A love of nature and a fighting spirit has made Makhosi Msimango, of Ndzenga Tours and Safaris, the leader of the pack, writes Debbie Reynolds
When Makhosi Msimango started out in the cultural tourism business some 13 years ago, no one took her seriously. Today she’s chairperson of the Women in Tourism KZN Chapter, 1 000 Hills Community Tourism executive committee member and winner of the KZN Lilizela Tourism Award for Service Excellence.
As the owner of Ndzenga Tours and Safaris, with its head office in Hillcrest, she employs 23 people and has the exclusive rights to take tourists to the province’s Zulu Royal Palaces.
“It was when I attended my first Zulu reed dance in Nongoma that I got the idea to start my business,” says Makhosi. “I met some international tourists who had come into KZN from Swaziland to attend the reed dance, but sadly a woman was turned away because she was wearing pants, which is not allowed in our culture. It was embarrassing for her and not good for us.”
“After some research I realised there was no tour company looking after tourists who were coming here for cultural experiences, and so I saw a niche and Ndzenga Tours was born.”
Getting into the tourism business had been Makhosi’s dream since she was a schoolgirl at Westville Girls’ High.
“Some of my best memories of my teenage years were our family trips to the Hluhluwe Game Reserve … watching lions chasing zebra and sleeping under the stars at night,” she says.
“I loved visiting my grandmother in the rural area of Msinga in northern KZN, waking up at 4am to go to the river, bath and fetch water. My siblings thought I was crazy.”
Initially discouraged from going into the tourism business by her parents who thought she should be a teacher, Makhosi remained intrigued by the fusion of business and travel.
It was while working in a call centre that she decided she was going to follow her dream. “I apologised to my team leader saying I wouldn’t be going back to work the next day because I was starting my own business.”
She named her fledgling company after her oldest daughter Ndzenga, which was the name of an Angolan queen and means strength.
“Our specialty is cultural tourism, including everything from city and township to the Royal Palaces, the Valley of 1 000 Hills and the game reserves of northern Natal,” says Makhosi.
She is particularly proud of having exclusive rights to the Royal Palaces and the home-stay experiences she offers at iSithumba Cultural Village.
“The challenge has been to raise the bar to meet international standards,” says Makhosi. “It’s important for my guides to speak the languages of our tourists, so already we offer the 11 South African languages, German and French, with Mandarin and Russian coming soon.”
She is also passionate about service excellence and women empowerment. “As chairperson for the Department of Tourism’s Women in Tourism KZN Chapter, my role is to encourage and empower women, especially those in townships and rural areas, to learn new skills, to upgrade facilities and to work together to provide top quality service.”
Makhosi is also using her experience and skills in her Qhawekazi Foundation to provide free training to women and youth in tourism-related businesses. “There is so much to do to be compliant in this industry that sometimes it’s nice to just get a helping hand and a breather.
“I remember my difficulties starting as one of the first black women tour operators in a very male-dominated industry where no one took me seriously and thought I could never succeed,” she says. “I am proud to have proved them wrong.”
A single mom to two daughters, aged four and nine, Makhosi is also studying tourism management and says most of her spare time is spent keeping up with the ever-evolving tourism industry, especially digital transformation.