It must have been about April of 1993 when Jurie and I again made the journey east to Renosterhoop to see if we should start up a business on the farms. The South African 1994 change over to democracy was imminent and we were uncertain as to which way politics would fall in the district our farms, which were in an area which was then known as the Gazankulu homeland.

We knew that the ANC was operating thereabouts, but we had also heard reports of strong Pan African Congress (PAC) support on the boundaries of the reserve. Land reclamations in the new South Africa were inevitable, but we felt that if we did our best to develop the farms, and so create jobs, we would at least have a chance of keeping our piece of paradise.
Extract from the 1993 Djuma Game Reserve business plan:
Renosterhoop is a largely under utilised game farm and may as such be a political liability under a changing political dispensation. However, if Renosterhoop were to be a commercial venture, future arguments in favour of land repatriation are diminished. Renosterhoop has great commercial potential as a tourist destination and thus this proposal to develop Renosterhoop is submitted.
We need to be pro-active; i.e. local community involvement (to get the community on our side is not only politically wise but essential from a conservation/poaching point of view.)

At that stage there were only five permanent staff employed on the farms. At Gowrie there was old man Philemon Mkansi, ably assisted by Aubrey Ngobeni. These two men’s main job was to patrol the perimeters of Gowrie on bicycles, looking out for poachers’ spoor entering or leaving the farm. They also had to keep the boundary fences in good repair. The seven-foot-high game fence, a web of barbed wire, was always being snapped or bent by pesky territorial rhino bulls: perhaps the fence posts looked like skinny rhino opponents and good sparring partners. One or other of Philemon’s three daughters, Mildred, Liesbeth or Nellys, would be around to take care of the camp when the Ludin or Moolman families went there on holiday. At Renosterhoop a young couple, Abel Mkansi, Philemon’s nephew, and Abel’s wife, Monica Ubisi, kept an eye on the camp. While, because of the family histories, Renosterhoop was usually deserted it was still important to keep a human presence there to monitor the steady flow of Mozambiquan refugees. Abel and Monica also had to deal with the baboons, which loved to use the thatch roofs of the huts as lookout points, before sliding down them and causing considerable damage.
We arrived at Renosterhoop to determine whether our visions of starting a game lodge were far-fetched, or possible. As we walked around the camp their realization did not seem at all likely. Only one of the seven toilets was working, the beds were broken, the gas geysers did not work, the water supply was erratic (at best) and the animals made off when approached by anyone or any vehicle!
I remember feeling quite despondent about turning the camp into a viable option for hosting tourists efficiently. During the years preceding our visit all the attention had been paid to Gowrie. Renosterhoop’s buildings were beautiful, but, if given the choice, I would rather, happily and without a second thought, have started out our venture with the 50s -style rondawels on Gowrie. However, Gowrie was to remain the families’ bushveld retreat: our efforts would have to be focussed on next door.
Monica and Abel were clearly excited at the prospect of having visitors more frequently and were not going to let us, a depressed couple, spoil their fun. Abel shoved a bobjaan (monkey wrench) into Jurie's hand and pointed him in the direction of the first leaky loo! Monica put the kettle on for tea - and so, with such very shaky beginnings, our Bush Lodge was born. I guess Abel and Monica’s enthusiasm had lots to do with motivating us to start developing our business plan.
First, the camp needed a name. It had crossed my mind that changing the farm’s name may bring bad luck, of the kind supposedly brought when one changes a horse’s name. However, something had to be done about the camp’s reference to a great beast's toilet: Renosterhoop was not going to cut it in potential international marketing terms! The realist in Jurie talked me out of the idea of bad luck, but I still had to check out the sentimental aspects of changing the farm’s name.
Extract from the 1993 Djuma Game Reserve business plan:
The name ‘Renosterhoop’ is inappropriate for a game lodge hoping to attract (amongst others) international guests. The local Shangaan/Tsonga people’s name for a white rhino is ‘Nkombe’ Whether we use this name or another, the name ‘Renosterhoop’ will have to change.

