Mdaka Homestead: At home with the Zulus

As the chanting of the Zulus grew louder, we could see torches burning in the dark night, coming closer. Great suspense hung in the air. One by one, our group stood up, leaving our empty plates and stepped out into the bush. Our host clapped his hands, grandly: ‘the boys have arrived, he announced, ‘for dancing’.

Dinner and dancing. As part of my stay at fledgling eco-venture Mbonise’s Mdaka Homestead in Kwa Zulu Natal, a remote part of South Africa, the owners promised us some very traditional entertainment.

A group of boys from the nearby village were coming over to show off their moves. Better still, we heard, they might teach us a few steps too.

In a line, the boys stomped into the garden, all school age, coy, laughing, dressed in casual jeans and t shirts.

Our group -bedraggled, jet-lagged and almost entirely unsuitably dressed – shuffled into a half-circle, as one of the boys took lead. First he began to sing, lift up his knees to apallingly athletic heights and stamp his feet. All we had to do, apparently was follow suit. If you are unfamiliar with traditional Zulu dancing, let me tell you, it is raw, powerful, high spirited and bloody hard work.

And it doesn’t help if you’re wearing a skirt either.

But the energy is magnetic. The beat of your feet as you hit the earth, the rhythm of your muscles and the exposure under the jet night sky feels at once primal and homely.

And this is what the Mdaka Homestead is all about: Making you feel at home.

Dining room at Mdaka Homestead, South Africa

Dining room at Mdaka Homestead, South Africa

Certainly there are some home comforts still missing. When I arrived the three rondavel – round thatched huts – were clean and inviting enough with double and twin beds. But the doors had no locks, there was no storage space, the outdoor showers didn’t work and in order to reach the one toilet we had to go outside, where there was no lighting. Rustic, it is.

But this little place is worth remembering. Mbonise in isZulu means ‘to show’ and this is exactly what the Mdaka Homestead offers: Not just another Zulu show for tourists – but a glimpse into everyday life and what these boys do every night – so that suddenly, you too are a part of it. What you are shown is the everyday and it is this which makes a stay so special.

So if you’re ever in South Africa, passing along the Elephant Coast or driving through the game-filled grassy, hills of Hluluwe National Park, be sure to visit the wonderful people at Mbonise and be prepared to step up to dinner and dancing. Just don’t wear a skirt.