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Nomvimbi Meriwether
Other ATA Jubilee Profiles

Meticulous Tours, Inc., is owned and managed by Nomvimbi Meriwether who was born and raised in Soweto, South Africa, and is currently a resident in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan area. She came to the United States in 1979 as an MBA (Masters of Business Administration) candidate at American University, after  obtaining a law degree in South Africa. While pursuing her studies in the United States, she met her American husband Dr. Del Meriwether with whom she subsequently raised three children.

Upon successfully completing her studies in 1983, her  husband convinced her to accompany him to Tintswalo Hospital, located in  a small rural town called Acornhoek, in the Eastern Transvaal(now known as Mpumalanga), South Africa, where he was offered a position as a Senior Medical Doctor. "It was very difficult for me to decide to join him, in what turned out to be an unexpectedly extended stay in South Africa. With my credentials and background as a South African, I had been offered several attractive positions with big corporations in both the United States and South Africa. Furthermore, I had just left South Africa a few years earlier, to escape the trials and tribulations of apartheid in that country".

 Nonetheless, in the spirit of family solidarity and, perhaps, by a quirk of fate, I ended up returning to South Africa with him to help the poor and needy people in rural Gazankulu(Mpumalanga). While my husband worked as a missionary doctor, I spent my time serving as a community worker, part-time lawyer, business-woman and mother. I spent six years in various parts of South Africa, far more than the one year, I had been led to believe. It was a challenging era of my life which turned out in the end to be one of the most socially-productive and personally rewarding years of my life. I finally came back to the United States with my family in 1989, with a clear conscience that I had done my part in directly helping meet the health and social needs of people in their struggle for liberation and equality. I was therefore, filled with pride when I watched television, with the rest of the world, on February 11th 1990, to witness Nelson Mandela triumphantly walk out of prison to freedom."

 Acornhoek is located in the semi-arid, but scenic, Eastern part of South Africa, a few kilometers away from the Orpen Gate and Numbi Gate entrances to the famous Kruger National Park. Several other privately owned game reserves are located nearby: notably Sabi Sabi, Mala Mala, Skukuza, Londolozi and Timbavati. This is where Nomvimbi got her first exposure to the exotic wilds and tourism in South Africa. She gained insight into principles of park management and conversation. Kruger National Park is a vast game reserve, internationally renowned for its splendid selection of Africa's "Big Five": elephants, lions, leopards, rhino and buffalo. "The town of Acornhoek, at the time we lived there, formed a border between Gazankulu and Lebowa homelands, assigned to Shangaans/Tsongas and Pedis/Northern Sothos, respectively, by the old government of South Africa". This is where she learned a lot about wildlife and gained experience with safari. "It was not unusual for wild animals to roam around the villages and the hospital grounds at night. I recall driving on dusty back roads to Welverdien and Hluvukani health clinics, situated along the game parks, and occasionally encountering elephants, giraffes, springbok and warthogs, which had broken through the fenced areas. Once or twice a week, I accompanied my husband to remote Shangaan village health clinics, and served as his interpreter, while taking care of the medical needs of patients. Sometimes we had to drive to game parks in the area to rescue villagers who had been attacked by wild animals and needed medical attention. This was particularly true during 1984 - 1986, when a half-million refugees fled the civil war in the neighboring country of Mozambique trekking 200 miles on-foot, through the wild Kruger National Park".

"Thousands of visitors stopped by Acornhoek, from other parts of South Africa, the United States, Germany, Australia, England and other overseas countries and we conducted tours to  neighboring Shangaan and Pedi villages for a real-life cultural experience. We conducted  small group tours to game reserves in the area. We also showed visitors the spectacular Blyde River Canyon, God's Window, Hazyview, Hoedspruit, Pilgrim's Rest and many other areas". The many seven-hour trips they made between Acornhoek and Johannesburg, to visit family, provided the Meriwether's with access to Ndebele culture as they drove through villages with colorful murals and crafts. They occasionally stopped to participate in cultural ceremonies.

Nomvimbi worked as a coordinator for community projects of a highly effective Johannesburg based non-profit organization called Operation Hunger, which distributed food and clothing to thousands of destitute South Africans and Mozambican refugees. She independently established agricultural self-help projects for villagers distributing seeds, fertilizer and provided tractor-plowing services. "Participating in daily activities in the village helped me learn the Shangaan language and culture which I was not exposed to while growing up in Soweto". She also established a sewing group called the "Village Women" which created employment for impoverished villagers and successfully found commercial outlets for their garments. In 1987, on behalf of the "Village Women", she obtained sponsorship from Fluor Engineering Corporation, based in Irvine, California, for their exhibit at the Matchmaker Fair held under the auspices of the U.S. Embassy, in Johannesburg. The fair was designed to introduce small businesses to large corporate buyers. The "Village Women" were awarded first place for the best exhibit among 83 small-business exhibitors.  "Being a part of the daily activities of local people brought me in close contact with the Shangaan culture and hence became fluent in Shangaan language, adding to the list of 10 South African languages I speak out of 11 in the country".  Nomvimbi opened and shared her home with Mozambican refugees and started a refugee camp in her yard, feeding, clothing and taking care of their medical needs as they arrived after walking for days through the Kruger National Park seeking refuge from Renamo rebels.

