By ZIMKITA LINYANA
A group of diverse outdoor enthusiasts is hiking through Makhanda’s many open trails on weekends in search of adventure, freedom, peace of mind and healing.
Makhanda Wild Hikers Crew founder Melumzi Matiwane is a Makhanda native. He had a successful career as a freelance guide for local game reserves before the Covid-19 hard lockdown kicked in.
At the peak of the lockdown in September 2020, when the world was shut down, many people were stuck at home and couldn’t do much for leisure. He also couldn’t continue with his professional duties as a guide.
Melumzi saw this as an opportunity to appreciate the outdoors and nature as a social avenue through hiking. He put out a call to the people of Makhanda. Several people were keen, including Malwande Bhebheza, Mziyanda Bulani, Xolelwa Donyeli, Siphelo Dyongman, and Mandy Dyalom. They are the co-founding members and now coordinators of the group’s weekly hikes and community engagement projects.
All hikes are free of charge, and most are within touching distance of Makhanda. Once a month, trail fees and transport costs are charged when the walks are taken out of town.
Malwande Bhebeza said local hikes are the bread and butter of the Hikers Crew as Makhanda has had more than enough trails for years. However, the out-of-town hikes are the most popular, with a significantly larger turnout.
Many hikers are not from Makhanda but have settled here for work, school, and leisure – and some are unemployed.
The Crew is not a formal structure yet – although it does have a solid leadership team. It is entirely voluntary – at the heart of it is the shared love for the outdoors, nature, and just creating a space for residents to meet and mingle while appreciating the diverse beauty of Makana’s biomes.
There is a common misconception that hiking is an activity for middle-class people of certain cultures and specific demographics. The turnout of the hikes has, over the past 18 months has, challenged these stereotypes.
Hiking trails are not equally accessible to all communities. It is not that people aren’t interested – participation has more to do with the way our society has been spatially structured by our political history.
People from all walks of life and parts of town take part in these hikes – it is a melting pot.
Bhebeza’s face lit up as he said, “I grew up in a rural area and have always loved stargazing and have always been in awe of the Milky Way. Meeting an astrophysicist at one of the hikes was a humbling and joyous experience for me, a businessman. ”
The Wild Hikers who show up every week are diverse – space allows people to meet at a human level.
One of the wondrous aspects of the hikes is the discovery of Makhanda’s many springs, which ooze drinkable water in our notoriously water-scarce town.
Many hikers are engaged citizens who have connected to development entities out of their passion for the local community. On several occasions, they have mobilized each other to contribute to various initiatives, including soup kitchens and food drives.
The Crew’s vision is to grow into a formal structure and continue to trailblaze for all demographics of society.