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Mangwanani Spa | The Original African Spa

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A way to relax while empowering women from previously disadvantaged backgrounds

Are you in the need of a little self-love? A little indulgence just for you? In the hustle and bustle of our lives it is sometimes really nice to simply have a chance to take a time out. Such a break presented itself to me in form of an invite to the Mangwanani Spa Winelands.

Fairoza Jones, whom I met at the #WomenInToursim event from Metrorail made it possible. She is the Regional Operations Manager at Mangwanani Spa Winelands and graciously extended an invite to our team. I was the lucky one that could make it.

Mangwanani means ‘Good morning’ in Shona and this beautiful, very traditional, African Spa has an amazing story to tell. Erin Limbert, Mangwanani’s CEO, wanted to bring a true South African experience to everyone’s doorstep while simultaneously empowering and uplifting rural women. In 2002, she founded the spa that made both possible. Mangwanani provides training and accredited qualifications to their locally sourced staff. While in conventional spas massage therapists that have already finished their studies are hired, 95% of Mangwanani’s staff, which amounts to around 1000 employees, come from previously disadvantaged backgrounds and when you enter their realm it feels as if you visit their homes. It’s mothers and their daughters, sisters, cousins and friends and they all work together to make your spa experience an uniquely African one. The concept moved me deeply and so I was looking forward to my time at the Spa.

As I made my way to the estate in the Stellenbosch Farmers Wine Valley, roughly 45 mins away from Cape Town center, I tried to picture what a Night Spa would look like. Mangwanani Spa Winelands had recently moved to its new and improved facility. There are some minor constructions that still take place but all in all the place is warm and welcoming. Wary of  traffic, I had arrived quite early and was lucky enough to see how the bustling group of women cheerful prepared for their work. Tables were set, crisp clean towels placed on all the chairs, bowls with creams and ointments could be seen everywhere and a roaring fire made the rooms toasty warm. The women chattered away in their beautiful orange skirts, starting to face paint each other while I was a quite observer of it all.

As the first guests arrived the women gathered and started their traditional drumming sessions. Joyfully they sang and danced. The strong bond between the unique team became visually overpowering as they swayed their hips and lifted their hands in the air while singing at the top of their lungs. It felt intimate and special to be part of such a beautiful conglomerate of women from all walks of life.

Zookey, the National Brand Manager, welcomed us then officially to Mangwanani Spa Winelands and explained what to expect. We were quite a big group of people – around 20 – and Zookey promised us there would be 3 treatments to buff away the ails and stresses of life. The whole event started at 6pm and would end at 11pm. Plenty of time to get a proper taste of what Mangwanani is all about.

Our lovely massage therapists then guided us into the changing rooms and we undressed and put on our fluffy gowns and slippers. Don’t worry – men and women are strictly separated and you have the option to change in the bathroom if you are a little shy. The therapists then split us into three groups and I was able to choose my first treatment.

Having been a little ill the whole weekend with a persistent cold I decided that a full body massage may just do me good. We were guided like fluffy little sheep in our white gowns to the treatment room. There we got rid of our robes and climbed onto our massage beds that were warm and topped with a fluffy down duvet to keep us warm. The ladies then asked us to lay on our back and offered us a variety of massage oils (all locally produced as well) and started the treatment. Due to my cold I initially struggled to relax as my breathing was just a wee bit congested but in the capable hands of my massage therapist my nose managed to unblock itself (peppermint oil helped quite a bit).

I am used to sports or Chinese massages and I was pleasantly surprised that my treatment was quite a bit different from the usual slightly painful ones I am used too. The treatments here were more along the line of pure indulgence with a clear goal of total relaxation. The massage was finished off with a hot stone treatment, which was simply incredible. I had never experienced it before and as the hot stones were gliding down my back to the soles of my feet even the last little bit of stress left my body. The treatment ended with the sounds of African drums. Reluctantly we left our warm massage beds and returned to meet the others in the dining room.

Part of the Night Spa treatment is that you are not only receiving relaxing treatments but also being fed royally. Steaming hot and creamy butter chicken in small potje pots, with rice and roasted rotis magically appeared in front of our hungry faces (they do have vegetarian options – so don’t fret). Hungry from the massage we started eating. The sudden quiteness when people are fed is always a little amusing to me but the room was now filled with ‘Mhhhs’ and ‘Ahhs’ of foodie delight. Drinks were also served and you could choose from a variety of options whereby I stuck to herbal tea and water. Dessert was typically South African and I indulged in Malva pudding and carrot cake.

Filled to the brim with yummy food, our entertainers and therapists for the evening started to sing and dance again. It was difficult not to join into their happy singing and dancing and my feet automatically started moving to the beat of the drum.

Next on the cards was a choice between an African head, neck & shoulders massage or traditional African royal foot massage (from toes to knees). I opted for the foot massage. We were led into a dark room with north African features and lighting. Seated next to each other’s the therapists sat down in front of us and started with a lovely foot soak and scrub. Thereafter they used their locally made creams rich of cocoa butter and massaged our feet. The two guys next to me fell asleep clearly in total bliss. An hour was massaged away in no time and again you could hear the sound of African drums.We gathered in the dining room. Most of us went for the last treatment but I decided to head home as it was a Tuesday night and already quite late.

All in all, I can highly recommend the experience. Not only do you get quite a bang for your buck but you also know that the money is going directly to people that don’t expect a handout. Here we have women of all ages that are employed with the Mangwanani Spa for sometimes over a decade and that actively contribute to our society. So, definitely visit the Mangwanani Spa Winelands. It has glorious views and lots of places to purchase some lovely vino around the corner. So why not make a whole weekend out of it. Visit the area, purchase some wine, round of the trip with a visit to the Spa and then find a place to rest your head for the night. During the week, the Moonlight Night Spa treatment I received costs R 999 per person (excluding Public Holidays) and on weekends (Friday or Saturday) you would have to spend R 1 199 per person. This includes 3 treatments, food and drinks.

Interested? Try it out yourself and let us know what you think.

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Anna Christiane
Determined dreamer. Writer. Foodie and Wine Lover.

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