One late afternoon when the heat was still hovering in a mirage above the rocky, sandy desert ground we leapt onto a vehicle to go and visit our neighbouring community members at Fonteine. I was meant to conduct an interview with a gentleman named Ben who was going to tell me all about the relationship between the Torra Conservancy, the community and Wilderness Safaris. To our great surprise, Jantje Rhyn was around too so we invited him to join in the discussion. We had to pick out a place to have our chat and it was decided to convene on the front doorstep of Ouma Honey’s home.
Ouma was starting to prepare the evening meal which meant that we were treated to warm, aromatic and home-comforting smells from her kitchen. As we placed our chairs in a sort-of “interview” type arrangement, we were encouraged to place a chair for Ouma and another keen participant, Lennox, too. Of course the grandchildren, dogs and chickens were also part of the set. A small gathering of interested onlookers congregated a comfortable distance from us – just enough space to be able to hear perfectly, but not to be called upon for input.
Jantje explained to me that in 1976 (or thereabouts) their community from South Africa was uplifted from the northern Cape region and located in what was then the Damaraland district of Namibia. Despite the change being extremely disruptive, they pulled together and started a new life in a new country. They integrated with the local Damara people who were welcoming and hospitable. Their first job was to establish a living, but in harsh desert conditions it was not easy. By establishing a small subsistence farm existence their goats and cattle came under threat from the local wildlife predators. This is how they came to build up a relationship with the surrounding ecotourism operations. They did something that was completely unique in this circumstance: embrace and view their immediate threats as an opportunity.
By working together with operators such as Wilderness Safaris, the community managed to understand and promote the realization that the lions, hyaena and other wildlife predators that were helping themselves to their stock, were in fact more valuable alive than dead. It was at this point that they undertook to rather protect the wildlife and the natural resources around them. The process is now if they experience a stock theft by a predator, they are compensated for the loss in monetary terms through their relationship with operators like Wilderness Safaris.
It struck me how completely committed they are to the preservation of their wildlife. They believe very strongly that this model is the only solution to human/wildlife conflict. They speak with passion about their love for the animals and how they study them and protect them. Both Lennox and Ben have their school-leaving matric qualifications, but they do not want to go and study, work in an office and live in a city; instead they want to work where their hearts are, on this land that is now their home and is the only home they have known. Ouma Honey will spend her last days here; this is where her husband rests too. I actually had a lump in my throat when I said good-bye. These wonderful people are some of the most enlightened humans I have had the pleasure of meeting.