Lodge Manager, Djuma
Over the years, Djuma has evolved an ethos of “Xa mina Xa wena” – a Shangaan saying meaning “what is mine is yours and what is yours is mine”. This extends throughout the organisation, especially when it comes to the identifying, developing, training and mentoring of staff. Over the past quarter of a century Djuma has been seen as “the lodge to work for”. In our monthly legacy stories we will now be focussing on the people of Djuma – the staff who work there and those in the surrounding communities who have been touched by this ethos of sharing…
When Luzile Sithole talks about Djuma, her dark brown eyes twinkle and a smile breaks across her face. This 45-year-old single mother of two is one of the lodge managers here, something she never expected to be when she joined the Djuma fold 17 years ago.
“I was working as a chef at a lodge not far from here, where I had been for eight years,” she explains. “It was my first job in the lodge industry. I had started there as a waitress and moved into the kitchen from there.”
Food is very much part of Luzile’s DNA. She was born on Mala Mala where her parents and grandparents had lived before being moved to the small village of Dixie, on the edge of the Sabi Sands reserve. “My uncle was head chef at Mala Mala and other family members were also chefs at lodges. Both of my parents also loved to cook,” she says. “They were always cooking at home and I would always stand and watch them, learning from them.”
When it came time to go to school Luzile’s family moved to the neighbouring village of Utah as Dixie did not have any schools at that time. Luzile lives there to this day.
“When I left school I went into nursing, as it seemed like a good idea at the time,” she says. “But my heart wasn’t in it, so I transferred to cooking and spent two years at chef school in Johannesburg before starting my career. And when the chance came to move from the lodge I was working at to Djuma, I jumped at it.”
That chance came because Luzile knew Pippa and Jurie Moolman, Djuma’s visionary owners. “They are well known around here, in the communities, and Pippa knew me and my father well, so when she told me she might have an opening in the kitchen, I sent her my CV and got the job as a chef here. And here I am, 17 years later and still loving every single moment,” she adds, with a broad smile.
What is is that makes Djuma so special to this sparkly go-getter? One word – family.
“Djuma is like home,” she says, spreading her arms. “Coming to work here is like going home or going to visit your parents for a holiday. It may be hard work and we’re always kept busy but it’s a family here. I love being here.”
The thought that she would one day become a lodge manager at Djuma never crossed Luzile’s mind when she started in the kitchen. “All I could think of was that I would be in the kitchen until I retire because I love cooking. I dream of food. I love it so much,” she laughs. “Then, one day, one of the Djuma managers asked me if I could help her out in the office while still keeping up with my chef’s duties,” says Luzile.
“It was a completely new environment but I enjoyed it and started learning lots of new things, which I love. I had never worked in an office but I thrive on being given responsibility and enjoy challenges and furthering my knowledge and skills, so it grew from there,” she adds.
Luzile was appointed as a lodge manager in September 2018. Working closely with her co- lodge manager Penny Mnisi, she is enjoying every single minute of helping to run Djuma “Even though there are so many challenges, I just love what I am doing,” says Luzile. “I love being part of this team and I think that challenges make me a stronger worker and stronger in my life. I think that challenges are like homework – things you take home to tackle that make you find a way to overcome them!”
One of the things that Luzile is overcoming is the old-fashioned notion that women can’t run safari lodges. “Being a woman in a manager’s position can be hard,” she says. “A lot of men think that women can’t run a place like this. But here I have been completely accepted and supported by the other staff here. We’re a family here at Djuma and we help one another in all things.”
Working in a lodge environment can also have its challenges on life in general, with its 21 days on, seven days off cycle. Has it been a problem for this hard-working single mom and her family?
“It hasn’t had a negative affect on my family,” explains Luzile. “At Djuma we are free, and able to pop home when we are off duty, or my children can come and visit me here and stay as long as they like. So my children and my family don’t really miss me that much. I think this freedom makes me a better worker. It makes me work harder because I know I am being looked after, as an employee and as a family member.”
When it comes to her two daughters, aged 21 and 15, Luzile is a fantastic role model. “I am teaching them everything that I am doing, to be independent and strong. Their father passed on 12 years ago. Growing up without a father figure is difficult for children, but I have tried hard to bring them up properly and make sure they have not lacked anything,” she says.
Luzile still has a lot of things she wants to achieve in her working life. “I have learned a lot over the years here in the office, but there’s still a lot I have to learn and I want to learn more. I want to learn what other people know and grow further in my role here at Djuma. So I hope to do more courses so I can learn as much as possible,” she says.
“In 10 years’ time I’d like to be a general manager here at Djuma. I will never leave,” she says. “I’m here until I retire, God willing.”