As the helicopter landed in the front of Londolozi Game Reserve in South Africa and outstepped Nelson Mandela, I knew that this would be a defining moment in my life. Madiba had been sent by an old friend, Enos Mabuza, to spend a few quiet days relaxing at Londolozi after weeks of hectic media exposure following his release from prison earlier that year.

Incredibly, I had been given the rare privilege to spend a few unstructured days alone in the presence of this great icon. Together we enjoyed many hours of relaxed game drives as we sojourned in complete privacy along the meandering bush track of Londolozi. During this amazing time I was able to show Madiba, for the first time in his life, Africa’s Big Five, including some spectacular moments of wildlife theatre that only Africa can deliver. Theatre that, until this moment, Madiba had never before experienced. These first hand experiences highlighted for Madiba the potential that wildlife has. He realized that it was an economic driver that could offer opportunities to rural people and it could also be the catalyst for showcasing to an international audience, the country that he was about to govern.

A rare photograph of Nelson Mandela during his visit to Londolozi in 1991

A rare photograph of Nelson Mandela arriving at Londolozi in 1991

During our time together, Madiba came to understand the power of the eco tourism safari industry as a development tool for creating opportunity, careers, social upliftment, jobs and education for those who had been caught in the disaster of the apartheid trap. Madibas intellect, humbleness and absolute willingness to listen, meant that he quickly grasped the importance of protecting biodiversity and river catchments and the possibilities of advancing the green frontiers of our country. During his stay at Londolozi and following many hours of inspiring dialogue, Madiba promised that under an ANC government, river catchments would be protected as would all land under wildlife.

He made good on his promise and today South Africa has some of the most advanced water regulation legislation of any country in the world. And it was on his watch as President that the Great Transfrontier peace parks were conceived and endorsed by Madiba and three other presidents from our neighboring countries. The concept of Transfrontier peace parks stands today as a shining beacon for conservation and restoration, yet another enduring legacy of the huge contribution that Madiba has made to humanity.

Nelson Mandela at Londolozi

Madiba was good company, always warm and engaging with a humanness that permeated his whole being.

On a more personal note, and in hindsight, I have come to realize that spending relaxed mornings together in a Landover, roaming the landscapes of Londolozi, eating breakfast in the quiet shade of a thousand year old Ebony tree was an unparalleled privilege that will remain with me for the rest of my days. Madiba was good company, always warm and engaging with a humanness that permeated his whole being. On two separate occasions, however, I witnessed Madiba, the statesman, in action:

The first of these occasions was when ten people had been murdered in Alexander Township and the reports of these atrocities had reached us at Londolozi. Using a very rudimentary radio field telephone I was able to connect Madiba with de Klerk and I listened to a telephone conversation as the future President warned the departing President of the consequence if the third force, that was perpetuating these atrocities, was not reined. We watched in awe as continued negotiations hung in the balance and our country strayed into the abyss.

On another occasion when Madiba was staying with us, the right wing political party drove the armored car through the front door of the building where CODESA talks about a new South African constitution were taking place. When the news reached us Madiba went into a rage and instructed that I locate a helicopter to take him immediately to the scene were the news coming in suggested that the civil war had just begun. I had my work cut out to convince Madiba not to fly by helicopter to the scene but rather to arrange for him to be met by his security personal at Lanseria airport.

It seems strange now, as I think back on that moment, the boy from the bush confronting the future President of South Africa in a heated argument about whether I would “allow” him to go by helicopter into harms way, arguing that he should rather take my advice and travel by fixed wing aircraft to a more safe location at Lanseria airport. Typical of the man, following our rather robust conversation, he apologized to me for his hot headedness and confirmed that my advice had been in his best interest and accordingly he flew to Lanseria to attend the pending crisis, which he once again averted.

Nelson Mandela at Londolozi

Nelson Mandela at Londolozi

On many occasions when we were together, the humility of this great servant leader became apparent. He greeted all whom he met from back of house staff member to front of house celebrity guest in the same warm and engaging manner. His public endorsement of Londolozi in 1992 remains one of the most significant events in Londolozi’s forty-year history. At the centenary celebrations of the Natal Parks attended by a very prestigious audience Mandela said that:


“During my long walk to freedom, I had the rare privilege to visit Londolozi. There I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that Mother Nature offers. Londolozi represents a model of the dream I cherish for the future of nature preservation in our country”


What is for certain is that Madiba is one of the great gifts to humanity and his effort in preserving six million acres of wild lands, which was once a war zone, now a peace park, is yet another of his legacies to humanity and one which will endure long after we have all passed.

At Londolozi we have created a path called Freedoms Way, which is a tribute in memory of his many visits to the reserve. Freedoms Way, a winding path dotted with land art works and inspirations, leads our guests on from their luxury Londolozi camp to our staff village where for years, in accordance with Madiba’s dream of 1992, we have created a spirit of harmony and co-operation across the cultures.

