While all that was going on down the hill at the lodge there was a whole other world of events happening up at the Moolman house. AfriCam was proving to be a rather popular website, and the daily page impressions were growing at a steady rate.

Paul and Graham had acquired funding to expand the company, which seemed a good idea in the strongly growing field of IT. In February – at the same time we were looking for Vuyatela’s architect – AfriCam started employing staff. I was offered a job with the hefty title of “Community Officer”. I got a nice salary - my first in years - for doing stuff I probably would have done anyway because I liked it!
The job entailed several things, including the daily monitoring and selection of emails sent in with pictures captured from the cameras. By this stage there were six cameras – two at Djuma, two in the Kruger National Park at Satara and Orpen camps, and two at Sabi Sabi, in the south-western Sabi Sand Wildtuin. My job started off with manageable couple-of-hundred emails a day, often the same pictures (pics) sent in by many different people around the world. I had to save a copy of each pic, and then add up to ten submitters’ names beneath it – most of the time, the first ten names to submit the same pic. Then I would choose the best picture, which would be posted on the front page of AfriCam, along with the list of people who had submitted it. The competition to “win” Pic of the Day was fierce and I got a fair share of emails either from people buttering me up in order to get names on the front page, or, on the other hand, heckling me because their names had not appeared there. There were advantages in having new, fast computers and servers because then the chances of getting one’s pic in the quickest were assured. I also had to see that all cameras were represented equally, as it would have been easy to show bias towards the Djuma cameras. Part of the job was to also answer questions sent in by email or posted on the Boma (message board). I took it all very seriously at the time, and enjoyed it as well, but looking back it was quite fickle. Hundreds of people were logged onto the cameras for four or more hours a day, many of their lives revolving around the website. Although AfriCam was essentially an entertainment website at that stage, a cult-like following emerged. Something as simple as getting your name mentioned on the home page became the be all and end all of many peoples’ lives; I played to their enthusiasm and passion for AfriCam and them to mine.
I also became hooked on the chatroom. It is difficult to explain the grip a chatroom can get on one, causing one to spend, as one does, more time with people one does not know than with live flesh and blood beings, such as one’s husband and children. When Jurie pointed this out to me I thought he was joking and did not take his concern seriously. To accommodate the various threads in my life – the lodges, my family, AfriCam – I tended to spend very little time sleeping. The days were spent doing lodge things and AfriCam highlights and email, and the nights passed in ‘chatting’ to my cyber buddies across the Atlantic in America, or elsewhere in the world.
Psychologically speaking I believe this job was very important to me on many personal levels. First of all I gained some financial independence from Jurie and an escape from the sheltered environment of Djuma. Secondly, I was becoming known – even if merely to a cyber community - as a person in my own right, not just as Jurie’s wife.
AfriCam was fast becoming a corporation worth a fair amount, and it was expected to be listed on the stock exchange. Jurie was offered one percent of the shares, I guess as a token of appreciation for all the work that he had done and the initiative he had shown in the early days of AfriCam. There were some grumblings from Campbell, who thought he had just as much right to have his own one percent because of the work he had done, or, at the very least, Djuma (of which Campbell would soon own forty percent) should own the one percent. As far as we were concerned, it was part of Campbell’s job description as a lodge manager to do some of the AfriCam work maintaining cameras, something he did willingly at that. Further more, Djuma was in no position to fork out over half a million rand, as every bit of cash was being used in the development of Vuyatela. Jurie offered Campbell some of the initial percentage, as he had done to other friends, but Campbell was not happy to get something as an afterthought. After some negotiations on Campbell’s part he put in an offer to AfriCam and got his own percentage. For Jurie, it was a business investment, and, as we all know, there are risks involved in most investments. Right then, Campbell’s percentage did not seem too significant a matter, but time would tell.
Up until then a corner of our living room had been used as an office: AfriCam technicians would come up to the bush from Johannesburg and work from our lounge. Now, however, we realised we needed some more space. Jurie and I have always lived in houses that were hives of activity, non-stop people streaming in and out, but now we needed a calmer environment to raise our family of two small children. Therefore it was around this time that we extended our house and made an office, in an attempt to separate our private lives from our lodge work and AfriCam lives.
Let us get back to the web cams. Djuma already had two cameras, the first one being at Bush Lodge and the second being the mobile camera. We then placed a third camera in a tree looking over looking Gowrie dam. This camera was called Gowrie cam and was quite remarkable in that one could pan, tilt and zoom the camera onto the game, thus not having to wait for the animals to move into the frame of view at the waterhole. This technology was quite a leap forward in comparison to the other cameras and the content from this location was phenomenal. The camera was operated from a control box in the new office: buried cables connecting the camera to the controls.
Djuma and AfriCam were also experimenting with other cameras. One such camera was mounted on the roof of a small remote-controlled car. The idea was to send the car off onto the open plain in front of Gowrie Camp – soon to be Vuyatela – and film animals grazing there. However, it was unsuccessful, because as soon as a zebra or wildebeest saw this vehicle approaching, they would turn tail and run! Another problem was that the car’s battery would run flat before we could get it back to base. This would have to be followed by several hours of our walking through the long grass and bush looking for the car, the last image usually having showed an inverted tuft of grass.
There was another ingenious camera that Jurie had fun building, called wheelbarrow cam. The idea came up because we had lots of little creatures we wanted to film, but usually they were too small or too mobile or us to capture them on any of the other cameras. This particular camera, its antenna and battery packs were small enough to fit inside a wheelbarrow, which could then be wheeled into position to start transmitting pictures. “Film stars” viewed on this camera included a baboon spider, a python, and a dung-beetle! The large, hairy, reddish-brown baboon spider, called Charlotte by the AfriCam community, was our most camera-shy subject. Charlotte, as all baboon spiders do, lived down a silk-lined hole in the ground just outside my back door. This species of spider is quite shy, but an old game-rangers’ trick to entice them out of their holes is to make them think a small insect or something tasty is about to fall into their lair. This effect is achieved by tickling the entrance to the lair with a blade of grass and, before long, for a fleeting instant - very scary if one has never seen one of these spiders before – a small monster will appear, only to sink out of sight again when it realises there is no prospect for dinner. Jurie and I tried this on many occasions, but only twice did we manage to get the camera to capture Charlotte at the exact moment when she poked her head and hairy legs above the lair’s entrance.
We managed to capture some shots of dung beetles going about their duties among a small mountain of elephant dung. Dung beetles sort through the manure, roll small balls of it away, and bury their eggs within them, to incubate their offspring. We also caught on camera, and showed to the world a lovely shot of a squirrel, perched on top of a heap of elephant dung, feasting on partially digested marula pip. On another occasion we were lucky enough to catch a small python, which we placed in a glass display cabinet for a day. Some excellent studies of this beautiful snake were displayed on the internet for all to enjoy.
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Our African Way