Zodwa Mtshali: Guide with a sense of fun and a passion for people
Zodwa Mtshali started her career in the Cradle of Humankind as a waitress, but this year she is celebrating her fourth year as a guide.
Zodwa, who is based at Sterkfontein Caves, is the daughter of the late Ben Mtshali, who was a guide at the caves himself for more than 20 years, before his death in 2003. “I’m continuing the heritage,” says Zodwa proudly, her energy and enthusiasm lighting up her face.
Working for Maropeng a Afrika, the company that operates the Sterkfontein Caves and Maropeng, the official Cradle of Humankind’s Visitor Centre, is a family affair for the Mtshalis: Zodwa’s mum, Ruth, works in the restaurant kitchen at “Sterk”.
Zodwa’s passion is people, particularly children. “I love being around people, telling my jokes and stories,” she says. “Children are the most important thing in my job. They ask lots of questions, and I love to tell them stories about ancient people. I try to bring my stories alive.”
Does she ever run into trouble with guests? “Sometimes, but not often, people can be difficult, but I try to do everything with a smile,” says Zodwa.
Zodwa grew up in Kagiso, where she still lives with her mum and four sisters, and her young daughter, Thandolwethu (which means “our love”). “I hope she’ll be a guide, too, one day!” says Zodwa.
Every day, she leaves Kagiso at 06h30, getting to work at about 07h30. She uses the early morning to catch up with the other guides and to revise information. When visitors arrive for the first tour of the day at 10h00, “we welcome them with a very, very friendly smile,” says Zodwa.
Weekends are the busiest, especially Sundays, when Zodwa and the other guides will take four tours of about 35 people each through the dark caves, which have revealed so much about the pathway to humankind through the hominid and other fossils discovered there.
“Most people just love stories,” says Zodwa. “They love the story of the diver who got lost in the lake in the caves, and they also love the story of Little Foot – they all want to know when he’ll be out of the caves.” She says one of the highlights of her job is “the Japanese groups. They love my jokes!”
These days, Zodwa takes her tours with panache and a sense of fun, but she remembers her first day as a guide well. “It was so difficult for me – I ended up saying a stalactite was a ‘dolomite’! But lots of the kids tipped me off,” she laughs.
She says Maropeng Curator Lindsay Marshall has been a mentor to her. “I can really say thank you to Lindsay; she was the first person who helped me become a guide at Maropeng, by telling me to apply for the post. Fellow guides Adelaide Motsanani and Lwazi Bonase have also been a wonderful support.”
Says Lwazi of working with Zodwa: “She’s an easy-going person, and is very friendly. She has a great sense of humour and makes people laugh a lot. She’s really good with children. Kids love her.”
Zodwa has a dream of being a game ranger one day. “I love walking in the open veld, and I want to explore more,” she says. “Maropeng has given me something – guiding – which I will treasure forever. For now, though, I love everything I do!”
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