The Elephant Is Ours

Ezrom Mthumbu and Marie du Plessis


It would not be unusual be to come across the phrase "I ndlopfu ya hina," on your next visit to Skukuza Camp. "The elephant is ours", says the charismatic new hospitality manager of Skukuza Camp, Ezrom Mathumbu.

As a former policy-maker and negotiator, having shaped his skills at Codesa, Ezrom has faced many challenges – one of which was moving from managing the oldest camp in the Kruger National Park to managing the largest camp in Kruger earlier this year.

Pretoriuskop is a medium-sized camp. "It was a bit like driving an automatic car for the last three years," says Ezrom. "There were no gears to change and I needed to drive a car where I needed a bit more work. So when the opportunity arose to influence a bigger challenge, to run the biggest camp in the Park, I could not resist." Earlier this year, Ezrom recieved a Sanpark Kuu award of excellence in recognition for his managerial skills.

In Skukuza, one of Ezrom's first objectives was to find Skukuza's common vision - "I ndlopfu ya hina." Meeting with all the staff he told a story… Long long ago there was an old elephant bull that often raided people's freshly planted crops. They did not know what to do with this elephant until one old man had an idea.

He built a pitfall trap and soon after the elephant was caught. So far so good, but now the old man faced a problem – how to bring the elephant up to the surface. He needed help and decided to ask the rest of the community for their help. They arrived with shovels, chains and other equipment and lots of enthusiasm.

As is the custom, a song strengthened the community's hands, as with every heave they sang, "I ndlopfu ya hina" – "the elephant is ours". But, as the elephant had been pulled almost to the top of the hole, the old man changed the tune.

"I ndlopfu ya mina" he started to sing – "the elephant is mine". The people heard this, looked at him in surprise and promptly slacked the chains. "No!" cried the old man, pulling at the chains in vain. Realising his mistake he apologised and asked the people to take up the chains again.

They did so and started singing "I ndlopfu ya hina", but as soon as the elephant was almost out, the old man once again changed his tune. Again the people asked if he "wanted to go alone?" Three times the old man changed his tune until he realised – he could not do it alone. "After that meeting we agreed, at Skukuza we want to sing "I ndlopfu ya hina," said Ezrom.

The heads of department, including the restaurant and shop managers, meet every Wednesday, where they brief each other. "Here we ask questions, make suggestions, challenge each other and generally communicate about the big elephant."

Skukuza, apart from being the biggest camp with its 700 beds, also offers additional challenges, as it is adjacent to corporate head office of Kruger. At the time of the interview Ezrom and his team were hosting a Sanparks conference where 15 African countries had been invited for an African Leadership Conference over two days.

Ezrom believes in the strength of unity, commitment and dedication and is quick to commend the support of his duty managers, Mari du Plessis and Kate Katane. At the time of writing the story, Kate was on maternity leave. Mari joined the team at the beginning of the year from Olifants Camp.



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