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BEKS NDLOVU : Hwange National Park

meet Beks Ndlovu

Beks grew up knowing the elephants of the Hwange Park in Zimbabwe

Beks Ndlovu - Zimbabwe [2008 © Roddy ]
Beks grew up knowing the elephants of the Hwange Park in Zimbabwe

The famous Hwange National Park in north-east Zimbabwe, is ‘home’ for Beks Ndlovu. Scaring away elephants that wandered from the unfenced park into the family field was part of growing up. His rustic early childhood contrasted with an excellent boarding school education. He might have gone on to a degree in accountancy, but the bush was in his heart. He became a successful guide and manager for Wilderness Safaris, then took the plunge to start Somalisa camp in Hwange and Uthando Trust that supports rural communities around conservation areas.

In an industry that, to date, shows a continuity with its colonial roots, where black people are still rarely in leadership, Beks has been an impressive pioneer. He makes no fuss over this, and there is no hint of resentment. Nor does he boast of his success despite developing his business in a most difficult economic climate caused by the political maelstrom in Zimbabwe.

Moreover, he does not seek to draw attention to the significant personal commitment that he and his wife have made to conservation and community development. Perhaps these are some of the reasons why he was regularly recommended to me by many in the safari industry.
Beks Ndlovu - Zimbabwe [2010 © Roddy ] - Beks Ndlovu - Hwange National Park - Great Guides
Beks combines tourism with community empowerment
and conservation

Beks Ndlovu - Zimbabwe [2009 © Roddy ] - Beks Ndlovu - Hwange National Park - Great Guides

Beks, like all great safari guides, could have had a successful career elsewhere. But his love of wildlife, from the falconry club at school to the thrilling memories of tracking elephants in Hwange as a child, drew him straight into guiding. Guides in Zimbabwe received an excellent and rigorous training in the early ‘90s and their tutors were probably the most daring and experienced guides in Africa. Beks travelled widely and learned to guide on foot, by vehicle and canoe. In 1997 he was awarded the prestigious Zambezi River Guide of the year award.

In 1997, Beks was awarded 'Zambezi River Guide of the year'

He worked for the prestigious Wilderness safaris group as a manager in Hwange, Gonarezhou, Matusadona and Mana Pools, at the same time cultivating his love of walking safaris, photography and travel writing. In 2002 he started a private guiding career which has taken him to places as diverse as Botswana's Okavango Delta, Namibia's deserts, the mighty Zambezi river and the Serengeti.

Most people would have relaxed into a lifestyle of freelance guiding, and it was a brave decision to start African Bush Camps, amidst political chaos in Zimbabwe. Twice he applied for a concession in the massive Hwange National Park, and was turned down. The third time he won the exclusive right to guide a 150km2 area near his home village of Lupane. This was the area he knew from childhood, and which continues to delight him, with its big herds of elephant, buffalo and unusual antelopes.

He created Somolisa, a bush camp that offers ‘barefoot Africa’, with an emphasis on experiencing nature, but with style and luxuries that create comfort. It is a sure sign of Beks’ ability that African Bush Camps has thrived and rapidly expanded its work, whilst 85% of the lodges around Hwange have closed down amidst the economic implosion of Zimbabwe after 2000.
Beks Ndlovu - Zimbabwe [2007 © Roddy ] - Beks Ndlovu - Hwange National Park - Great Guides
Through his perseverance, Beks
has developed a growing tourism company

Beks Ndlovu | Himba - Himbaland, Namibia [2005 © Roddy ] - Beks Ndlovu - Hwange National Park - Great GuidesBeks is also deeply committed to empower and inspire local communities and promote conservation. Most safari companies boast of such programmes, but Beks is concerned that this merely can be ‘proxy marketing’. He and his dynamic wife Sophia created Uthando Trust as a totally separate entity to African Bush Camps. At its core is the belief that for conservation to be sustainable, the ‘tourism’ must be shared; in particular the need to create employment and income generating projects and support education in communities around parks.
Sharing a photo with the Himba in Namibia

Beks is the perfect person to see ecotourism through the eyes of communities who frequently see little benefit from the parks and their wildlife. He is deeply committed to conservation, he is successful in tourism , and he, himself, is from such a community. By his example, commitment and eloquence he is helping Africans enjoy the benefits of ecotourism, and become more deeply committed to conserving wildlife and wild places.

For other stories about the Hwange area, see 'Ingonyama' and 'The Painted Dog Project'.

Author: Roddy Bray
Published Date: 19 May 2011
Location: Southern Africa | Zimbabwe
Themes: natural world | conservation, parks and trails