A MalaMala Story

Text: Ranger Pieter van Wyk

Behind the smiling faces that helpfully engage with guests in Main Camp’s reception area is a frequently used door. Behind said door are several offices and a boardroom, mostly occupied by senior management; it’s the proverbial ‘belly of the beast’. Now, that sounds a lot more sinister than is deserved but, as you can well imagine, this is a space where the big decisions are made and it comes with the accompanying stress levels. However, there is one space that perpetually oozes good vibes, our so-called ‘back office’ and the home to our human resources, accounts and admin departments. Come hell or high water, they are always happy. Isaac Ndlovu is one of the hard working and friendly staff members in this office.

Isaac hails from a village called ‘Seville B’ located just outside our neighboring reserve. In fact, the high school Isaac attended is next to one of the entrance gates used to access, not just that reserve, but ours as well. Naturally, all the adjacent communities rely heavily on the private game reserves and the Kruger National Park for employment. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Isaac’s ‘MalaMala story’ actually started with his mother, Martha.

Way back in 1987, when Isaac was only eight years old, his mother was hired as part of our bush-clearing squad! She then became a gardener before moving into the housekeeping department where she still works to this day. Isaac recalls how his mother used to bring home magazine articles about MalaMala; the beauty of the reserve, the camps and the wildlife struck him. It ignited a burning desire to one-day follow in his mother’s footsteps.

With no formal tertiary qualification Isaac knew he needed to gather experience before an establishment such as MalaMala would employ him. Sure, he could’ve started off here the same way his mother did but there’s something you should understand about Isaac… he’s extremely intelligent. Had he been afforded more opportunities when he was younger then the sky would literally have been the limit. Now, Isaac would never say that certain jobs are beneath him, so we’ll do it instead, they’re beneath him. We say that with no disrespect to holders of those professions but rather in the same manner that one would never expect Elton John to have flipped burgers.

Isaac’s first full-time job was a receptionist in the Kruger National Park’s Satara Camp. He held that post for over two years before his mother informed him of a vacancy in MalaMala’s reception team. On Valentine’s Day in 2005 Isaac arrived for his interview and three weeks later he was part of our team. Isaac worked in reception until 2012 during which time he ascended to the head of the department. An opening in our accounts office provided the next opportunity and, recognizing his talent and work ethic, the company had no hesitation in appointing Isaac to this post where he has since excelled. Is it not remarkable? A child who grew up in a village, with no formal qualification, has mastered a job that would normally require a diploma or a degree. Isaac’s story should not been seen in isolation but instead as one of the many success stories resulting from the eco-tourism industry. Empowering and uplifting local communities is an integral part of what we do and it’s of the upmost importance that we all succeed. Conservation depends on it.

That being said, Isaac has not been resting on his laurels. He’s already completed guiding courses and is currently studying to become a teacher, although he’s doubtful that he’ll actually go into teaching. He loves his current job and he loves the hospitality industry. We asked him why and his answer was simple, “Because it’s full of happy people”.  We are extremely proud of how far Isaac has come and, as a single dad, we’re even prouder of the example he’s setting for his son.

Martha, Isaac’s mother, will be retiring at the end of the year after 3 decades of service. She began her MalaMala journey when her son was eight years old. He now holds a good job and her MalaMala journey will end the same year that his son, her grandson, turns eight.