A Secret, Sacred Lake
In the heartland of South Africa, remotely located in the Venda region of the Limpopo province lies the Soutspansberg Mountains and deep in their foothills lies the sacred Lake Fundudzi. It is one of the few inland lakes in South Africa. Estimated to be at least 10,000 years old, Lake Fundudzi is filled by the Godoni and Mutale rivers. And mysteriously, with no obvious outlet, this lake never overflows.
A Land of Legends
Many legends are told about Lake Fundudzi. The Venda people are a tribe comprising more than a million people. They are the protectors of Lake Fundudzi. And they tell a story of a sacred python who is considered to be a bringer of fertility. This python dwells beneath the Lakes waters. In ancient times it lived on the surface of the lake and was attracted to Venda women. He visited them at night when he could not be seen. One time, a woman did see him and she was terrified. Her terror so upset the python that he fled deep into the lake. This caused a terrible drought, which only ended when the curious wife walked into the lake to join the python. To prevent more droughts in subsequent years young maidens were sacrificed in the same way. In recent times the performance of the ritual domba dance, part of the initiation rites of young women, is believed to satisfy the lusty python.
No Outsiders Allowed
Until recently tourists were not allowed to visit the Lake Fundudzi. It is difficult to find the lake and there is a peculiar method of approaching the lake. When a visitor first sees the lake they are expected turn their back to it and then bend down to look at it upside down through their spread legs. This special salute is known as the ukodola. And swimming in Lake Fundudzi is not recommended, it is full of crocodiles.
Progress or Destruction
However, this sacred lake which supports the biodiversity of this truly natural environment is facing stresses like never before. About 10 years ago the lake was declared a National Heritage Site. This brought in more tourists. Economic activity has since increased in the region. The adjoining hillsides are being cleared for cattle grazing. The clearing has led to erosion and invasion of hillside by alien vegetation. Studies have now reported deterioration of the water quality in Lake Fundudzi. Despite the so called economic progress, the Venda people and local environmental campaigners are not happy.
They believe that the ecosystem is being destroyed and the spiritual value of the lake is being ignored.
“The land is more than just the dusty earth on which we stand. We grow from the soil and we go back to it.” Lucas Ledwaba
Does Nature Need A Mouthpiece?
Mphatheleni Makaulule leads an organisation called Dzomo la Mupo which means “ a mouthpiece for nature”. The organisations mission is to protect nature, to give it a voice against the destructive hand of people and to preserve the planet for the benefit of all humankind.
Makaulule believes that all these sacred sites are sacred because they played an important role in maintain eco-diversity. But these sites are vulnerable to the greed of men.
“How do you destroy a whole ecosystem to build a hotel? When developers see a river, they just want to block it. They see a forest, they want to log. Human beings are destroying their own habitat.”
Makaulule is disappointed by human greed. And this deep disappointment has encouraged her activism for which she has received numerous international awards. Her work with Dzomo la Mupo has taken her to meet indigenous communities in the Amazon, Ethiopia and Kenya. She shares ideas on how to protect Mother Nature and their heritage.
But most importantly, Makaulule and Dzomo la Mupo forces every one of us to consider our views progress versus protecting the natural environment.
Where do you stand? What are you doing about this?
Do we have the right to destroy land that is sacred in the name of progress?