Bushman Rock: Zimbabwe’s Secret Haven for Creative Teaming

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large | @ChiefKMasimba | January 21, 2014

It was my first time to pedal a canoe so when it wobbled in the water my head was a mush. My shoulders and my arm muscles started to burn. Back on the jetty, I could hear the loud cries of my team members urging me to keep pedaling, and I felt a new burst of energy.

I was at Bushman Rock Safaris, 40 kilometres from Harare, to take part in a creative teaming activity that turned out to be not only fun and hilarious but left me thoroughly refreshed with a better perspective of the importance of teamwork.

It all began one Thursday morning when I arrived at a meeting point just outside Bronte Hotel in Harare’s Avenues suburb to find a group of twelve people waiting to go to Bushman Rock Safaris – none of them had been to the place. Our brief was simple: we were going to take part in fun team building event called the “Bushmen Challenge” designed and facilitated by Cansaf Creative Teaming. The group was fairly balanced in terms of gender and professional background. Only a few of the people knew each other yet they took to each other like moths to a fire.

By the time the coach provided by Nyati Travel & Tours left the meeting point heading into town to pick up a participant who was running late, conversation was freely flowing. Discussions were initiated centering on any issues that took the groups’ fancy, including the media, social networks, childhood games, as well as personal etiquette. As the coach weaved through the city traffic, Hayley Idensohn, a director of Premier Holidays & Destination Management who co-ordinated the event explained to me that her company has over 15 years of experience facilitating travel – from arranging accommodation, transfers and co-ordinating creative teaming to arranging flights where relevant.

“I have contracted Cansaf Creative Teaming to work on several international groups, over the course of many years, mainly in Victoria Falls, Botswana and Livingstone, and am excited to be working with them locally in Harare as a result of an increase in requests from Premier’s clients for the team building aspect,” she said.

On the bus, I sat next to the late arrival, Hechichamunorwa Kwenda, a hip hop artist, who huffed and puffed as he entered the coach. He told me as he calmed down that he was intimidated by the physical activities that lay in the day ahead because he had last been to the gym donkey ages ago.

The coach headed eastwards along the Harare-Mutare highway until we branched out into a dirt road that would lead us to our destination: excitement and anticipation on the coach was palpable. Talk quickly turned to the surrounding scenery but as we entered the gates of Bushman Rock Safari, awe took over.

Tucked in a valley, the 400 ha Bushman Rock Safaris features fantastic rock formations that used to be home to some of the country’s early inhabitants. The place has some spectacular views from the valley roof overlooking a dam, brush and rock forts that seem to have been laid down by the heavens themselves. This delightful haven in a valley is definitely Zimbabwe’s best kept secret and as we found out a prime spot to refresh a team spirit in people.

A warm welcome from the Managing Director, Jono Passaportis who also had his staff present, awaited the team.  The team had expected to go straight into the team-building activities but lunch had to be served before that would happen. As the lunch was being prepared, Jono took the team on a mini-tour of the property. After the tour a sumptuous three course meal was served. Home-made beer bread, liver pates, avocado dips were part of the appetizers. Lunch was accompanied by acoustic music played by Kito Mudzinganyama, one of Cansaf’s facilitators. He sang cover tracks of Phil Collins and John Legend and also threw in his own songs which proved a hit with everyone present.

The second course was a plate full of braaied meat – sausage, beef, chicken and pork, along with a choice of garnished potatoes or sadza and a Greek salad. A few minutes’ rest was all that was given before people were called upon to change into more comfortable clothes, ready for the team building exercise to commence.

There was a high level of camaradie among the group that a war cry had already been created and would often break the otherwise silent air at the safari. After lunch, we were driven to the  begin in a topless, old lorry.

For the Bushman Challenge, we split into two teams named Basarwa and Batwa wearing blue and pink bandanas, respectively. Our first activity was to enhance a team tribal status by painting our faces and making a shield out of vines and finding a slogan.

After being given a briefing on the afternoon’s teaming programme from the Cansaf Creative Teaming facilitators, and a safety briefing from the head guide at Bushman Rock, the two teams read through an instructions manual and strategized on how to complete the Bushman Challenge which consisted of four activities.

For the first challenge, both teams were given a task to work as a team to take a cork out of a glass without putting hands in or on the glass containing the cork. That proved a total challenge as team members could not resist handling the glass. Once successful, the teams were given a cipher to proceed to the next challenge.

The next task involved using a canoe and a row boat to transport grass, an impala and a bushman over the other side of the dam without anything being eaten. Bushmen eat impala and impala eat the grass, so the key was to carry the right thing in the canoe at the right time. A maximum of two team members could be on the canoe at any one time, with one of them being the paddler who could not be eaten.

There was a lot of tribal sloganeering as team members went through the paces of the challenge. One of the participants of the Basarwa team, Yeukai Marwa, a university student, with hydrophobia shed tears when she was on the boat but found comfort from her team mates who tried their best to relax her and also from the organisers of the event who gave her a hug for stepping out of her comfort zone and overcoming a major fear.

