Lodge Manager, Djuma
If there’s one thing that Djuma has become renowned for in the local safari community, it’s the way it takes care of its staff, giving them everything they need to be the best they can be, both at work and at home. This constant encouragement has given rise to an immense sense of pride amongst the Djuma team, that’s reflected in everything they do…
Penny Mnisi is trying to find the words to describe how she feels about Djuma. Normally erudite and full of self-confidence, she’s taking a moment to think about what the place means to her. Eventually she smiles broadly, having found the answer: “It’s home,” she says simply. “Being here is like being at home. I love it.”
Born and raised in the small village of Dixie, a few kilometres from where she now sits in Djuma’s office, she went straight into the safari industry when she finished high school, starting out as a nanny, caring for the children of local lodge managers.
“After a year as a nanny I was promoted to housekeeping. I think the managers saw that I had potential and I eventually, after a few more years, made it all the way to Head Housekeeper, doing room checks and stock control,” she says.
Penny moved to another nearby lodge, also taking up a position as head of housekeeping, but quickly moved through the ranks there, learning computer and admin skills, eventually becoming the receptionist and housekeeping manager and spending 10 years refining and honing her skills.
“Throughout those years I was always seeing Djuma’s owners, Pippa and Jurie Moolman, when they came to visit the managers with their children. It’s a small community here, so everyone knows everyone else,” Penny explains. “I also got to know Djuma’s managers, and they eventually told me that there was a position available for a lodge anchor and encouraged me to apply for it, which I did,” she says. The rest, as they say, is history and three years ago Penny joined the Djuma team – a move that completely changed her life.
“I’ve been here for three short years, but in that time I have achieved more than I could ever have dreamed, working my way from lodge anchor to lodge manager, helping to run Djuma,” she says. “In that time I have learned the reservations systems and undertaken training courses and now, with my colleague Luzile Sithole, am able to run the lodge. It’s been an amazing journey,” she smiles.
Penny was promoted to Lodge Manager in 2018 and has not looked back, thanks mostly to the dedication of Pippa and Jurie and their unique approach to staff empowerment and enrichment.
“Pippa and Jurie are amazing in the way they teach you,” says Penny. “They allow you to spread your wings and learn at your own pace, and when you make a mistake, instead of telling you off they encourage you to learn from the mistake and move forward. In this way you don’t repeat the same mistakes, but take responsibility for them and use them to better yourself. So you always have confidence in what you do and feel valued and respected,” she adds.
Penny says she is blessed to work at Djuma. It’s a blessing that this hard-working 43-year-old mother of three boys is eternally grateful for. “My husband passed away some time ago, and I have been single for a long time,” she says. “But when I came here I felt as if I was coming home, and that all of the burden had been lifted. The way we work here has given me so much confidence and the belief that I can achieve anything I put my mind to.”
Achievements are made through training opportunities that, Penny says, are freely available to all Djuma staff. “They believe in helping you achieve your dreams here, so if you want to learn how to do something and further your career they will help you and give you the opportunity to learn and grow, both professionally and personally.”
According to Penny, the faith Pippa and Jurie place in their staff has an extremely positive effect. “It makes you work really hard and become really responsible, not just for yourself but for others. We are a team here, a family, and we work together to achieve great things. It’s important to know that other people have faith in you and it makes you feel pride in whatever you do. I can do things now I never thought I would be able to do. Jurie and Pippa’s openness helps you to dream big and achieve those dreams.”
Working at Djuma has also helped Penny with her family life.
“When I started here my son was three years old and Jurie and Pippa gave me the opportunity to bring him here to stay with me. We have staff transfers every day bringing staff in and out from the villages we live in and having him here with me made an enormous difference to me, allowing me to spend quality time with him at a crucial stage in his life. I am very grateful for that,” says Penny.
“I am also thankful that my children have seen the opportunities given to me and understand that hard work and loyalty are rewarded. They also understand how important education is, not just while they are at school, but throughout life, as they have seen how I have continued to learn new skills as an adult.”
Penny adds that Djuma is the first lodge that she knows of where all the management staff come from local communities and where such great opportunities exist for African women. “Luzile and I run this lodge and we are women. I would never have dreamed that this opportunity exists for us,” she says. “It’s helped me to be a better woman and mother and my boys, who are 20, 16 and 7 respectively now, have seen that although I am a widow, and have stayed single, I don’t need a man’s support as I can do everything myself. My boys have learned how women are strong and can take care of themselves,” she smiles.
Penny’s sons have dreams that she is now able to help them achieve, thanks to Djuma.
“My eldest son would like to take a gap year and travel the world. Then after that he wants to go to universtiy and study engineering. My 16-year-old is very good with computers and would like to go into IT. Perhaps one day he will be Djuma’s IT manager! I am blessed because I am now in a position to help them,” she says.
So what does the future hold for this vivacious go-getter?
“I would love to become a general manager of Djuma one day, and perhaps even start my own sideline business out in the villages,” she smiles wistfully. “Although you never know what the future holds, one thing is certain, I want to stay here and spend the rest of my life here at Djuma. Pippa and Jurie are like my parents. I can go to them with any problems I may have or for help when I need it. I know I will always get good advice from them and unconditional love. A LOT of love!”