I first heard about Londolozi as a young boy whilst watching the movies and documentaries that were filmed on this breathtakingly beautiful patch of wilderness, alongside the Sand River. The Leopards of Londolozi took centre stage for me and all I wanted to do was drive through the dry riverbeds and clamber over the granite boulders in search of the leopard sightings that John Varty and Elmon Mhlongo got to see. Little did I know that fast forward a couple of years I would get the chance to do exactly that.
At the start of this year I finally managed to convince my long-suffering girlfriend to leave her good, stable job in Durban and move out and join me in the bush. We wanted to make a fresh start somewhere new for both of us and I thought that this was finally my opportunity to explore the Londolozi that I had heard so much about. In no time at all I soon realised that there was so much more to this place than just the exquisite landscapes, the exploring of dry riverbeds and the incredible leopard sightings.
It’s always daunting walking into a new place of work and this just intensifies when your place of work is also to become your home. The people living next to you are not just neighbours but also the same people who you spend all day working alongside. So imagine our relief on our first day walking through the staff village at Londolozi and being greeted by smiling future co-workers, neighbours and friends and being welcomed into such a well established, vibrant and proud community with open arms.
People saw new faces they did not recognise and immediately came over to introduce themselves and find out who we were. The fact that some of these people had been working here at Londolozi for over 40 years made no difference as they welcomed us as if we had always belonged. I noticed how all the staff, no matter what department they worked in or what cultural background they were from, sat outside the ‘spaza shop’ socialising together and swapping stories about each other’s day before going on to gym or to play soccer together. There was a hustle and bustle about the place reminiscent of a small, friendly village and what a special and unique village I soon found out it was.
In the first few days while we were finding our feet a couple of us ‘newbies’ were invited to tea by Shan Varty. We took a short drive to her house where we sat in her beautiful garden on the banks of the river and listened as she emphasized to us the importance of care. She asked us to please make sure that each day as we went about our different jobs we made sure that we showed care for those around us. It was such a simple message but one that made so much sense. Every big family has its differences but as long as people take time each day to do something as easy as smiling and greeting one another and showing a genuine interest in each other’s well being then those differences are soon forgotten. This is exactly what I had been experiencing; people cared to know where I was from and how I ended up at Londolozi.
Over the next few days I saw this culture of caring for one another translate into the day-to-day life at Londolozi and began to see and feel what it meant to be a part of this family. I joined Linah on her daily village walk where she takes our guests and shows them life in the village. I could see her pride shining through as she enthusiastically chatted away to her guests whilst she walked passed the beautifully painted and well-kept houses on ‘Freedom Way’ and up towards the little school where the youngest members of the family spend their days. She continued past the gardens and into the learning centre where she explained how everyone in her Londolozi village was able to further their education after their day at work or in between shifts. Through the sociable spaza shop she went and onto the central Ubuntu hut, which is a place built specifically for everyone to come together, engage and chat about whatever they choose. (It’s also where anyone brave enough challenges Linah to a game of cards in the afternoon). It was here where everyone took a seat and listened to Dave Varty speak about the rich history of Londolozi, how it all began and what the exciting future holds.
I realised that this definitely wasn’t just a place of work instead it was firstly a home, a home to a big and diverse family that have just adopted two more. I look forward to being a part of this big family and what the future holds for Londolozi. I look forward to building strong relationships with people here and finding ways to positively contribute to this unique African village that I now call home. I also really look forward to searching for leopards in dry riverbeds!