Joe Nkuna, section ranger based at Letaba Camp, was named best ranger in Kruger last year. Tall and friendly, Joe is a familiar face to many visitors to the Letaba section of Kruger where he has been stationed for the last year. His association with Kruger began at, and because of, the dawn of democracy in South Africa. Prior to 1994 Joe taught at the Mabunda Primary School near Giyani where he was employed as a teacher despite not having the appropriate qualifications.
He attended the school himself as a child, having been born and raised in Giyani. After completing his matric at Magulasani High School, Joe had to find employment as there was no money to further his education. It was not an easy task and after his appointment at Mabunda Primary in 1981, Joe remained there until his services were terminated at the onset of the country's new democracy in 1993.
STARTING AT KRUGER
Knowing he had to find another way of earning a living he applied for a position as a field guide in Kruger. He was selected after completing vigorous training, including some strenuous paramilitary orientation, at Stolznek. He scored the 2nd highest amongst a group of about 20 students.
His first assignment in Kruger was in the ranger's section at Olifants Camp. In February 1995 he became a section ranger in Louis Olivier's section at Shingwedzi where he stayed for two years. His post became redundant with the first restructuring process in Kruger in 1997. He was then appointed as Interpretive Officer, staying on at Shingwedzi for the next six months.
When a position as a trails ranger became available, he applied following the advice of one of his mentors, Arrie Schreiber, who urged him to gain as much experience as he could, but also to further his education if ever he had the opportunity.
"This is where I learned a lot," he says. As a trails ranger he met people from various cultures and walks of life, and it was during this time that he honed his communication and leadership skills, as well as broaden his understanding of people in general.
Then came 'Operation Prevail', a major restructuring concurrent with the transformation process in Kruger. The Wilderness Trails were outsourced and Joe had to re-apply for a position as a section ranger. He was appointed in the position at Olifants Camp in 2001. In 2003 he was promoted to section ranger and transferred to Phalaborwa for a short stay of six months before taking up his current post at Letaba.
Joe is proud of moving through the ranks to where he is today. He believes the experience and exposure to the various levels of ranger life in Kruger has sensitised him to the needs and demands of his staff. He hails his mentors 'Oom' Louis Olivier and Arrie Schreiber for their marked influence on his conservation career. "They have encouraged me to study and gain as much experience as I could," he said.
Not resting on his laurels, Joe completed a National Diploma in Nature Conservation at the University of Tshwane in Pretoria. He plans to expand his skills base even further by obtaining a qualification in financial management. Joe is a father of five and married to Margereth. His eldest daughter is at university and the youngest child is still at home. As with most rangers, his passion for Kruger is obvious.
"We must look after and preserve Kruger. It a national asset and we should educate people to look after it."