Mole Expert Hub – Visitor Experiences in Kwazulu-Natal
A passionate storyteller and tour guide, Thoko Jili specialises in giving visitors to South Africa an authentic Zulu experience. As a guide for Wisdom Tours she customises journeys to rural destinations, where visitors can interact with locals and enjoy a first-hand experience in the Kwazulu-Natal province. Thoko is an ambassador for the Meet Your South Africa campaign.
Thoko Jili spoke to Expert Hub about the perceptions and experiences of visitors in Kwazulu-Natal. She guides a wide range of visitors, from a mantra that “we need to teach people about our country no matter what age or nationality they are.”
What are the most popular tours for visitors? What are visitors to South Africa looking to experience?
Any visitor I meet in South Africa wants to explore the country’s culture. There are many options and customisable tours that can suit specific interests. People want to come and learn first-hand about what the Zulu culture is all about. I am particularly passionate about our Zulu tours which involve meeting real Zulu people.
What are some of the common misperceptions your visitors have about Kwazulu-Natal and Zulu people?
When visitors come they want to see what Zulu people do. Some people have watched a lot of Zulu movies before they arrive and perceive the Zulu as being aggressive, which is a misconception. Many people are surprised at how lovely and welcoming the people can be. It’s something visitors only see when they visit Kwazulu-Natal.
Tourists have a tendency to think that Kwazulu-Natal is all about the beaches. Yes, we have amazing beaches but we also have the bush and the berg (mountain). They are things visitors may expect elsewhere in South Africa but are very much part of Kwazulu-Natal province as well.
A beach in Durban, Kwazulu-Natal’s largest city
What local customs tend to surprise your clients most?
International visitors generally perceive our customs only in a positive way. Traditionally we have a culture that allows men to have many wives, which sometimes does surprise people. When I take tourists to visit the king, I have to tell ladies to wear skirts and cover their hair as that is our culture.
What about the food? How do visitors experience Zulu food?
When people taste our traditional food for the first time, it is often something that they’ve not seen before, such as pumpkin leaves which are served in a traditional house. We eat a lot of meat and often cook the inside of the cow. People are often surprised by how this looks but there is always a positive reaction towards the food.
We often like to show visitors how to eat corn direct from the fields as this is not something they have experience before. We eat many animals, including sheep, cow, and goat. Some people are surprised by how we eat every part of the cow but do like how we don’t waste any of the animal.
A Zulu cultural experience
What nationalities are most adventurous with trying local food?
Most people are very adventurous and will often try anything – especially people from the USA. They are interested in authentic experiences and really enjoy aspects of food and culture that are different from home. Asian visitors tend to be less adventurous when it comes to tasting new food. We often have to convince them to try local food as it is not their typical taste or style.
Are there any interesting shopping experiences that visitors enjoy?
We Zulu people are known for our bright outfits and tourists can buy them very cheaply from local shops. Many visitors like to buy these outfits to take home as gifts.
The open landscapes of rural Kwazulu-Natal
Are there any interesting events visitors love to see?
he most famous Kwazulu-Natal entertainment event is the July Vodacom Durban, a horse racing event. Every African celebrity comes to experience the horse racing. Besides that, we have artists and musicians that perform throughout the year but visitors often miss out as they don’t know where to go.
Thoko Jili is passionate tour guide from Wisdom Tours in South Africa. She is also an ambassador for the Meet Your South Africa campaign. This Expert Hub article is produced in association with South Africa Tourism UK.