“I’m so afraid of water but I had to do it for my team. I was the impala, so I had to go. I’ve learned something new about myself but I’ll have to take swimming lessons from here,” said Yeukai.

Meanwhile, in the heat of the challenge, a Batwa team member found himself knee deep in the water pulling the canoe to give his team a heads up. The quiet atmosphere was filled with slogans and shouts of encouragement as each team tried their best to cheer on their team mates. Having successfully finished activity, the teams were rewarded with corks as well as a cipher to the next clue leading to the next part of the activities.

“You’ve to look for a sign on top of the house and then draw it on a piece of paper,” said Berth of Cansaf Creative Teaming.

Both teams found themselves looking through binoculars is search of the clue that would lead them onto the third major activity of the day. From here the teams, with their guides had to travel by two 4×4 open trucks to a location pointed out in their ciphers. In addition to finding this location, teams had to look for wild animals and birds, animal spoors, trees, tree pods and leaves that each would get them a cork that went towards a teams’ final tally. This activity was designed in a game drive format that included stealing the opposition team’s strips of cloths that were placed in various places along the route. The teams also had to complete a crossword puzzle as well as fill in the blanks in their activity booklets. Seeing that there were so many tasks at hand, teams had to come up with ways that ensured that each task was completed. All too often the trucks were stopped as team members had either identified an animal spoor, tree pods, leaves and even animals. Team Batwa’s highlight came in the form of spotting a four metre giraffe being trailed by its calf. The giraffe spotted the vehicle but it did not run off instead, it continued feeding before it disappeared into the bush leaving behind an awed team.

Both teams trekked their way up to one of the rocky outcrops at the estate to identify the dwellings of bush men as well as rock paintings. Besides identifying a particular painting called, the Lady of the Rock, we were tasked to weave a story about the rock paintings which essentially depicted the lives and livelihoods of the early inhabitants of the vale. This would be a source of great humour at the retelling of these stories during the wine tasting and tribal council later that day.

Some of the tasks also included learning to navigate the bush using a compass as well as locating hidden items within the bushes. One of the tasks even called for the use of a catapult to pop a balloon that held a clue.

Rutendo Chigudu, an actress, poet and theatre director who was part of team Batwa exclaimed how the activities had already impacted her.

“When I do things, I usually focus on getting one task done before I move on to the next but this creative teaming has taught me the importance of multitasking as well as to admit when I cannot do something allowing for someone to take over,” she said.

Another participant, Pritchard Mhako, an environmentalist, said that he was inspired by the creative teaming process because it exposed him to a rich environment.

“Being an environmental activist, I am particularly impressed by the excellent preservation of biodiversity here. Everything has been so well preserved, from the rock paintings to the magnificent flora and fauna,” he said.

“All the construction work at the estate was done with minimum damage to the environment. I could not have asked for a better setting. This is truly a unique experience,” he added.

The last activity of the day was a short lesson on wine tasting and it included looking for the clarity and colour of a wine, its aroma and describing its taste. The teams then had to identify against the lists and descriptions given in the wine booklet which wine they thought they had just tasted. For correctly identifying the wines they received yet another cork for each wine they identified correctly.

When this was done teams then had to give an account of the story they had come up with at the rock paintings. To the dismay of his team and much to the laughter of the opposition team, Mbizo Chirasha a poet, gave a doctored account of team Basarwa’s story in which he involved the version Jono had shared with the teams and this disqualified his team and the cork was awarded to team Batwa who stuck to their original story.

The crunch time came when the corks had all been counted and the winning team was announced. Team Basarwa emerged the winners having amassed a total of 53 corks whilst team Batwa was a close second with 49 corks. The winning team received a bottle of wine each from the estate and the other team received an assortment of goods including letter openers and key holders. The setting sun meant the teams had to quickly get back onto the coach and head back to Harare. The team building exercise despite everyone coming from different backgrounds was interesting to say the least. Everyone shared their experiences and it was evident that we had all enjoyed ourselves.

“The teamwork exercises were excellent. I learned about how to strategize. If you’re working together, there’s never a fast solution. The games taught me to think out of the box, not for quick solutions but strategically to work to the strengths of team members,” said Truthness Makurira one of the participants who is a professional masseuse and beauty therapist.

According to CANSAF Creative Teaming Managing Director, Beth Carpenter, creative teaming approaches are increasingly becoming popular among corporate, non-governmental organizations and embassies interested in enhancing their team bonding in order to achieve set goals.

“We’ve been getting a lot of interest to the creative teaming approach and have been approached by many different organizations interested in working with us. Our creative teaming activities are customized to the needs of clients and the venues chosen,” she said, adding that the events were held at different and largely unknown beautiful spots dotted around the country.

“We have run similar programs throughout Zimbabwe at destinations such as Great Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls and Matopos as well as at venues within Harare itself.”

The team building exercise despite everyone coming from different backgrounds was interesting to say the least. It was the most interactive, participative and adventurous set up I could have asked for.

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