I cry with laughter, others shriek and the ever upbeat Soweto-born creatives, Ongama Zazayokwe, Fhatuwani Mukheli and Vuyo Mpantsha dance and sing their way through the drama in the front seat, willing the car upward. On the third attempt, we cheer in zestful chorus for the driver (and his steed) until we finally make it over the hill. I however cannot stop crying with laughter.
This is the first of many adventures I embark on with these Jozi boys, best known by their blog name ‘ I see a Different You’. After launching a blog and working in the advertising industry, they started their own creative agency; all with the aim of changing the narrative of Africa and South Africa to a positive one. Together with Fhatuwani’s twin brother Rendani, they all first met at church in Soweto, Johannesburg, when Vuyo was only 8 years old and Ongama a toddler. They laugh and tell me jokingly that they never wanted to hang out with him because he was so much younger, and still don’t want to.
Together with Canadians, a Brit and an American, we arrive at Rozendal guest farm with horses in a neighbouring paddock and the biggest, hairiest pig I’ve ever seen named Truffles. Intrigued by what a vinegar tasting would entail, we make our way into a trendy, raw warehouse with a yellow, vintage couch, peeling ice skates, sepia photos and aging farm implements. The effortlessly, stylish trio take a seat on the couch and instantly our cameras start snapping. Without trying, they make each background, barrel, couch and scene look cover shot worthy. On any given day, they never fail to look funky with no fear in donning an array of floral patterns, bright colours, leather jackets and denim onesies.
Aside from their comfort in front of a lens, all three are skilled in photography, producing, directing and music-making, which all came in handy when you own your own production company. They believe they’ve made some ground in changing the way people see South Africa, especially Soweto, but still have a long way to go. After working in advertising, Vuyo says they realised there was a “lack of homegrown stories and when people read about South Africa, they only saw crime and poverty”. So they started story-telling through photography, first in Soweto and then throughout Africa. Pictured on deserted cars and in the dusty streets of lower income settlements, from sidewalks in bustling cities to wine barrels in luxurious estates; their profiles have been shot everywhere and really tell so many stories. Stories that have been told and exhibited as far afield as Japan.
Before the vinegar tasting begins, I wander around the warehouse, my eyes darting back and forth between the myriad of ingredients used in their traditional French Orleans vinegar-making method. Chilli, vanilla pods, wild lavender, carob, kelp and bay leaves dot the long wooden table in vases and on wooden boards. We follow the vinegar-maker Alexander Ammann, whose family own the farm, beside small oak barrels, which hold a blend of red wine cultivars and mature them over 12 year solar system.
He opens a barrel of rose geranium balsam and waves the fragrance up and out with his hand for us to smell. Huddled around the bar below wooden lanterns he made from oak barrels, he prepares the first tasting of fynbos vinegar and explains that the real character of all their vinegars likes in the botanical infusions, which have been chosen for the health and culinary properties.
The result is a Balsamic-style vinegar; balanced in sweetness and acidity and offering a robust tonic and chef’s essential. But the real character of this vinegar range lies in the botanical infusions, carefully selected for their culinary and healthy properties. We are encouraged to sip the Balsamic-style vinegar, swirl it around in our mouths first and as it warms up, the full flavours are released and it loses any sharp acidity. After my first sip and swirl, I have to admit that I really love the Fynbos vinegar with buchu, rose geranium, wild olive and wild rosemary with its recommendation to cure stomach aches and as an all round pick me up.
That evening, we find ourselves in Kayamandi Township, home to 30 000 people, with Thembi as our fierce and flambouyant guide. An able and entirely willing muse and model, Thembi leads us into tiny settlements where her grandmother and friends live and happily poses whenever our lenses come to rest on her. We follow her past hair dressers offerings weaves and nail care, a shebeen and elderly men playing dominoes at a braai meat restaurant. Wondering why we all keep taking so long, she gives up on keeping us all together as a group and continues past barking dogs, through tight alleyways and past full, bright washing lines.
Vuyo has found a young boy spinning a top and almost horizontal on the ground, he films him spinning it on the white line in the road. The boy’s friends excitedly gather round, some dancing, others playing with their toys either too shy or very keen to get a chink of the limelight. Dinner tonight is at Nocawe Piet’s mom’s house. Bright Shweshwe fabrics and designs hang in the entranceway and dinner awaits on the table. Pap, spinach, pumpkin, chicken, vetkoek and chakalaka await and we all hungrily dig in before Nocawe entertains us with a few songs, to the drumbeat of her nephew as she dons her black and white makhoti ( married woman) outfit. Radiant and always upbeat, she tells us how her business of hosting people and catering is growing by the day and how she now has a team of people cooking for her.
I ask Vuyo how their Soweto community, friends and family feel about the work they are doing. “They are very, supportive and send us messages saying that what we’ve done has given them so much hope and faith that they can do whatever they want in the world. Because from Soweto to travelling around the world, it changes your mindset and inspires a lot of people, “ says Vuyo.
It’s the morning of Fhatuwani’s birthday and our motley crew is toasting beside a fire with champagne and cake at the Tokara deli. Having enjoyed an olive oil tasting, the gallery of art in the hallways and stroll through the olive trees, we were still in for one more surprise before our week in Stellenbosch comes to an end.
Before I know it, I’m standing beneath an oak tree beside a gurgling pond donning a red leather jacket, bowl helmet and goggles. Six bikers with sidecars wait for us as we take a million selfies ad shoot umpteenth clip. It was time to explore Stellenbosch by sidecar. This was certainly a first for all of us and from the sturdy sidecar, I snuggled beneath the leather cover and watched as the valley and student town of oaks sped past me. Living only 45 minutes away from Stellenbosch, this was really the last thing I expected to be doing here. That and hiking through the Jonkershoek Nature Reserve with a guide Raino from Adventure Shop.
I’d visited Stellies for years and this was my first time walking into the shadows of this forested canopy. Starting out in a down jacket that kept the morning dewy chill out, we followed Raino across mountain streams, over mossy rocks and beside moist ferns. Once out of the shade, our increased pace along narrow sunny pathways amidst pine tree forests, fynbos and the Jonkershoek Mountains, suddenly brought my temperature right up. Blood flowing, legs pacing and chatting all the way about these mountains, its streams and vegetation was one of the best ways to spend a morning.
Together with my hiking experience and gin tasting at Devon Valley Hotel, I almost forgot about wine and the fact that it’s what most people come to Stellenbosch for. I was reminded what Fhatuwani once said about their photography; “It’s not just about a nice image, it must show you soul”. And how their work went “beyond their blog and was a truly a movement to change people’s perspectives about Africa.” After one week of visiting surprising corners of Stellenbosch, meeting its locals and capturing some of its various faces, my perspective of this town had changed completely. There is so much more to this region than wine and I’m thrilled to say that after delving in its forests, walking along it’s mountainous foothills and tasting its other fruits, I would be returning long after for everything but wine and hoping that many others followed suit.
This article was written by Lauren Manuel McShane | Photos: thetravelmanuel.com