The heart of the Zulu nation is steeped in history.
Modest thatched huts along the road into Zululand follow a
tribal design. Women paint their faces with red and white clay
according to their marital status.
On the top of the highest hill overlooking the eMakhosini Valley
two young Zulu women wait in the sun for tourists.
Jabu Gabela and Londewe Ncanana display seven tall horns
surrounding a large bronze pot. The horns, they say, depict a
culture that grew in harmony with nature. The pot contains the soul
of the Zulu nation.
When guests arrive, the women perform a traditional Zulu dance,
shaking their grass skirts and thrusting their hands into the
The Zulu became infamous for tribal conquests and battles with
British and Boer colonialists. Today, the Zulu name is instantly
recognizable. But in these rolling sun-scorched hills spotted with
thorny Acacia trees and dried aloe plants, the Zulu heritage has
gone relatively unnoticed by the outside world.
The eMakhosini Valley, or the Valley of the Kings, is at the
center of the tribe’s culture. Shaka Zulu established his first
royal residence in the valley, and a monarchy with an unbroken link
to the tribe’s origin continues.
But until recently there was nothing commemorating the seven
Zulu kings buried in the valley, or the rich history of the tribe.
During apartheid, the Zulu were denied free access to the land and
any celebration of black heritage was prohibited.
Now, Gabela and Ncanana and the monument where they work are at
the forefront of changes aimed at bringing back the mystique of the
The eMakhosini project, which officially opened this year, is
part of an ambitious project to turn the valley into a major
tourist destination aimed at not only boosting civic pride but also
providing work in a region where more than 75 percent of people are
Officials are negotiating to buy private land to conserve the
burial grounds and to complete a cultural heritage park that they
hope will include an IMAX theater, museum and access to the Opathe
Game Reserve, one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered
“We wanted to put something in that will knock people’s socks
off,” said Barry Marshall, director of Amafa/Heritage KZN. “It’s an
area that’s the holiest of the holy for the Zulu, but we needed a
big, must-see project to get things going here. But the biggest
benefit is restoring Zulu pride and access to their ancestors’
The eMakhosini project is a reflection of efforts to boost
tourism that are unfolding across South Africa.
Since Nelson Mandela became president in 1994, the government
has made it a priority to rectify the historical imbalances of the
apartheid era by giving the largely impoverished black population
In 1996 and 1998, the government set the framework for a
national tourism industry with the goals of driving economic
growth, creating new jobs, reducing poverty and redistributing
“It allows an entry into the market,” said Cheryl Carolus,
president of South Africa Tourism. “We need entry levels for people
who were denied jobs under apartheid.”
Transformation, however, has been slow, and many concede that
the tourism industry still is not representative of the majority
According to a 1999 industry report, approximately 95 percent of
the South African tourism industry is white-owned. In 2000, after
walking through Indaba, the country’s largest travel trade show,
Vaslly Moosa, the minister of the Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism said, “There was a striking reality that the
South African tourism industry is just too white.”
In the last few years, efforts to promote and develop
black-owned tourism operations have intensified. New policies have
been introduced at national, provincial and local levels to launch
“The government sees great potential in tourism in that it
addresses some of the biggest social and economic problems,”
Carolus said. “Tourism is recognized as one of the top five
industries in South Africa. And now we’re putting the money where
our mouth is. ... The expectation now is that there will be
sustainable GNP growth, sustainable job creation, and economic
And results are being realized, as with the eMakhosini
Three years ago at Indaba, there were 12 small tourism
businesses owned by individuals who had been sidelined during
apartheid. At Indaba this year, there were 273. By 2010, tourism is
expected to create more than 500,000 jobs in South Africa,
according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
The efforts also are slowly transforming perceptions of tourism
in South Africa. Officials say tourism products are starting to
offer more depth and variety.
“You gets your hands dirty here,” said Moeketsi Mosola, South
African Tourism’s chief operating officer. “We get you out on the
dance floor. It’s not a first-off destination. You engage with the
South African people and interact with their culture. We’re
starting to get more products that offer that here.”
Gary Murphy, president of Brendan Worldwide Vacations in
Chatsworth, Calif., said that South Africa is coming out with more
tourism offerings and is also raising the level of service.
“You are seeing more four- and five-star hotels,” he said.
“People feel that they are getting a good value. It is one part of
Africa that is still selling very well.”
While tourist arrivals to South Africa have been uneven in
recent years, the country’s efforts to reinvent itself as a “safe”
destination after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks appear to be
Arrivals to South Africa rose 11 percent last year, surpassing 6
million for the first time and making the country one of the
fastest-growing tourism destinations in the world. Travel from
North America rose 9 percent.
“Certainly after September 11 people have had to re-evaluate
what they perceive as dangerous,” said Pam Sykes, a chief economist
at Infonomics South Africa. “South Africa has been able to leverage
this to its advantage.”
The country’s efforts to build a tourism industry, however, are
not without challenges.
Tourism growth remains disjointed. On the provincial level, only
KwaZulu Natal, Western Cape and Gauteng have well-developed tourism
initiatives. The areas also attract the most tourists and are where
most development is taking place. But six other less well-resourced
The Poverty Relief project of the Department of Environmental
Affairs and Tourism also places a priority on funding areas that
draw the most tourists and have the most potential as
So far, there also is little training for individuals who want
to run a business and there are few opportunities to establish
business networks. Financial support also is limited, and
applications for the financial support that does exist are often
“Access to the market, training, issues of financing, business
linkages, the adaptability of the entrepreneur to changing market
conditions; there are a whole series of challenges facing new
businesses,” said Chris Rogerson, a professor at the University of
Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. “The government is well aware of this
and is shifting resources from programs that haven’t worked.”
One of the biggest challenges facing eMakhosini, and one
mirrored in other rural areas, is the lack of infrastructure. The
government is realizing that better infrastructure can aid in the
development of new tourism businesses, according to Rogerson.
Other problems are more ingrained, such as the troubles of
finding a tour operator to bring visitors to eMakhosini.
“The biggest issue now is getting the tourists in,” said
Marshall, of Amafa/Heritage KZN.
“Because the black community is perceived by some white South
African tour operators, who have not been able to shed their
prejudice, as dangerous.”