When Jurie and Pippa Moolman decided to start a safari lodge on their family farm in South Africa’s Sabi Sands in the early 1990s, neither of them had any idea that some 26 years later that decision would have taken on a life of its own, giving life to a brand that now resonates with the positive impact it has had on everyone who has come into contact with it – Djuma.
“We gave it three years when we started,” says Pippa. “Neither of us had any experience or any idea of what we needed to do. Everyone thought we were mad. We pulled the lodge together in a matter of weeks, with Jurie as guide and me doing the cooking and entertaining and help from Aubrey Ngobeni and Abel Mkansi who were already living on the farm. Abel had looked after cattle so became our tracker. Aubrey helped me run the lodge. We visited Sabi Sabi for two nights as paying guests and that constituted our ‘training’,” she laughs.
There then became the issue of what to call their fledgling lodge. “In those days the game was very skittish as there was still hunting going on, so we weren’t sure people would see much game. But the bush was very thick and we knew guests were going to see plenty of that! So we opted for ‘Bush Lodge’,” explains Pippa. And so Bush Lodge became the first addition to Djuma, whose named means “roar of the lion” in the local Shangaan vernacular.
After those first, hectic three years, Djuma was roaring in more ways than one and doing surprisingly well, given the original greenness of its owners, helped by their driving passion to preserve and protect the land and a clear vision to ensure that it paid its way. “It had to have a reason to exist,” says Jurie. “It could never be just a young white man’s inheritance and needed to be a viable business that employed people. As starting motivations go it’s a relatively unglamourous one, but that’s the way it was and still is,” he adds.
And so came a time when Abel told Jurie they needed a proper game ranger. Fortunately Abel had a cousin who had worked as a guide at Sabi Sabi and Londolozi and so Dixon Mkansi joined the Djuma family. At around the same time local chef Max Sithole came to see how things were going. He worked at nearby Chitwa Chitwa and pointed out to Pippa that she was only serving two course dinners, which was not a good thing, but that he had a friend who was also a chef looking for work. Enter Johnson Mgiba, whose girlfriend was a housekeeper at another nearby lodge and soon showed Pippa the art of the turn-down and how to dress the end of a toilet roll neatly.
“We’ve always believed in employing people who know more than we do,” says Pippa. “And these amazing people taught us how it should be done. And it grew from there.”
In 1999 Vuyatela Lodge was added to the Djuma stable, along with Galago Camp, which was leased from the neighbouring Buffelshoek property. “We grew fast then, and employed 70 people across three lodges,” recalls Jurie. “We tried outsourcing our management but that did not work and then decided to sell Bush Lodge, which gave us the liquidity we needed to move on with the business. We brought Galago back onto our property, converting one of the manager’s houses into what is the current Galago Camp and in 2011 decided to relaunch Djuma on a self-catering, exclusive use basis,” he explains.
“From our point of view it was the best move and has seen us be able to consolidate on the Djuma brand, which had developed a reputation for fantastic game viewing and authentic safari experiences. This suits the self-catering, exclusive use model and because we were financially independent of Djuma we have never had to chase profits, so were able to adjust our price point to suit the domestic, South African market,” says Jurie.
“Djuma is one of those places that you don’t really own – it belongs to a lot of people. Millions across the world who will never see it physically have a strong connection to it and love for it, because of the globally successful ‘Safari Live’ television series which is filmed here and the work we are doing with its producers, Wild Earth.
This has given us the ability to share our safari experience will millions of people, which is, after all, what it’s all about.”