Rising to the top
by Pieter van Wyk
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Sometime during 1976
, in a rather small village roughly 30kms from MalaMala Game Reserve, Vusi Mpandza entered the world. To use the term ‘from humble beginnings’ would only describe half of his story as Vusi was also born into an unequal society of suppression and segregation. However, despite the circumstances, he went on to make something of his life. Like cream rises to the top, so did Vusi.
Many men living in rural South Africa end up leaving their families as they search for employment in our cities and indeed, Vusi’s father did just that. Vusi was raised by his mother and grandmother, a job they did well under tough conditions. It was only in 1993 that he met his father for the first time. In the interim, it was Vusi’s uncle who stepped up to the plate and assumed a ‘father figure’ role that helped young Vusi keep on the straight and narrow through his teenage years.
After high school, Vusi took whatever jobs he could get and garnered life experience. From four months as a temp in the Kruger National Park’s laundry service and a stint in the Department of Water Affairs to two years on a platinum mine as a ‘belt manager’. Then, on the 23rd of June 2007, Vusi joined the MalaMala family. His cousin was, at the time, our Head Caterer and had recommended him for a position in the kitchen. Vusi got the job but ended up in the housekeeping department and within a matter of weeks was made the head of said department, a daunting appointment for someone with virtually no experience in the hospitality industry. Vusi knew that he simply had to make it work and make it work he did. In 2008 Vusi’s wife joined him at MalaMala -Thembi is one of our friendly waitresses. They met in 1997 and were traditionally married ten years later.
Vusi was never a ‘watch the clock’ type of employee. Instead, he did what the clock does and just kept on going. Hard work and an ‘always go the extra mile’ attitude saw Vusi promoted in 2013 to the position of MalaMala Camp supervisor. Vusi thrived at his new role and in 2017 he was promoted yet again … From a childhood in poverty stricken rural South Africa he went on to become the Assistant General Manager of one of the continent’s most prestigious game reserves. Vusi remembers it so vividly. Upon first hearing the offer he blanked out. So monumental was the moment that he couldn’t even understand what people were saying to him. Never in his wildest dreams was this possible.
Ask Vusi what he loves about his job and he’ll tell you that it’s about the people. He loves sharing our little corner of paradise with the world and seeing happy guests is what keeps him going. Whether Vusi realises it or not, his diligence and cheerfulness has earned him much respect and admiration within our team. Indeed, a good follower has become a good leader.
As a game reserve we know that tourism, conservation and community development go hand in hand. They are all equally important and intrinsically linked. Stories like Vusi’s do not only warm the cockles of our hearts and fill us with immense pride but they also give us hope, hope for a better South Africa and a greener tomorrow for, both man and beast.