Air travel to faraway destinations is so commonplace these days, people tend to get a bit blasé about it. However, for a significant section of the population, it is only a pipedream, and for the Imbalenhle traditional dance troupe at Summerhill Stud in Mooi River, it is about to become a reality with an invitation to perform at the planet’s greatest festival of its kind, the Edinburgh Military Tattoo.
Summerhill CEO, Mick Goss, recalls that 17 years ago at the opening of their Hartford House boutique hotel on the farm, he was approached by the team leader with a request for an audition: some of the dancers were just 7 and 8 years of age, and they wanted the right to entertain the hotel guests on weekends. Having grown up in faraway Lusikisiki, Goss had seen just about every traditional dance there was to be seen, and reluctantly gave up a precious Sunday to attend the audition. The troupe arrived with five drums strapped with cattle hides and they beat them with garden hoses, to such effect that they’ve been on duty, weather permitting, ever since. Some years ago, they emerged among the top traditional dance troupes in South Africa, and a small core of this crew distinguished South Africa at the world championships in Tokyo and Hong Kong respectively.
Seventeen years on, and their renown has reached the other end of the world, culminating in the Edinburgh invitation.
That these traditions are maintained among our rural communities is a rare gift in a world where technology and the internet have thrust cultural pursuits to the margins; the tiny metropolis of Mooi River, a slow town with a sleepy railway station left behind by the Anglo-Boer War, is abuzz with anticipation at the imminent departure of this troupe, thanks to the help of the Department of Arts & Culture and the recently appointed MEC for Agriculture and Rural Development in KZN, Mr Cyril Xaba.
The Summerhill team is beavering away at assembling the remaining funds to ensure the dancers get aboard an aircraft later this week, in the hope of wrapping that up in the next few days. They debut in Scotland on the 3rd August under the nom de plume, Ngobamakhosi, the name of the regiment which struck such fear in to the hearts of the British soldiers at the Battle of Isandlwana in 1879; they will perform the ritual dance the Zulu impis undertook at the Royal kraal on the eve of their departure for major military expeditions.
This was not Mooi River’s only accolade this month. Four years ago, Summerhill opened its School Of Management Excellence in Equine studies, the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere, where half of its graduates annually travel abroad on scholarships.
The best of them proceed to further studies at the English National Stud in Newmarket, where they join 25-30 students from around the world. In a matter of three years, two graduates of the Summerhill school have provided that venerable institution with its Top Practical Student of the year, the first of whom, Thabani Nzimande headed the list in 2012, and again last week, John Motaung exalted Mooi River with the same achievement. “Having been to most of the leading stud farms of the world, we’ve long held that South Africa is home to some of the finest naturally-skilled stockmen anywhere, and these results by our local people have vindicated this view completely”.
Yet another graduate of the class of 2013, Hazel Kayiya, who works in the financial administration division of Gold Circle in Durban, is currently on scholarship with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which operates international racing’s most-envied jurisdiction. Just six months out of her graduation at the School Of Management Excellence, she has been nominated a CEO designate of Gold Circle.