The great white tent

Robert de Groot from Australia visited the lodge last year – and arrived in one of the most epic thunderstorms which ended with us having to abandon the Land Rover half submerged in a river and walk the rest of the way to the lodge. 

Rob wanted to donate some money to the community and asked what he could contribute towards. One of the ongoing challenges in our community is to get local people to come up with their own development project ideas. So we set the community a challenge: R5,000 on offer to anyone with a good idea that benefits the community. 

Initially responses were slow, but after we enquired whether we should rather offer the money to the neighbouring village – someone came up with an idea. Buy a giant marquee tent to be rented out for important ceremonies. 

Currently, those who can afford it, rent an expensive  tent from a far away shop. The idea was that the tent could be rented cheaply by the local community and rented out at market prices to neighboring villages.

Throughout the process, the community had to make all the decisions: which tent to buy, where to buy it, how much to rent it our for,  how to transport it (oxen and purpose-built sleigh), maintenance, cleaning, storage… The community elected a “tent committee” responsible for all of this. None of this is exactly rocket science, but it all represented a major shift in thinking for our community – forward planning! 

So, Rob’s donation came in May 2007 and the community matched the donation with money of their own earned from the various community tourism businesses. 

Pumzile, the Nqileni Community Trust treasurer found a tent supplier and collected it along with 50 chairs and 2 tables. 

Two days later it was used for the first time at the funeral of Nosinothi. The tent was put up with lots of fanfare and the priest made special mention of it at the funeral… He called me (Dave) up to thank me and I had to carefully explain to him (he was from another village) and the whole congregation that this was a donation from Rob as well as the product of the community’s hard work in the community businesses. I made a point of refuting the priest’s repeated statements that it was “manna from heaven”… This tent is the product of human generosity and human endeavor not supernatural intervention – an important point I think for a community that often seems to be waiting for a mystical being to free them from poverty. 

Photo’s from the funeral:

Tent from the side

 The tent at the funeral (1)

 More funeral action

 Cooking at the funeral

The tent has been out on numerous subsequent missions both within the village and to neighboring villages and everything seems to be well managed. So far they have earned R1200 from hiring out the tent. 

The community has written a thank you letter to Robert (see below). 

Letter from the community to Rob

 Translated is reads: 

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The Nqileni Community Trust
c/o Bulungula Lode
PO Box 345
Elliotdale
5070

9 July 2007 

Dear Sir 

I’m writing this letter to thank you. We the village of Nqileni thank you. For this money you donated: R5,000. We would like you to know that we used this money to purchase a tent for R10,800. Now, this tent has created a project that employs two people to transport the tent to the location where it is needed. We now have earned R500 from this tent. We the Nqileni community are very grateful that you came to visit us here in Bulungula village to see our situation. May many people like you come and see how our community is. We thank you for coming from your home overseas to this very bad place here in South Africa. But now we are starting to do better than the rest of South Africa except that we still don’t have a road but we don’t complain about this.  

Yours faithfully

Pumzile Malima

Secretary of Nqileni Community 

P.S. We say in Xhosa “Mazenethole”: we have had good luck (direct translation:  the cow has a new calf)  

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And from all of us here at the Bulungula Incubator a big thank you to Rob as well! Not only have you given a valuable donation, you’ve created employment for two people, created a source of income for the village and you’ve been the catalyst for the first completely community-planned and driven project. Hopefully this will be the start of many more community-led projects. Thanks again! We hope to see you back at Bulungula one day.

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