Travel is about more than ticking off the bucket list – it’s about the people you meet and stories you hear along the way. Trafalgar guests know we like to go a layer deeper on each tour, with authentic meals, local guides and special experiences that give back to the community – which is where our Be My Guest experiences come in.
There’s no better way to uncover the real South Africa than while breaking bread with the incredible Ella. Radiating warmth and joy, Ella shares her culture and her life story with us as part of our Connect with Locals and Be My Guest experience on our Best of South Africa trip.
Hear about the legacy of the Xhosa people, curious cultural traditions, the challenges that her community faces today, the tough past she has overcome, and how her work in tourism supports 17 local children with nowhere else to go. It’s hard not to fall for her warm character while sharing traditional dishes at a restaurant, and enjoying a night of singalongs, laughter and discussion about the Xhosa people and culture.
Let’s chat to Ella to find out more about her 15 years as a tour guide and Be My Guest host
The work you do supports community projects including the Safe House for abused children. Can you tell us more about these projects, the children and why you started Emzini Tours?
I’ll try and keep my life story as short as possible. I was born with alcoholic parents and I worked on a farm from the age of nine during apartheid. When I was 22 a missionary came to the farm and told me about God’s love. I accepted this love and he put me back into school. I passed my final exams at the age of 25 and moved from the East Cape to Knysna.
I worked in a restaurant, and then worked my way up to a secretary. I was so bored in the office that one day I then asked my friend at church, Penny, to be my business partner and started a township tour business. This was in 2008.
Because of my background, I started to feed children in my area whose parents were alcoholic, as I knew what it was like. This led to a soup kitchen feeding 80 children a day, and to a safe house for abused and neglected children. Most of the children in our safe house are from alcoholic homes or drug addict parents.
Our funds to support these 17 children, at the moment, come through the tours we do.
What impact has Emzini had on the town and the children you support with this work?
We take foreign guests through the township and give them a glimpse into township life. It is a happy, safe, fun, interactive and informative tour. It is a wonderful thing for foreigners to do while in Knysna. The Safe House is known by the police and social workers, and the people in the township see me as a woman who helps others, and someone they can come to when in trouble.
Tell us about the Be My Guest experience Trafalgar guests get to experience with you. What happens on the tour?
We meet the guests at 3pm and we take them on a drive through the township, explaining and showing them everything as we go along. If there is time we can stop at the grocer, cobbler and hairdresser along the way, then on through the township past the Rasta Village and to the venue for lunch.
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What tea or food do you serve on your Be My Guest experiences?
On arrival, we serve local rooibos or honeybush iced tea with mint. Then we sing and drum for the guests and teach them some Xhosa language.
Then it’s time to eat. We make different food from all over South Africa. Some local bobotie (spiced baked minced meat), small snacks and fish cakes made of snoek (snake mackerel). We serve a local ginger beer, made from ginger, lemon, sugar and mint.
We put out a selection of dishes that we know people will like – chicken curry, rice, local vegetables, butternut and gem squash, cabbage, and samp and beans (a very popular Xhosa dish). For dessert we usually serve jelly and malva pudding, which is like a hot toffee pudding with hot custard.
Afterwards there is song, dance and a language lesson.
How hard is it for guests to speak Xhosa phrases or words?
Guests love to learn the Xhosa “clicks”. They all have a good laugh while listening and trying to learn the Xhosa language. They say it sounds like a song.
What makes Xhosa culture so special or different?
Xhosa is a generalised name for the diversity of clans. People of these clans follow “ubuntu” (human kindness), which means sharing and taking care of one another. Old people are looked up to as Spirits, and when they die, sacrificial offerings are made to them.
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Can you share three interesting facts, customs or traditions about Xhosa culture?
- The first born is entitled to take the inheritance.
- Lobola (bride price) is paid for girls when they get married. The lobola is decided by the family of the bride. It could be in the form of cows or cash.
- There is a custom for all boys go to the mountain for initiation at age 18 to be acknowledged as a man. They are circumcised and only after this ceremony can they marry. Without going through this passage they cannot marry and will always remain as boys in the community, and not as men. No doctors are allowed during this process on the mountain. It is a survival time.
People say you are always filled with joy. How do you stay positive?
I stay positive because I believe in God. He is the source of my joy. Since he became my friend, my life has changed and is full of joy.
Ready to explore South Africa with Ella? Have you met Ella on a Be My Guest experience? Let us know if you’ll join us on our Best of South Africa trip in the comments below…