Magical realism

It was in a bathroom at the top of the Soutpansberg mountains that I met my Venda prince — and I knew at first glance that I wouldn’t be able to resist him. He was larger than life, his expression strong yet sensuous. He had a deliciously rounded bottom and wore a simple, stylised loin cloth.
In his hands he held a soap dish. His head was slightly turned, and from out of his ears came a brass shower attachment.

My prince was a glorious clay sculpture — a cross between a statue and a shower — and just one of the delightful characters and creatures I met at the Venda Village at Lesheba Wilderness. The village is part self-catering mountain retreat, part sculpted African fantasy world. And along with my shower prince, I fell completely in love with just about everything else there, too.

In 1995 the owners of Lesheba Wilderness, John and Jill Rosmarin (their daughter Kathryn and her husband Peter Straughn manage the 2 500ha reserve), decided to restore the dilapidated ruin of an old settlement on their farm to an authentic African style village getaway.

A few years ago they commissioned Venda artist Noria Mabasa to add her artistic touch.

Touch is probably putting it a bit lightly. Mabasa lived here for two months, and with the help of two young locals, pulled down walls, re-levelled the floors, added walls and benches, and set about transforming the village into a tableau of mythological creatures that blend in magically with the structures and surroundings. Mabasa says she gets her inspiration from her ancestors who bring her messages through her dreams — and there’s an incredible sense of spirit and imagination here.

We walked into the Venda Village via a gateway guarded by two lions, to be greeted by a milieu of clay figures and creatures, benches and friezes, drums, pots and objects. As is the Village Way, we introduced ourselves to Sam, the village chief (named after an old man who did the thatching). Sam sat in the shade of a fig tree wearing a suit and tie and solemn expression as if to indicate that this was indeed a most important occasion for both himself and the village.

Behind him stretched mountain views that made me want to dive straight into them. But I got distracted by a large cow that was lying under the eaves of the rondavel. She had a benevolent air and a rubber snake on her head, which we later discovered was not a cheeky dash of kitsch but designed to scare away the baboons. “It seems to work,” said Kathryn cheerfully, “although sometimes we forget to tell our guests that they’re rubber.”

The village has different rondavels for different purposes. The main rondavel is for lounging and communing, as well as for cooking and eating the Great Village Feast. Ideal for long, lamplit evenings, tall tales, lively accounts of the ancestors, that sort of thing.

From the meeting-and-eating rondavel, stone paths lead to the village proper, which has an extra kitchen and another lounge rondavel, and then there are four different sleeping rondavels that have their own bathrooms and are decorated in a funky, contemporary African style.

Then, of course, there is the main bathroom rondavel, guarded by a statue of a mother and child. An open thatch building, the bathroom looks on to the same glorious mountain views and it was here that I had my moment with the Venda prince and his deliciously rounded bottom. Fortunately, my husband was in raptures over a nearby nubile princess who lay alongside a big stone bath and, fortunately for me, she was also made of clay.

As night fell, we sauntered slowly around, lighting candles and lamps and greeting the figures and creatures that met us along the way. From the plains below came the raucous shrieks of bushbabies and the occasional puff of an unsettled antelope. Sam, the chief, sat stoically under the fig tree, the lions continued to guard the gateway. The cow sat quietly with its rubber snake and we settled into an enchanted evening at Venda Village.

The lowdown

Contact the Venda Village at Lesheba Wilderness on Tel: (015) 593 0076 or 083 444 0456; e-mail magic@lesheba.co.za or visit www.lesheba.co.za.

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