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LOCALS ARE LEKKER

No place like home – how Limpopo turned things around after lockdown with small-town style and passion

No place like home – how Limpopo turned things around after lockdown with small-town style and passion
Hoedspruit, Blyde canyon, Limpopo. Photographer: Alex Pinto

Like elsewhere in South Africa, the impact of the hard lockdown at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 was also felt in Limpopo, and restaurants and tourism establishments came to a standstill. Many people have since reinvented themselves in delicious and different ways.

‘Just before lockdown we started sending our son at university in Cape Town boxes of avocados, nuts and dried goods from the farm and around Limpopo,” says Susannah Cole-Hamilton from Boschoek Farm in Modjadjiskloof near Tzaneen, a subtropical farming area.

“The word spread among his friends and colleagues that you could get really affordable avocados and fabulous homegrown stuff directly from Limpopo, and suddenly we had a demand.”

Cole-Hamilton saw the online gap and started Fresh from the Farm ZA, which couriers products directly from Boschoek and other local producers to customers, cutting out the middleman retailer. It’s a farm-to-table approach and the products are fresher.   

“The business wasn’t triggered by the pandemic,” says Cole-Hamilton, “but it was enhanced by it. It gave us insight into a new market and new ways of selling local produce.

Nuts, avocados, dried mango and granadillas are just some of the items one can order online from Fresh from the Farm ZA, which delivers countrywide. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

“We believe in supporting local, appreciating the less-than-outwardly-perfect fruit and minimising packing materials.”

Fresh from the Farm ZA offers a selection of things such as avocados, nuts, avocado and macadamia cold-pressed oil, honey, tea, dried fruit, moringa, soaps, hand creams, cosmetics and essential oils.  

You go online, make your selection, add the items to your cart and within a few days there’s delicious Limpopo at your front door.

Reinventing themselves

“I knew on 24 March 2020, three days before lockdown was enforced, that my life had changed forever,” says Paul Paunde. He and his partner, Thabiso Sekhula, run a travel business called 1000 Limpopo Secrets.

It’s a long story about how Sekhula, a former journalist, and Paunde, a former tour operator, ended up quitting their jobs in Gauteng, falling pregnant and finally regrouping the family. There was a lot of uncertainty about money and life, but when Covid-19 came and lockdown meant being able to work from home, their lives really changed. Paunde drove to Gauteng to fetch his family and moved them all to Limpopo.

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After seeing the impact of the provincial travel ban, the pair spotted a gap for a business promoting the province to the province. “We want to build local tourism in a sustainable way by getting local people to see what amazing things they can do in Limpopo.”

Paul Paunde and his partner, Thabiso Sekhula, run a Limpopo-based travel business called 1000 Limpopo Secrets, which promotes local tourism. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

With Paunde’s background in running a travel company and Sekhula’s experience in being a journalist and digital content whizz, 1000 Limpopo Secrets is fast becoming the go-to platform for locals wanting to know about what’s fun in the ’hood. They have laptops, phones, cameras, Facebook and Instagram pages, a radio show, a YouTube channel and a drone. And children, which is why they promote experiences that are inclusive, interesting and creative.

Both Sekhula and Paunde have other jobs that pay the bills while they build their 1000 Limpopo Secrets brand. They juggle being parents with full-time jobs and businesses during the week and travelling and networking on weekends to boost the travel business.

“But it’s the kind of busy we like,” says Sekhula. “We’ve been to so many amazing places, from Blouberg in Vhembe – the only place on Earth where the San, Khoi and Bapedi all have their ancient rock art on the mountains – to Baleni in Mopani, where women are keeping the 2000-year-plus tradition of salt mining on the banks of the Klein Letaba River.”

Recently, 1000 Limpopo Secrets launched the #ModjadjiskloofRoute at the home of the Queen Modjadji royals. It happens to be the only place on Earth where the rare Modjadji cycad grows in large numbers.

Starting anew  

It sounds counterintuitive to open a restaurant during a pandemic, but that’s exactly what Tuwanda Muzeketwa and his brother, Stewart Masube, did. After 12 years spent working the cuisine scene in Franschhoek, they relocated to Hoedspruit and started the Kassava Cafe in April 2021.

The brothers had worked their way up in the food hub of the Western Cape, including a long stretch at Café Des Arts with legendary chef Chris Hoffman. “We’d been dish washers, scullery workers, bakers, baristas, chefs, waiters, bar men, just about everything,” says Muzeketwa. “Then we decide to regroup as a family, with our partners and children, and to share our skills and also connect good people and inspire conversation and creativity through delicious food.”

Tuwanda Muzeketwa and his brother, Stewart Masube, left the Western Cape after more than a decade in the restaurant business and opened their soulful Kassava Cafe in Hoedspruit in 2021. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Masube is the chef and Muzeketwa does the management and front-of-house duties. “We really wanted to showcase African cuisine to be healthy, delicious and of an international standard,” says Masube.

