We at Mdumbi Backpackers are grateful to Eco Atlas for creating an opportunity whereby probably some of the most important aspects of being involved in the tourism industry today, could at last be acknowledged. This actually puts this industry ahead of most others. We believe that in line with the historical economic development of the human species culminating in the current form of individual capitalism, powerful transnational organisations and economic inequality, humans are approaching the point to transcend to the next level, a form of economy appreciating that we are one global community dependent on the natural environment. For the first time in history this is becoming possible as we have become all connectable. What is interesting is that which made this possible, tremendous technological advances through the use of fossil fuels, is also creating the first global human challenge, global warming. And global warming is for the first time making world leaders consider sustainable development more seriously, and why we see potential for a new level of economy.
At Mdumbi we are in a uniquely advantageous situation to explore these “futuristic” economic possibilities. In a sense the current economic system has not yet got its tentacles thoroughly wrapped through the lifestyle and world view of the local Xhosa people we live and work with here. This makes them vulnerable on the one side to be easily exploited but it also provides an opportunity to explore alternative forms of true community ownership if driven by sincere enough Western capital. With sincere capital I mean to use it in a way stemming from gratefulness and not selfish righteousness. In the end if you had the slightest Western form of upbringing, even in South Africa, you have tremendous capital privileges in the forms of skills, education, know how, understanding of dominant governance systems like capitalism and physical capital like assets and money compared to any Xhosa born in Transkei. Obviously they have other forms of capital which relevant to the Western world doesn’t seem important but relevant to the previous mentioned transcendence towards a higher level of economy, could be leading the way. I am talking about the harmony they have with nature, how they share everything, how there are no street children or homeless people although they are the poorest people in South Africa, how they live their lives in a home and when they pass away, after a year or so their home becomes nature again.
But I must say, it is not easy to marry the two, it mostly feels the only way is one or the other. For instance, we see the tourism potential at Mdumbi as belonging to the local communities in the area. But how do you structure a tourism business to reflect fair community ownership? How much skilled private ownership is needed to establish sustainability? Is any really needed? Is there not an approach with which community could identify and take full informed ownership with the necessary know how? You will be surprised how sceptical most people are about that being possible, even government. It is as if everyone is so convinced that the only way to sustainable business is that individual capitalist strive of how much profit can I make. Further strengthened of course with the recent collapse of socialism, the only alternative we had until now. And this is starting to stick its head out in the local communities. With their traditional things they share but when it comes to money and business, its capitalism. Is it a case of having to ride that bull first before we can transcend it? Is it possible to bypass capitalism and move straight to the next level, if there even is one, like most Xhosa people are by bypassing the computer and yet they all have phones and know better how to use it than I do? What about the dire economic inequality? Could we expect the majority have-nots to be OK with not having a go? Shouldn’t we instead expect the minority haves to let go?
During the coming weeks we will have several meetings with our direct community to explore with them options of how they prefer to own the new Mdumbi Green Destinations development we helped them with obtaining permission to develop. Mdumbi Backpackers was an existing place and business which we are trying to draw local ownership into. We try to keep profits low and employ as many people as possible, but that is not local ownership. We give a percentage profit to local representing community bodies but that is also not really local ownership. We have helped our kitchen staff to start their own cooperative and are giving them the restaurant side of Mdumbi. That is local ownership but not fairly representing the whole community . With the new Mdumbi Green Destinations development we have an opportunity to start from scratch, to start from where local people are at, to delve deep for their traditional cultural principles and see how that shapes the ownership structure of a state of the art eco-tourism lodge. I haven’t got a clue what will come out, it is up to the people. I am excited though, capitalism’s time is up.
Hyman van Zyl with Transcape NPO and Mdumbi Backpackers has been working on a range of tourism projects with community members since they first started in 2002. Through this experience the managers of Mdumbi anticipated further job creation opportunities that could arise through appropriate development of skills and allocation of resources. b