The Beginning of Freedom's Way. An art installation centered around the principles of Mandela's values.

The beginning of Freedom’s Way, an art installation centered around the principles of Mandela’s values.


“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

It is therefore with great nostalgic pride and affection that I, on behalf of the Londolozi Family, wish Madiba all the peace and grace he so richly deserves from his 95 years on this planet.

Kensili nkopho

Hamba Khale

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years behind bars

“For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Filed under Life Restoration

About the Author

Dave Varty


Dave's story is too full and rich to tell in a brief blog bio. Suffice it to say that it is due to his passion, hard work and lifelong dedication to conservation that Londolozi is what it is today. One of the co-founders ...

View Dave's profile


on Remembering Madiba

Join the conversationJoin the conversation


Thank you so very much Tata…

Ian Hall

A wonderful post.

Liz Brown

How richly Blessed our Nation has been to have such a dedicated leader. His light shines around the world as an inspiration to all. God Bless you Madiba.

Geri Potter

What lovely memories! Thank you for sharing them with us!

John Holley

Goosebumps! Thanks Tata

Jillian Hopkins

A moving story and tribute to a beautiful soul! Thanks for sharing, Dave. Much love to you, Shan and the whole Londolozi Family.

Evette Hartig

He was and will always be an inspiration to people the world over. We grieve and yet celebrate the life of Mandela with the people of South Africa and Londolozi. Thank you for sharing your memories.

Wendy Hawkins

Thanks Dave for that beautiful eulogy of a truly humble gentleman! RIP Madiba <3

Mary Beth Wheeler

How lucky you are to have met and spent time with this remarkable man! And your tribute to him is so special. We are feeling his loss here in California…

Cinzia Carli

Very inspiring, both from Dave and the late Tata Madiba.

Ashleigh Harris

What a lovely tribute and reminder of all that Londolozi stands for. I feel so priviledged and proud to have been a part of the Londoz family. Rest in peace Madiba. Your legacy will live on.

Michael & Terri Klauber

What a beautiful tribute to a brilliant man. What an honor it must have been to spend time with him in you magical bushveld at Londolozi. We can only imagine what the experience for him must have been like after all the time he was in prison! Thank you for sharing your stories and special images. We are all very sad today, but know that his inspiration will live on for generations to come!

Doreen Dziepak

thank you for this fitting remembrance of a truly great man

Karine Gay

Thank you very much for this so beautiful memories.
Having been to Londolozi and meeting John Varty at Tiger Canyons, I know how much all family have respect for MADIBA .
God bless you MADIBA

Ed Hubbard

We are humbled and honored to have had the privilege to walk where such a great man walked. Thank you for sharing such wonderful and meaningful memories.


What a beautiful tribute. Thank you.


What a great tribute to a well deserved man. He sure was a great man. May he R.I.P. And thank you for a wonder post.

Judy Guffey

What a beautiful tribute to a true leader. How wonderful to have had the experience of spending time with him. Thank you for this blog, Dave
Aloha to all at Londolozi

Henry Smith

A beautiful tribute – thank you Dave. The world will miss Madiba, but we have his memory to guide our actions and help shape our collective character forever.

Matt Evans

What a privilege Dave.

Madiba has a fair bit to do with why my heart beats louder every time I come back home. And I’m confident that will always be the case.

Looking forward to our return to Londolozi next weekend, can’t think of a better place to spend time remembering the great man.

Brian C

Thanks for sharing your memories of a great man who changed the course of history. I especially liked the part when you quoted Mandela and he was speaking about Londolozi:

“I saw people of all races living in harmony amidst the beauty that Mother Nature offers.”

Awesome comment and something our whole planet should aspire to…Nelson Mandela will be missed all around the globe.

Shveta and Prashant

Mr Mandela left his ‘…footsteps in the sands of time.’ And such a privilege that he visited Londolozi. Wonderful tribute.

Jenifer Westphal

Dave and Family,

Thank for sharing a beautiful and emotional tribute to an incredible man. Sending love to everyone in the Londolozi family.

Jeff and Jenifer Westphal

Adam Ridgewell

Never met the man, only time I ever saw him was at the ’95 Rugby World Cup with a No.6 jersey on standing next to Francois Pienaar. I realized his awe and presence when the crowd went nuts after he raised his hand! What a brilliant symbol of peace, freedom and unity! I certainly felt him standing what seemed like a mile away! Rest in peace Madiba.

MJ Bradley

What an amazing man! He truly was the father of modern South Africa.. My only wish is that we had more of his ilk in our world. Fly among the stars Madiba and be at peace.

Connect with Londolozi

Follow Us

Sign up for our Newsletters

One moment...
Add Profile