains the storytelling circle

Bringing People Together

He was at once established as the guardian of Zulu tribal history and the most distinguished African traditional leader in the world. As such, he was sought out by world leaders, mystics, benefactors and historians. Credo’s life mission was to preserve Africa’s indigenous African knowledge systems for the sake of future generations to restore and maintain a pride in African cultural roots.

His solution was establishing cultural villages in Southern Africa as a permanent repository for the great people and practices that defined the ancient African way.

Credo’s wish was simple. It was for African culture to “bring together the people of the world with the greater understanding of one another, thus nurturing a respect of different tribes, aspirations and origins,” as he said in an interview.

In 1974 he obtained permission and funds to build his first living museum on the seven hectares of land surrounding the Oppenheimer Tower. This tower was situated on a strategic high point of Soweto and was built in 1963 (the year Soweto got its name), as a symbolic landmark honouring the loan of three million pounds given by Ernest Oppenheimer and the Chamber of Mines, to construct the massive township.

South Africa Johannesburg Soweto Kwa-Khaya Lendaba Credo Mutwa Cultural Village sculptures boy. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
South Africa Johannesburg Soweto Kwa-Khaya Lendaba Credo Mutwa Cultural Village sculptures boy. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

A Living Museum

Credo planted a variety of indigenous plants to attract the birds and insects and built a living museum to bring his
stories of African mythology, culture and spirituality to life. In the centre of the village is the storytelling circle, providing a meeting of eclectic symbolism and vivid imagination in what Credo termed in the introduction to Indaba My Children as a “strange mixture of truth and nonsense”.

In the midst of giant clay sculptures of the gods of creation, uNkulunkulu, with four faces representing the four races, and the African Goddess or Earth Mother, Nomkhubulwane, two baby boys argue over their penis sizes whilst an alien observes from high upon a pole. A criminal’s upended feet protrude from a traditional grave site and dinosaurs roam near a cattle kraal.

In the meditation room is Credo’s 1979 prophecy in a painting of the 911 attack. He turned down an offer of eight million dollars to purchase it. The village includes thatched rondavels representing the homesteads of the many Southern African tribes, including Tswana, Zulu, Ndebele, Xhosa and Southern Sotho groups.

A bust of King Shaka, with a pink mohawk, stands overlooking a remodeling of Kwa Dukuza (Place of the Lost Person), the capital of his empire, resplendent with huts for himself, mother Nandi, aunt Mkabayi, and grandparents.

The mid ’70s was a golden era for the village as traditional healers collected bark and leaves from a variety of African healing plants, such as the highly revered aloe vera. The children of Soweto, attracted by the drumming, dancing and storytelling of the healers, frequented the village whilst Johannesburg City offered regular bus tours.

However, in the wake of the 1976 revolution and in direct response to Credo giving evidence to the Cilliers Commission (a piece of history preserved in the stunning Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum), the village was partly burnt down. This rendered huts and artefacts largely destroyed and forced Mutwa to evacuate this African cultural shrine, and the country, and to move to Lotlamoreng Dam in Mahikeng (previously Bophuthatswana). Here he built his next living museum.

Photo: Struan Douglas
Photo: Struan Douglas

A Restoration Of Life

After an extended dormancy, in 2006, the City of Johannesburg put out a tender for the restoration of Kwa-Khaya Lendaba. An original sculptor Musa Ntanzi, who had worked side by side with Credo, won the tender and immediately began to fix the chips in the broken clay sculptures and rethatch the rondavels.

Life was restored to the village, as it attracted the return of artists, traditional healers and young historians. Lebo Sello had been one of the many children in the late 1970s who had followed the sound of the African drumming to this village, to revel in the inspiration of the traditional healers and storytellers.

He now lives on site and preserves the powerful legacy like a disciple of the positive “energy of the universe,” as he put it.
Over the last 14 years he has developed a passionate and impressive knowledge of the living museum and Credo’s prophecies and folklore, and shares insights to this unique combination of indigenous African culture and nature with
foreign and local visitors alike.

As Lebo explained, “In each and every country of the world you’ll find a place where people can come and connect
spiritually. Kwa-Khaya Lendaba is like that. It serves the purpose of balancing your energy and cleaning your aura”. Now in its 46th year, and although still a work in progress, Kwa-Khaya Lendaba is indeed as one international visitor called it, “another piece in the puzzle of the great Credo Mutwa”.

South Africa Johannesburg Soweto Kwa-Khaya Lendaba Credo Mutwa Cultural Village sculptures. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
South Africa Johannesburg Soweto Kwa-Khaya Lendaba Credo Mutwa Cultural Village sculptures. (Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

The Essentials

  • Where: Oppenheimer Gardens, corner Ntsane and Maojeng Street, Central Western Jabavu, Soweto
  • When: Open daily. Best time is Sunday morning.
  • Cost: Free, however contributions to the tour guide recommended. Suggested R100-200 each.
  • Contact: Lebo Sello 078 810 2664
  • Other nearby attractions: Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum, Vilakazi Street.
  • Getting there: FLY SAA flies daily between Cape Town and Johannesburg and offers daily code-share flights from Durban and Cape Town operated by Mango Airlines. Visit flysaa.com

Author: Struan Douglas

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