 The Meriwether family moved to Soweto, Nomvimbi's hometown to operate a family transportation business, hauling commercial steel and other commodities for export overseas. Their long distance haulage business took them all over South Africa including dramatic mountains and breathtaking shorelines of Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth, East London and Namibia. They transported perishable produce to and from Swaziland and Mozambique, and established an auxiliary, international office in neighboring Manzini  Swaziland. Most of the workers were diligent employees who came from shanty-town/squatter camps in the Soweto/Johannesburg area, where the Meriwethers, also found time to help organize health-care and other volunteer services. Nomvimbi established contacts with people in several squatter-camps and became an expert at conducting special tours for foreign visitors and delegations from the U.S. and Europe and other parts of the world. She ,also, became adept at showing the more standard tourist sites, in and around Johannesburg, Soweto, Pretoria and Sun City.

"Growing up in Soweto I did not appreciate the history unfolding before my eyes, until I came to the U.S.. It was only after I traveled to America that I began to appreciate the significance of some of my day-to-day experiences. My home in Mofolo Village was located two blocks away from the South African world acclaimed musician Miriam Makeba's home.I attended Orlando West High School, located a few blocks away from the homes of three men who are prominent in contemporary South African history: Nelson Mandela, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and  Walter Sisulu. Vilakazi street has become the only street in the world to bear the addresses of two Noble Peace Price recipients . My school was also a block away from the site where Hector Peterson was killed, the first black student who died during the 1976 Soweto school uprising. These student-led riots, were inflamed by the South African government's attempt to impose Afrikaans as a medium of instruction for black students. Black schools were closed during the riots. School closure, widespread violence and the refusal to admit me to the University of the Witwatersrand Law School for LLB, on the bases of my skin color, contributed to my decision to leave South Africa for better educational opportunities in America. Places of additional interest, in Soweto, were Shebeens, township taverns, which have become a very popular stops for foreign travelers to South Africa. My home was adjacent to a busy and well known Shebeen. To this very day, I can recall some of the jazzy tunes, blaring through the window of the local hot-spot, on weekends".

 " Like all Sowetans, my parents were victims of apartheid and suffered from the lack of economic opportunities, however, they persevered and managed to achieve success for their family and the community. My mother worked as a nurse at Baragwanath Hospital, recognized, internationally, as the largest hospital in the world. She was the first black nurse to climb through the ranks to become Chief Matron/Head Administrator of that hospital. Gamboot dance has become one of the world acclaimed dances. My father grew up at the Modderbee mine complex. My grandfather was an administrator at the mine. When he died my father had to stop attending  college to secure a job at Modderbee so the family could remain residents in the complex. He was transferred to a mining hospital, Mzilikazi, where he work as an administrator processing miners coming from other African countries to work in the gold and diamond mines. We use to visit occasionally to watch and learn gumboot dance. The contemporary version of gumboot dance has become world renowned and several expert troupes have toured the United States and Europe. This is where I learned fanakalo, a language spoken by miners".

Nomvimbi transferred to a prestigious Zululand boarding school for senior high school after which she attended college at the University of Zululand. This is where she experienced and witnessed the traditional Zulu life style. Although raised in a multicultural African household, where, interestingly, she spoke Zulu to her father, who is Zulu, and Sotho to her mother, who is Sotho, it was not until her time at school, in Zululand, that she experienced traditional Zulu living, firsthand. She learned a lot about basket weaving, beadwork, traditional dances, spear-making, craftwork, pottery and traditional Zulu cuisine. She frequently drove down the coast through sugar estates and rolling hills on the North Coast to visit the bustling Indian markets and shops in Durban.

In 1989, after it had become generally known that Nelson Mandela would soon be released from prison, and when it was unequivocally certain that a democratic path for the country had been laid, Nomvimbi and her family returned to the U.S. She spent a year as a lecturer and guest speaker on South African art and culture at Albion College, Michigan State University, Earlham College, Oberlin College, Antioch College, University of Michigan and the Albion library and public school  system in the Midwest. She was given an award for the most outstanding African Art Exhibit at the Michigan State University. She delivered a speech on "The Role of Women in South Africa" during the inauguration of Bishop Tutu as an honorary degree recipient at Albion College. The family returned to the Washington D.C. area in 1990 where she continued her lectures on "South African Culture and Art"  and conducts cultural, historical and educational group tours to South Africa. "When I conduct my group tours to South Africa, I am narrating the story of my life. I am retracing my footsteps. I am a destination specialist by birth, experience and fate.

"Meticulous Tours and Adventure Travel, Inc., is dedicated to educating  and exposing the public and businesses to South Africa. When you travel with us, for business or pleasure, you will experience the warmth, generosity and spirit of South Africans. Meeting the locals in major cities, villages, townships, restaurants, bars, sporting events, beaches and on the streets will touch you forever. The South African people invite you to share with them treasures of the past, triumphs of the present and dreams of the future. South Africa , in my opinion, truly, lives up to its reputation as  a world, in one country. So, I personally, invite you to visit South Africa with us, and see its wondrous treasures and natural beauty".

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