The concept of nurturing is something that goes to the very heart of what Djuma is all about. Nurture means to care and protect something or someone while they are growing, and this applies not just to the sensitive wilderness ecosystems around Djuma but also to the team of people whose daily work makes it function and keeps it positioned as one of the best safari destinations in South Africa.
For Oupa Ndziyani, Djuma’s workshop manager, it’s this belief in nurturing that has made such an enormous impact on his life. Born in the Limpopo mining town of Phalarborwa, some 150km north of Djuma, Oupa moved to the sprawling township of Acornhoek in his teens, across the provincial border into Mpumalanga, going to high school there.
“When I left school I went to study motor mechanics at a local technical college,” says Oupa. “It was an obvious choice to anyone who knew me because I had always loved cars,” he laughs. His studies ended in a learnership at a nearby Toyota plant, and, eventually, full-time employment there.
It wasn’t long, though, before his life’s journey took a major detour…
“Toyota sent me to work in their plant in Alexandra, Johannesburg,” Oupa explains. “And so I moved to Gauteng and the big city life,” he says. Seven years later, Oupa had the opportunity to move back to the Lowveld and leapt at the chance to be closer to his home, working as a diesel mechanic in Nelspruit.
It was a chance meeting early in 2009 in the small town of Hoedspruit that changed the course of Oupa’s life… “I was driving through Hoedspruit on my way to Phalaborwa and I stopped at a supermarket there to get something to eat and drink,” he remembers. “I bumped into a guy I had known many years before and he said ‘Are you still a mechanic?’ I said that yes, I was, and he told me that he knew of a lodge in the Sabi Sands that was looking for a mechanic and gave me a number to ring. That lodge turned out to be Djuma, and I went to meet the owner, Jurie Moolman, and got the job,” smiles Oupa.
Nine years and many hours of study later, Oupa finally qualified as a fully fledged diesel mechanic and is now busy with his diesel fitter qualifications.
“Jurie and his wife, Pippa, are always willing to help their staff to further their education,” says Oupa. So over the years I have undertaken many courses, and in 2018 I got my qualifications with Jurie’s help. It’s a constant learning process as you have to stay on top of new advances in mechanics, so I am now busy finishing up my fitters course which, when completed, will leave me fully qualified to work on diesel, electric and hybrid motors,” says Oupa.
“I would not have been able to achieve any of this without Djuma and the help that Jurie and Pippa have given me,” he adds. “Now I am the workshop manager and am where I am today because of Djuma.
“When I moved from here to Johannesburg it was hard. I spent so much time up there in the city, but I was very grateful to come ‘home’ to the bush, even though when I started at Djuma I was very scared of wild animals. Today, 10 years later, I am fine and would not be anywhere else,” says Oupa.
He’s kept constantly busy, working on Djuma’s vehicles and running the workshop team. “I am proud of what I have achieved,” he says. “I will be 41 this year, and I have managed to build my own house in Acornhoek, thanks to Djuma. I am also blessed that my family in Acornhoek is able to come and visit me here whenever they like and can stay as long as they like. This means that I don’t have to wait for my week off to see them.”
Oupa’s two sons, aged nine and four, love to see him working on vehicles and working in the bush, especially when the wildlife is close to the lodges.
“They are learning to love the bush too, so it’s wonderful that I am able to share this with them,” he says.
“When they are old enough to consider their future, I will tell my sons that the bush is the best. I have had the experience of living and working in the city and I didn’t like it. For a start it is much more expensive. Here in the bush I can have R100 and keep that R100 because there’s no shop here! I am able to save so much!”
Oupa’s contribution to Djuma has also been highly valued. General Manager Michel Girardin says he’s a “Jack of all trades, but master of them all too!”
“He does an incredible job keeping our vehicles, pumps and generators up to scratch,” says Michel. “He even does game viewer conversions on our new landcruisers, taking their tops off with an angle grinder, which is no mean feat when one looks at the effort and precision needed. The bottom line is that Oupa is invaluable to Djuma operations,” he adds.
There’s no doubt that Djuma has changed Oupa’s life for the better. “If I had not come here to Djuma I do not know where I would be now,” says Oupa. “It was not easy in the city, working for big corporations. And those big firms don’t always help you further yourself or with further education. Here at Djuma I have been able to fulfil my potential and learn as much as I can about my trade. I will also be continuing to learn. I feel valued as a worker and as a person here. I am taken care of here, like a member of the family,” says Oupa.
What does the future hold for him? It’s a question that seems easy for him to answer…
“I don’t like to think too far ahead as a rule, I’d rather live for now, but I do hope that I can stay here at Djuma. I absolutely love it here and will never leave. It is my ambition to stay here until I go on pension!” he laughs.