Upon our return to Johannesburg Jurie went off to Wits University's library and scoured a Tsonga dictionary for a name. He was unable to take the book out from the library, so he would phone me every half hour or so with potential names for Renosterhoop. We settled on Djuma Bush Lodge - djuma meaning spoor/roar of the lion, and "Bush Lodge" because, even if the guests saw no game, at least they were sure to see a great many bushes!
It was about this time that we decided to get another puppy. This time we chose a male, tan and white, bull terrier named Douglas. Doug was quite a handful as compared to the relaxed Bingo, and he (and Jurie) needed to attend obedience training classes. He certainly was not the best pupil at dog school, but at least at last he listened when called, sat, and stayed when so commanded. Bingo was not too keen on this new addition to the family, but somehow the two of them eventually got along. Doug became a character in his own right, as stories still to be told will reveal.
Subsequent visits to the bush were spent changing the camp into a condition in which we could actually charge people for going to stay there. Slowly but surely we created a rudimentary electrical system, in the form of solar panels with batteries to store energy, and a generator to pump water from the borehole and run the swimming pool filter. A high-tech low-energy electric fridge and a chest freezer replaced the Coca Cola paraffin top-loader, and fittings to take light bulbs replaced the old gas and paraffin lanterns. This last improvement was quite a step forward: it minimised the risk of fire, which was always a worry.
I think the electrician’s name was Chris, and remember him as a nervous, sweaty man who would come up from Johannesburg for a couple of days at a time to install the new systems and tickle the old ones. Abel shed some light on his twitchy disposition by telling us how Chris, returning from doing some wiring at Gowrie, upon arrival at Renosterhoop had been faced with an incredible situation. He had parked his bakkie near the main building and was about to get out when a lioness nonchalantly padded down the steps from the upper level of the building, and exited past his vehicle. The fact that the building had neither walls, doors nor windows did nothing at all to instil a feeling of security in Chris.
We had no need for a plumber at that stage. Plumbing pipes, taps, and Junkers gas geysers were fixed as best as Jurie knew how, and slowly but surely we began experiencing a sense of achievement as we got regular hot showers and a sure flush after using the toilet!
The kitchen was moved into what had been the scullery, and at first remained open plan, but this arrangement would later prove impossible to maintain against the daily scavenging trips of monkeys and hyenas. As well as the brand new fridge and freezer there was a tiny little four-plate gas stove, the most reliable I have yet encountered. Work surfaces were faux-wood melamine shelves nailed against the slanted roof buttresses. We made some rudimentary kitchen cupboards out of old tongue-and-groove pine shelves that were lying around. We were planning to open only the following April, after the elections, so the pace was laid back and fairly relaxed.
Extract from the 1993 Djuma Game Reserve business plan:
This is one problematic area in the design of the camp since ideally a noisy kitchen should not be right under the guests, but there are no feasible alternatives since the only other possible place for the kitchen is up at the battery room which is too far from the dining room.


Neither Jurie nor I had any training, or experience, in the hospitality industry, but thought we could rely on some contacts of Tilman’s to take us in at their lodges for a bit of a crash course in running a game lodge. I kind of pictured a three-week stint at one of the three established lodges to the south of us to help us prepare for paying guests. This was not to be. Once two of the other lodges heard we were starting up in potential competition doors, quite reasonably, were swiftly closed in our faces.
Our next best bet was to book in as “guests” for a two-night stay at the third remaining lodge, which Tilman had not as yet approached for help. In order to experience the “whole package” we jumped on a plane, bound from Johannesburg airport to Skukuza in the Kruger National Park. From there we were whisked off in an open game-drive vehicle across the park’s boundary into the Sabi Sand Wildtuin to a beautifully operating lodge.
We in this way educated ourselves as to what guests would expect on safari: two game drives (with plenty of game sightings) and a walk, three meals and afternoon tea, a well-stocked bar, and comfortable en suite rooms. We also got a tiny taste of what rubbing shoulders with potentially demanding foreign tourists would entail.
Jurie, as biologist-come-game-ranger-in-training, noted how the vehicles were kitted out and became familiar with the type of info that would be needed to satisfy inquiring clients. I checked out the menus and schedules, and took notes on how to entertain the guests around the camp in between bush-related activities. I learnt that my duties would include checking in, taking orders for sundowners, and the right way to wake up guests, at ungodly pre-dawn hours, to join the morning game drive.
And then – in August of that year, out of the blue, Tilman phoned to ask if we could take in a group of eight guests in two weeks time. It so happened that a friend of his, Louis, who had hunted on Renosterhoop years before, had heard about our starting a camp and wanted to show some American clients this gem in the bush. Louis was booked in at another lodge, the very one where we had spent the "training weekend", but had so loved his hunting safari on Renosterhoop that he wanted to change his booking to us. Not only that, but if we satisfied his expectations, he wanted to bring another group two weeks after that!
With the urgent prospect of hosting paying guests we were pressured to get things up to scratch as fast as possible. After some quick calculations we estimated that R20 000 would be needed to pull our first safari off. This was an enormous amount to us in those days, because we had never borrowed more than a couple o’ hundred bucks from anyone for anything! After all we still needed just about everything - cutlery, crockery, beds, mattresses, some furniture, fibreglass lining for the pool, and, of course, food and drinks for the guests. We would also have to borrow a game-drive vehicle.
A friend of ours, Anna, joined us to cater for the guests. Anna had a catering business called The Great Food Company, which kept movie crews fed on locations all over the place. We knew she was experienced enough to pull off the food aspect, allowing me to be free to stress and fret over everything else that may need attention.
I don't remember too many details from that first professional weekend, but do remember that by the time of the last drive the guests had not seen lions, and offered Abel (our newly appointed tracker) R10 for every lion they would see on that drive. Naturally Abel pulled eleven out the bag, and the safari ended successfully. Two weeks later, Louis, his wife, and friends were back!
Our egos had received the boost they needed. With our newfound experience we were ready to put all our energy into Djuma Bush Lodge in anticipation of the official launch in April 1994.

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Our African Way