“Monitor lizard, monitor lizard!” he points enthusiastically as he shows us fine tracks in the gentle sand forest on the way to our beautiful thatched tented cabin. From humble contract labourer to current lodge manager, Sibusiso (Blessing) Mngomezulu is a well-known and much respected presence at Kosi Forest Lodge.
He was one of the first locals to be contracted to help build the lodge and he quickly became instrumental in planning the guided walks, canoe and boating activities, knowing the area very well. His sophisticated English belies his background and he insists “I grew up in the bush – right here across the lake. I loved the land and knew all the Zulu names for plants and animals. Then I started getting my hands on bird books, frog books, tree books, books about mammals – anything I could get hold of and I started comparing the Zulu and English names.” He laughs “As I guide I lived in fear of someone asking me a question I could not answer. In those days you couldn’t just give the Zulu name and purpose for something – we felt we had to know the proper English, though now there is a better appreciation of local insight and language.”
Blessing (as he is known at the lodge) attended the world-renowned Wilderness School at Hluhluwe to further his education. Still passionate about nature, he brings his indigenous knowledge to the wilderness activities at the lodge. He explains that “This is a place where people come to be in nature – to switch off and relax. I feel most proud when I see my guests satisfied with what we offer and appreciate this area.”
Blessing enjoys the size of the lodge “because it is possible to get to know everyone and offer personalized service with quality.”
I ask about his dreams and his voice softens as he says “My biggest dream is for my community – I would love young people to understand the value of environmental tourism – to be inspired by caring for our natural environment.”
A friend of mine from rural KwaZulu-Natal once told me that when you come from such a small community you are strongly influenced by what others in your community do. She explained that when someone does something different, like a new achievement, this opens a path for others to follow, as they see what is possible.
It would therefore seem that Blessing’s dream is already being realised as he has pioneered a way forward for others to achieve.