There are many threads that bind us all together. Every role and individual here at Londolozi is unique in their own right and creates a beautiful web throughout our history. There is a particular thread that carries a beautiful tune, which holds the magic of Londolozi, and that is the Golden Thread of Londolozi women.
This upcoming Tuesday is a very special day in South African history. It is a day we celebrate the heroic actions of when 20 000 extraordinary women staged a march on the Union Buildings in Pretoria 1956, representing not only women in South Africa, but indeed women all around the world. The courageous and gutsy actions of those women in the past, have had a profound impact on how we, as women, live today. Their actions are truly remarkable and inspiring! So this upcoming South African Women’s Day, we would like to take you through our own valiant story, remembering the women who built the foundations upon which the Londolozi sisterhood exists today.
I was fortunate enough to sit with both Shan and Dave Varty co-founders of Londolozi, sharing many laughs whilst reminiscing over the memories they both share from the formative days of Londolozi.
“The power of women is undeniable” – Shan Varty
The Pioneering Architects of the Londolozi Sisterhood
The great grand-mothers (and grand-fathers) of the Varty and Taylor families annually travelled down to what was once a derelict piece of land. The foundations of the Londolozi dream were built nine decades ago on the banks of the Sand River, surrounded by family and friends. This beckoned the dawning of what would become Londolozi as we know it today.
As one can imagine, the journey from Johannesburg through the wilderness to get to what was once known as the farm called “Sparta” in the wild backwaters of South Africa was no simple, nor easy task at that. The anxiety one may have today over travelling wouldn’t come close to the kind of concerns that the pioneering women may have shared many years ago. Travelling by buckboard wagon packed to the rafters with provisions, young children AND livestock, there was already a lot on the go. Additionally the biggest stress was over the threat posed by predators – namely lions roaming around come nightfall. A little different to packing a bag and hopping onto a plane or driving a car to arrive into the camp like we do today!
Daily responsibilities and tasks looked rather different nine decades ago. The tremendous task of setting up camp in the wilds of Africa was what bound the Pioneering Londolozi Women together. These early pioneers unknowingly began something magically tenacious – their bonds would run golden threads deep into the many generations to come. Many years later and across diverse cultures the Londolozi Sisterhood was formed and stands today.
For two generations the Varty and Taylor families hosted presidents and princesses and used the land for family adventure, however this era came to an end in 1969 when Shan, Dave and John Varty shared the hope of a different kind of relationship with this sacred land. They went on to create a blueprint for conservation and restoration in South Africa.
Londolozi’s guiding principle through the 1970’s and 80’s, was to demonstrate that wildlife tourism is successful in a land torn apart by racism, gender inequality, division and fences. The 1990’s brought a new promise to South Africa with a budding belief in the possibility of a united country. Londolozi extended its message of partnership between humans and wildlife across the African continent.
“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” – Nelson Mandela
The golden thread of pioneering women faced new challenges as a young safari conservation development model was being born. The feeling of “coming home” is what Shan Varty recalls wanting the very first guests to feel when visiting Londolozi. This stemmed from the need to create a home whilst herself and many of the Londolozi team were camping on river banks or living in staff housing made of reeds and mud before the first Londolozi guest chalets/ accommodation existed. The women working at Londolozi realised that luxury meant nothing without soul. A women’s way is truly in the smallest of details, and that golden thread began to be embedded into every detail of the guest experience. In the beginning it was simple touches, such as placing fresh wild flowers next to the arriving guest’s bed even if they had to be placed in an empty yoghurt container. They also began leaving hand written welcome card as one enters their room – which is still done for each and every guest visiting us today!
I’ll never forget Shan’s face light up with joy whilst she told me tales of the times she and fellow Londolozi sisters had. She said while doing everything from running the reception, you’d also need to help reload rifles, or put car batteries back together. On top of this diverse work, Shan proceeded to study to obtain her pilot’s licence to make it easier to travel to and from Londolozi. The unity of those loving bonds blossomed in the 70’s and still stand strong today. Londolozi has always been a place of equality – no day was the same, and no task was too much no matter your position, culture or gender. In the initial days of Londolozi’s creation, the area in which we are situated was predominantly male orientated. Londolozi created its own road map, following their own rules – at the time it may have been unorthodox, however through unifying each other and working together towards a shared goal, created the rules upon which we live today.
I have often heard guests say that “Londolozi is a feeling”. The origins of these expressions can be equated to many different factors, but I would like to think that one key ingredient to our recipe is the golden thread (that legacy of women) supported by many threads. Each generation of the sisters of Londolozi had no idea of the little moments of warmth and love they were creating, which still form the very basis of our hospitality philosophy today. I don’t think that I had ever given many of these little touches a lot of thought, however, it’s incredible what kind of profound impact a small gesture of care has on people, before you’ve even considered it. The loving thoughts, time and effort these ladies began have created a deep rooted prevailing feeling – Londolozi as a home to all.
“There is a certain frequency carried by women through their outlook & energy – women are the keepers of the tune” – Shan Varty
Shan Varty then looked at me, and asked me about the Londolozi sisters around me, and what they mean to me? In that moment I suddenly realised that I am apart of the golden thread.
The four pillars on which the sisterhood was created connect us all across the globe. I am surrounded by strong, unique, exquisite and brilliant women. They all uplift, support, celebrate and guide me through every step of my wild adventure here at Londolozi, and will continue to throughout my life. These women have crept their way into my heart, added their touches of warmth and magic to my life and have embraced me as one of their own. It’s a beautiful thing we have here – our connections not only to each other, but deeper connections that have existed for multiple generations which continues to bind us to the land. This extends to her wild inhabitants, and her people, and women across the world as each member of our sisterhood is an ambassador of support to women everywhere.
I thank my lucky stars each and every day, for the wonderful women who rose up and marched to fight for their power, and for the pioneering women setting the scene for the perfect “home coming” I find myself in today. If it wasn’t for them I’m not sure any of us would be lucky enough to share this path of life with the sisters and empowered women surrounding us at present.
There is a golden thread of women here at Londolozi. Across barriers, cultures, backgrounds, genders, ages and generations – the Londolozi Sisterhood’s arms reach a network all over the world. To all of our sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, and family – wherever you are in the world, from all of us here at Londolozi, we hope you have a very happy Women’s Day!