Are you the egg, the carrot or the coffee bean?

Armed with the wisdom of her forebears and the fortitude of someone beyond her years, Nonqkubela Mayatula is a storyteller at heart. Having spent the very briefest of time with her, it’s apparent that this former mining magnate has many talents, not least inspiring others through thoughtful analogies drawn from nature and her own heritage.

Born and bred in the Eastern Cape, in a village just 45 minutes from Qunu, Nonqkubela’s deep-rooted desire to return to herself, her sense of home, and conserve what she believes is Africa’s competitive and sustainable advantage – its wildlife – saw her switch a successful career in mineral resources for tourism and hospitality – a gift that has brought great meaning not only for her, but for her staff, the community, wildlife and her guests.   

“I realised that whilst mineral resources are deeply rooted in nature, the life and benefits derived from them can be expended way beyond the life of that resource,” explains Nonqkubela.

The owner of Beginsel Equestrian Farm in Clarens and Miarestate Wildlife Estate, an eco-tourism estate in Haga-Haga near East London, Nonqkubela sees Tourism as an opportunity to “extend the benefits of our endowment of nature as long as possible for future generations”.

For Nonqkubela, Tourism is more than employment statistics and GDP percentages. Rather, it is the mechanism through which South Africans can participate meaningfully in South Africa’s economy, a right enshrined in the Freedom Charter for all South Africans.

“I got into Tourism because of a very deep personal need to go back to myself and to do something meaningful and sustainable for others. To be of service to others is something quite meaningful. Everyone wants to wake up and say they’re useful and serve a purpose.

“I see Tourism as giving that same opportunity to be of service to all South Africans. When you’re in Tourism, you’re selling your country, you’re selling your people. For the country, the more people become involved in that, the more people will embrace this and become of service for whomever is coming.

We all ‘Do Tourism’

Nonqkubela explains that one doesn’t need to be in the formal Tourism sector to be hospitable. “You could be a village, a home, a school. When someone visits you, they come to you to host them. So, I look at hospitality beyond the actual product. I look at hospitality from the point of view of each of us as South Africans and how we welcome people from the outside and how we embrace them, and make them feel.”

Each and every South African ‘does Tourism’ and can become an ambassador of their own country. Each and every South African can help their guest or visitor escape, rehabilitate and set their minds on to something fresh and different. After all, says Nonqkubela, that’s what Tourism is. “That’s how you liberate your mind. That’s how you relax. From a service provider point of view, it’s an honour to provide this opportunity to someone else.”

Beyond the warmth and hospitality of being hosted, Nonqkubela also believes Tourism to be an extraordinary “mind opener”.

“To have an open mind, you have to explore the world. You have to see and experience different ways of life and that gives you an opportunity to challenge your own beliefs and values. That speaks to tolerance of differences and diversity.”

And the new traveller is someone that will seek that meaning in their travels. “When they travel, they want to go to a destination that is constructive, a destination that involves interpretation and education, that is positive to the communities.

“This is the opportunity we have that has come out of a difficult situation. The whole world is longing for those destinations and places where they feel they are contributing meaningfully to the lives of the people on the ground.”

Hunt in packs

But to leverage this, as Tourism businesses, you can try to go it alone like a leopard, or hunt in a pack like lions, explains storyteller Nonqkubela. “A leopard is a lone hunter. It uses stealth to stalk its prey and strength to conclude.

“The lioness, however, will hunt in a pack. In these strange times, we need to be more like her and get together, choreograph and strategise together. Then, we will have a much larger impact. We can turn a difficult situation around and create opportunities.  We become a community. We become one country. It’s not easy, hence the choice of strategy to hunt in a pack like a lioness instead of the lone leopard.”

Shrugging off the wildlife analogy for a minute, Nonqkubela explains how this can translate into public-private sector collaboration. “I look at society much like a prism, or triangle, the strongest shape. On the one side you have business, on the other civil society and at the base government, which regulates the relationship between business and communities.”

For both to flourish, says Nonqkubela, the government needs to provide an enabling environment. In tourism that takes the form of improved access such as airlift and easing of visa restrictions. “Now more than ever before this becomes important because the whole world is looking to breathe coming out of this pandemic.” South Africa has to make it easy for them to come and “our government is in a position to accelerate that private-public partnership as an enabler”.

And Tourism’s private sector will play its part, she says. “We as the service providers are ready. We know what we can do and what we need to deliver. We have the right values and principles that we know, under these difficult times, the sophisticated traveller is looking for meaningful establishments that are supportive of their communities, that adopt the correct conservation principles.”

But more, Nonqkubela recognises it cannot be at all costs. “We have to do it in a way that keeps our people and our guests safe, which goes to our state of readiness from a health perspective.  

“When you have people working in our establishment, those people support multiple members in extended family, one cannot afford to compromise their health and their lives. There’s a whole string of people who become infected in their change and more, the brand of our country. If we’re going to promote our brand it is important that we do it as cautiously, as safely and as responsibly as possible.”

The egg, the carrot or the coffee beans?

A final heart-warming story concludes the interview, and it is one from Nonqkubela’s youth in the Eastern Cape. She tells the story of her mother putting three pots to boil on the stove – one with eggs, another with carrots and the final one with coffee beans.

As they bubbled away, Nonqkubela’s wise mother asked her which of the pots she would most like to be. 

“Do you want to be like the egg? Hard, stanch and bitter about what’s just happened? Do you want to be like the carrot? Soft, losing the essence of what you are and succumbing to the situation? Or would you prefer to be like the coffee beans? Change the colour and taste of the water so that it becomes coffee. Change the situation you are presented with, while still retaining the sense of who you are.

“The choice is yours. When you are faced with the kind of hardship we have, you decide how you want to change the environment to suit what needs to be done at this very moment,” explains Nonqkubela.

Women have it within them to do this, she insists. “This is what is going to carry us forward. We need to draw from within and we have to get something extra within us to make it through. It’s all within our hands.”

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“The choice is yours. When you are faced with the kind of hardship we have, you decide how you want to change the environment to suit what needs to be done at this very moment.”