Somkhanda Community Game Reserve is situated in northern Zululand roughly 18km north of Mkuze Village. It is an exceptional reserve of 16 000 ha and home to black and white rhino, buffalo and leopard. The reserve belongs to the Gumbe community who need help with all aspects of reserve management and it was for this reason that African Insight became involved on the tourism side. Somkhanda boasts some fantastic infrastructure in the form of lodges but, with lodges and the management thereof, staff is needed.
A joint ‘training/selection’ process was undertaken between the 7th and 11th January 2013 run jointly by Wildlands, African Insight and African Fig who facilitated the process. An open invitation was sent to the Gumbe community inviting anyone with an interest in hospitality to show up on the 7th with the goal being to select four teams of four by the Friday.
Kai Schulz of African Fig ran the whole training/facilitation/selection process with assistance from Mark Gerrard (Wildlands), Andrew Anderson (MD of African Insight) and to a lesser degree myself. The way Kai ran the week was very interesting and all the tasks set were to gauge who had leadership qualities and who was able to think ‘outside the box’. The tasks were both mentally and physically challenging and included changing a tyre, erecting and collapsing a tent, crossing a ‘fire’, following a maze blindfolded etc. Many of the tasks required total team work and all needed to get involved in-order to complete them. Nearly all were fun so a great deal of laughing filled the valley around the lodge. Attention to detail was often hidden in the tasks such as the wrapping of two wine glasses as a gift. They were given a box with lots of ribbons and pretty paper in which to wrap the glasses. All but two wrapped these up in a manner befitting a professional, on the outside, and all but two wrapped up two DIRTY glasses. The objective of the exercise was attention to detail – who wants to receive a lovely looking present that is dirty and looks second hand inside?
To test their mettle at the end of a long and extremely hot day Kai announced to them that they had five minutes to gather what they needed for the night as we were walking three kilometers to another bush camp. A sea of shocked and somewhat disillusioned faces stared at us – they were expecting ‘down time’ to kick back and relax and now faced a three kilometer walk. Five minutes later after walking a short distance up a hill Kai addressed them saying that we were in-fact not going anywhere but explained to them that this is what the hospitality industry is about. “Just when you think you are finished something else crops up and you need to change your plans”.
The attendees cooked for themselves with the food provided by Wildlands and one of the challenges was a pap and stew cooking competition. This was a lot of fun and an innovative way of getting dinner cooked. Again they were given detailed instructions explaining exactly how the food must be prepared, i.e. the potatoes quartered, the butternut and carrots diced etc simply to see who could follow instructions. Our World acclaimed chef and food taster, aka Stew Nolan, chose the winner and the loosing team was given the task of washing up after dinner.
Throughout the week the attendees were interviewed and rated with the weaker ones being sent home. What was carefully explained to them was that the hospitality industry didn’t suite them and when future positions became available they would be given a chance to apply. A few had very lucky escapes as we were down on expected numbers so those ‘border-line’ cases were given a second chance. Some amazed us by transforming from meek, shy individuals to fully committed and keen individuals.
In the end we managed to select 12 capable trainees which will match our needs. The 12 will start their hospitality training in earnest on the 3rd February and we all have very high hopes and expectations for them – it is after all their reserve. During their initial training they will do housekeeping, cooking, and gardening, road maintenance, building maintenance, alien weed control and whatever else we can find for them to do. This is not a case of ‘cheap labor’ but rather a very good way of seeing which positions suite which people, after all a person who is happy in their job will perform better than an unhappy one.
What I found amusing was during their initial interviews when asked what position would suite them most said they’d like to be cooks. Perhaps it was the unfamiliarity of the ‘hospitality industry’ and what it all entails that made them feel more secure ‘applying’ for something that they were vaguely au fait with? One guy, after a bit of coercing, admitted that he’d like to get into management which I found admirable as we will need to fill a broad spectrum of positions.
I am confident that the model approved by the various stake holders is a very good one and with African Insight’s continued involvement Somkhanda will soon become a sought after destination.
Guide at African Insight