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Their small café is the hippest new kid on the Hoedspruit restaurant block. “All Good” is painted on the wall alongside their mascot and brand ambassador, a warthog called Khumba, meaning “come home”. The name Kassava Cafe is a twist on the edible tuberous cassava, which is fabulously rich in proteins and high in antioxidants, and features on their menu in various delicious forms.

Kassava Cafe’s bush salad with cassava mash and dragon fruit. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

They source locally for treasures such as foraged field mushrooms, and get their herbs from the nearby Hlokomela Herb & Garden Project, plus the occasional marijuana leaf for decoration.  

Loss and love

Lockdown was especially tough for foodie Laaika Moosa. She lost her father to Covid-19 and moved back to her hometown of Tzaneen to be with her mother and brother.

After more than a decade of living in Stellenbosch, where she studied education and worked as a teacher and school principal, Moosa decided to combine her love of teaching with her love of cooking. She started Laaiksfood, which does catering, cooking classes, pop-ups and bespoke food experiences in the surrounding mountains.

Side dishes at Laaika’s Middle Eastern-inspired pop-up food event in Magoebaskloof. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Moosa has introduced a delicious Indian and Middle Eastern culinary tradition to the Limpopo mix and added fire and spice to the local palate.

“I didn’t train formally,” she says, “but over the years I have done so many courses and classes. I’ve done countless dinners for friends, catering at the school, parties, functions, events, celebrations, gatherings.”

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Her food journey started at a young age, watching her mother and aunts in the kitchen for hours, preparing traditional dishes.

“I was always surrounded by passionate cooks and I learnt how to do mass catering for weddings and functions as well.”   

She adds: “It’s all just taken off – the master classes, the pop-ups, the food experiences. It’s so exciting. The positive side of being in a small town is that word spreads fast, but I think people are really tired of pizzas and burgers and are looking for something new.”   

Teamwork

For mother-and-daughter duo Magriet Daniels and Jesse Scates, who run a bakery called Magriet’s Fine Foods in Haenertsburg village in Magoebaskloof, lockdown was an opportunity to rethink, change and restructure their business.

“We had to be really creative and think on our feet,” says Scates. “With the booze ban there was a huge demand for sugar in the form of chocolates, cakes and ice cream, and sometimes we were doing more than 40 extra cakes a week.”  

One of the bakery’s hand-decorated cakes. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Magriet’s Fine Foods operates out of a house-cum-bakery and employs 14 women as well as Scates’s husband, John. “Without the amazing team spirit here we would never have pulled it off,” says Scates, “and everyone worked so hard to keep us, the business and their families going. Everything here really is handmade with love.

“We also took a decision to go to a four-day week so everyone had more flexibility, and we retrained so that more people knew how to do more things, so it’s not a crisis if someone is off sick.”

Magriet’s Fine Foods has consolidated a reputation for its amazingly creative cake designs, colours and decorations. You want dinosaur or mermaid fantasy cakes? Triple-layered gold extravaganza cakes? Biscuits with underwear designs, ambulances or Barbie dolls?   

Maletsholo Modiba is a member of the dedicated team at Magriet’s Fine Foods. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

Like many small businesses, Magriet’s Fine Foods slowed down on personal deliveries and started using more courier services for its countrywide orders of personalised biscuits. It also supplies these locally to farm stalls, delis, restaurants and coffee shops. “We have also found that tourists and weekenders to the area are now more inclined to buy local produce than ever before,” says Scates.

Finding a passion

Sometimes being told “no” can lead to a great big “yes”. David and Corene Alexander, who run a dental lab in Tzaneen, started brewing beer in buckets in their garage at home during the booze ban in lockdown. “Beer is something we’ve always loved and always wanted to make,” says David. “We had time to experiment and we were amazed at how good our beer was. Seriously. Our friends also started raving about it and so we decided, once the ban was lifted, to go commercial and open a small brewery.”

It has taken time, dedication and money to buy the equipment, assemble everything and get it to the point of brewing 300 litres a weekend. Both David and Corene still work at the dental lab, but they spend their weekends brewing and now produce light lager, ale and stout.

Proud brewers of a brilliant milk stout, David and Corene Alexander. (Photo: Bridget Hilton-Barber)

They have opened End Street Brewery at the Old Packhouse Distillery in Modjadjiskloof. It’s named after the road in which they live in Tzaneen, where the idea was born. They had no plan for where they would set up, but when they went to register their company with a local lawyer, he suggested they approach his other clients, a local gin distillery. Combining a brewery, a bar and event space and a distillery made perfect sense.

Read more in Daily Maverick

United in soul food and a jol at the end of Cheerio Road, a humble market is a celebration of diversity

Limpopo: Smiles, hope, tradition, perseverance and wildlife

“Basically we’re now doing something we love and offering people delicious and affordable craft beer and the chance to connect with each other,” says David. “It’s the real craft beer ethos and we’re staying away from plastics too, so our beer comes in a cardboard box of four and a bigger box of 24.”

For many small businesses, surviving the pandemic has been a lesson in flexibility, creativity and being able to adapt. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R25.

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