When 2019 kicked off with a picture of an egg claiming pole as the most-liked Instagram image on the Internet, it was hard to imagine the year getting any worse...
But it has.
A legend has fallen within the travel industry. Meruschka Govender, aka MzansiGirl, one of SA's most well-known and loved travel bloggers and social media influencer - passed away on 15 January after a long, very private battle with cancer. She was 38 years young. Her death has left many in shock. The hole she leaves won't be easily filled.
So why mention the Instagram egg?
Well, Meru, as she was affectionately known by her tribe, was a pioneer in the digital travel blogging industry. She was an exceptional force at harnessing the power of the Internet and social media, to break down borders, barriers and excite people about getting to know this African continent we call home. She used it to smash archaic stereotypes and urban legends.
A feisty solo traveller, passionate storyteller and always ready to hit the road to get out of her comfort zone and discover.
All while proudly flying Mzansi's flag.
She was all about going deeper and discovering the true appeal of the people and places she got to meet, inspiring many to take the brave leap and travel. And then travel some more.
While she would have undoubtedly laughed at the silliness of the Instagram egg, because she was just that chilled and understood the digital travel space extremely well - her passing fortunately won’t be as fleeting a moment as say the latest #10YearChallenge.
If anything, it continues to inspire us to do better at sharing the amazing stories found here right in our own backyards, stories best discovered through travel.
While it’s hard to encapsulate this impact she had in one singular tribute – here three women in her #AfriTravel tribe do the best they can to sum it up...
You'll be sorely missed MzansiGirl.
Do you remember the first time we ever travelled together?
It was just after Indaba 2014. I had called you two weeks earlier and asked you if you wanted to drive with me from Durban, along the entire coast of South Africa to Cape Town, stopping to do the Otter Trail, and then back through the Karoo.
I had plotted it would take 3 weeks. I could get accommodation in the Western Cape for us, and we could stay in backpackers for the rest. You didn’t even hesitate. In fact, I think you laughed because I asked so nervously.
We weren’t at all close at that point. But you were the only person I knew who I could call and ask the question. I had quit my job the December before at SA Tourism, following in your footsteps, and started writing freelance and blogging.
You were so sick before we left. Your dad nearly freaked out when you said you were still going. I’m pretty sure you had pneumonia and was playing it down. At night, you would cough through your sleep, it drove me nuts because it meant I hardly slept. We even had to go get you a flippin’ chest x-ray when we got to Cape Town on your dad’s orders!
After hours on end in my mom’s Nissan Juke, and three weeks on the road, I knew we’d be in each other’s lives forever. I even missed that stupid cough when I got home, and couldn’t fall asleep without it!
You always made what we did look so easy. You could walk into a room and introduce yourself without any anxiety attached to it. You made yourself known and people remembered that. You took the time to have meaningful conversations with everybody we met. Click here to read the full tribute on her blog IndiKate.
Soon after I heard the news last night, I started making a list of all the adventures we’ve had over the years. The list was longer than I realized.
I can’t remember for sure the first time we travelled together. It might have been Port Elizabeth in 2013, when we jumped into a mountain of wool.
On another trip we spent 10 days traveling the length and breadth of South Africa. You had a terrible cold the whole time. But still I could hardly keep up with you. We slept in tents and grungy youth hostels and fancy hotels. We flew over the Magaliesberg in a hot-air balloon and paddled down the Orange River in a two-person canoe. (You were a far better paddler than me.) We ate hot Durban curry and drank lots of wine. We swam from South Africa to Namibia and back again, then walked back to camp without shoes. The soles of your feet were riddled with thorns.
You laughed and winced but never complained. Later we watched the sun set over the Richtersveld. Click here to read the full tribute on her blog 2 Summers
Mzansigirl, daughter of Africa - Mariette Du Toit-Helmbold
I remember the day you told me that you are quitting your job to become a full time travel blogger and advocate for Mzansi so clearly.
There are far too any memories and crazy good stories to share, but one thing is sure, you were never just passionate about travel and this country, you were fierce about it, unwavering in your mission to share its stories with the world.
In many ways you led the way, inspiring other travel writers, bloggers and wanderlusters to set out without a road map for the future, armed only with a deep desire to go deeper and tell the stories in your beautiful unfiltered way.
You pioneered a new era in storytelling and travel, awakening in many young South Africans the desire to learn more about their country and each other through travel.
You lived your life with arms and heart wide open in wonder. Perhaps deep inside you knew your time here was limited, choosing not to burden others with your deeply private battle with cancer.
I realised today that you won the battle a long time ago. You never allowed this disease to define you or dictate how you would live your life. You defied it to the end.
It is no surprise that your passing left us all shell-shocked. We didn’t see it coming.
It hurts like hell, but we will remember you, not as a victim, but as a fiercely passionate woman who laughed with abandon in the face of death. You’ve built yourself an #AfriTravel tribe of fellow Mzansi-lovers, storytellers and advocates of travel - the kind of travel that breaks down walls and brings about profound change and deep connections.
You’ve helped pave the way for female travel in particular on the continent and I along with many others are more committed than ever to take up the baton, building upon your legacy and squeezing everything we possibly can out of this one precious life.
We will never forget you...you have left far too deep a mark on our hearts and your footsteps are etched into the soil of this land.
See you on the other side, I will bring the wine.
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