Elijah Hlanganani Mbonane was born in Ladysmith, December 3rd, 1980 after a communal prayer gathering was held for his mother, who had lost 4 daughters all under the age of 2 before this time. Elijah’s father, a politician, had left his mother by this stage. He had no faith that she would ever produce a son or even a child that would live to adulthood. He had already left and started a new family.
Elijah’s grandmother, from the Amazizi village, at the base of the Ukuhlamba Drakensberg Mountains, travelled to Ladysmith to help her daughter with this precious gift. His father provided no support, but still wanted his legacy to continue, so wanted him to be called Elijah. His grandmother named him Hlanganani, which means “unite” in Zulu. All the community church goers in Ladysmith gathered to collect food and milk to help support his mother, so this name was in honour of all those that assisted.
Shortly after his first birthday, his grandmother brought him to live in the mountains and he attended the Obonjaneni Primary School, 1km from the present day Sakile Centre. High school was a 14km walk each day and then the same return journey.
During school holidays and weekends he managed to secure temporary work in the garden at a local holiday resort, chopping wood and clearing vegetation. He learned quickly and was soon promoted to the scullery, and eventually assisting the guides with walks into the mountains. Due to his friendly nature, Elijah quickly became popular with the guests and he enjoyed conversing with them. They were interested in his culture and asked many questions about his lifestyle and conditions in the village. He showed great promise, so Cindy Jonker took him under her wing and trained him as a tourist guide.
In 1999 he read Wildlife studies at Subantu College, intending to get permanent work at the National Park, but on his return there were no more vacancies. Deflated and depressed, he slowly walked back out the park towards the gate, passing the Bushman Rock Art site. A group of four German-speaking tourists stopped him and began scolding him for being late for their tour. As much as he tried to explain that he was not their guide and they must be waiting for someone else, they insisted he was the one due to take them. He eventually succumbed to the pressure and did what he could to guide them to the rock paintings and tell them about the geology of the area. On their return to the reception, they gave the Park Warden rave reviews about their tour and Elijah was asked to be the custodian of the rock art site in the park. He did this on a voluntary basis, accepting gratuities of cash, shoes, hats & clothes from time to time. Elijah believes that God gave him these tools to start his own business.
He then set about gaining all his Guide qualifications and did a Culture, nature & birding course with THETA. He started taking visitirs to the rock art sites, then expanded into the mountain trails & eventually the cultural tours to the Amazizi village. Elijah now has 3 permanent guides on contract with him, 2 sub-contracted for the bust season & 1 trainee.
On 31.8.15, Elijah lead a tour of the Amphitheater and the San Art with Cheryl Grace and Cheryl Blackburn. His passion inspired the launch of the Legacy of Grace, which was Elijah’s idea for the name!