Maverick Life


Trails and tribulations — Limpopo villagers take to hiking to heal ‘weary souls’ and find lost link to nature

Trails and tribulations — Limpopo villagers take to hiking to heal ‘weary souls’ and find lost link to nature
The monthly hikes include dialogue sessions in which hikers offer each other support and a safe space to express emotional needs and personal issues. (Photo: Supplied)

In the wake of pandemic claustrophobia, people find joy and connection in the mountains.

Just after the depressing Covid-19 hard lockdown, Ga-Riba resident Mthombothi Philemon Diniwe responded to an advert for a hiking event. He had been up mountains many times before, but not as a social event or for leisure. Organised hiking for leisure was not something most people in rural villages considered a worthy pastime.

Trudging up mountains and walking long stretches in the bush formed part of rural folk’s daily survival in search of firewood, livestock, wild fruit and herbs. However, especially after the lockdown that restricted normal social activities, young people who had been exposed to the hiking lifestyle while away studying or working began organising excursions.

Social media pages are abuzz with organised camps and hiking excursions in rural villages throughout Limpopo, especially during the festive season, when most migrant workers and students return home to be with their family.

After his initial trip in the mountains of the Mpumalanga panorama, Diniwe was hooked on hiking. The next time, he took a friend along. Before long their social media posts had attracted interest from dozens of other people from their village of Ga-Riba and beyond in the Sekhukhune District Municipality in Limpopo, who also wanted to tag along.

After the lockdown people needed to find themselves again… it was like they had been in jail.

That’s how the Tubatse Hiking Club, which now has 129 members, came into being in October 2021. Members range from ordinary village folk to professionals. Their monthly hikes include sessions known as Story of the Hiker and Hiking for Healing, where they hold dialogues and offer each other support about deep-seated emotional and personal issues.

Diniwe, known by his hiking nickname Dr Phil, reckons the Tubatse Hiking Club could perhaps be the first of its kind in his village. Before establishing the club he had also not heard of anything similar in the whole Sekhukhune area.

The club undertook its last hike for the year in November and will resume in January after the festive break. According to Diniwe, the club has become more than just a platform for exploring the great outdoors, which his province has in abundance.


The monthly hikes have grown in popularity. (Photo: Supplied)

Emotional scars

He explains that the claustrophobia of being restricted to his home for long periods during lockdown had left him emotionally drained.

“I felt I needed to go somewhere I could be alone, surrounded by nature,” said Diniwe. “After the lockdown people needed to find themselves again. People were too affected emotionally – it was like they had been in jail,” he said.

The first hiking adventure, in which there were only eight participants, exposed the deep emotional scars that lingered among people.

The development of shopping malls and the installation of electricity in our villages sort of took us away from Mother Nature.

“Some had been abused [during lockdown]. Others were just drained and had many issues they needed to talk about. But they didn’t have that platform. Then the hiking happened and people started talking to one another,” he said.

After learning important elements of hiking from his first expedition, Diniwe consulted the local traditional authority to seek approval to host something similar in his village. He and others who had the same goal set about exploring the great hills to map out possible routes and trails. Although young boys had often spent time in the hills hunting small game, harvesting seasonal wild fruits and berries and just having a good time, changing times have led to a significant lifestyle change.

“The development of shopping malls and the installation of electricity in our villages sort of took us away from Mother Nature,” said Diniwe.

“People began to socialise in malls and shopping centres and stayed home instead of venturing out to the mountains [as in the past].”

As time went by, he said, people became disconnected from nature and even developed a fear of venturing out there. But now the hills serve as a healer to weary souls.

Everyone joins us. The elders come to teach us about historical places and pass down important knowledge on medicinal plants.

“The mountain will humble you. It helps you to do introspection to a point where [during hiking] you can open up to strangers and talk,” he said.

One of those leading the hiking revolution in Sekhukhune is Bapedi cultural activist, performing artist, poet and author Matalane Mokgatla, who pioneered such a movement in his village, Mohlaletse.

“I prefer being up there in the mountains, bonding with nature. So when people saw my social media posts, they started inquiring about how they could join me,” said Mokgatla.

He now organises hiking and camping excursions, exploring different parts of the province. The outings include walks and post-hiking conversations with a focus on social issues affecting men, women and young people.

“Everyone joins us. The elders come to teach us about historical places and pass down important knowledge on medicinal plants,” said Mokgatla.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Walks of life – some of the best family-friendly hikes around South Africa

“We work very closely with the traditional authorities. When we go hiking they give us someone to accompany us so they can also pass down vital indigenous knowledge to us,” he said.

Mmabore Mogashoa, a Sepedi author, poet, singer, healer and cultural and environmental activist, added that such activities also go a long way towards educating citizens about the dangers of pollution, among other problems.

“They learn lessons about taking care of nature. It’s our heritage. Now that mining companies are coming to explore in our communities, people should know what it is they are losing when they agree to give consent to mining,” she said. DM

This story has been written and published on Mukurukuru Media. It first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.

DM168 front page


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