African Bush Camps chief executive Beks Ndlovu developed his love for remote areas at a young age, accompanying his mother, a state nurse, when she was transferred to various rural outposts in Zimbabwe.
This nomadic life fuelled his desire to become a guide. After leaving school he started guiding in safari camps, going on to manage properties and gaining exposure to operations and marketing. After serving his apprenticeship, he decided to strike out on his own, offering privately guided safaris throughout Africa.
It was during this time that Beks developed the idea to build a portfolio of camps focused on the guest experience.
“I saw the industry rapidly changing and I was keen to develop a wild and remote camp that would be the ultimate playground for guides from all over Africa to come and visit with their clients on private safaris,” he says. “I wanted to develop a camp that would allow guides to be guides.”
He didn’t want his guests to miss out on the fun, either. “I wanted to provide and create the best safari experiences in remote areas in the hands of Africa’s finest guides,” he explains. “We passionately believe that your guides and hosts are the key to making your safari the most memorable experience.
“We want you to be able to experience an authentic view of the old untouched Africa, with minimal impact on the environment while enjoying the best wildlife encounters.”
His dream was realised when he was granted the Somalisa concession in Hwange National Park in 2006. Somalisa Camp opened later that same year. Ten years on, African Bush Camps vision of an authentic safari has remained unchanged.
Coupled with this, the company pledges “to ensure that we are continually engaging in local and community development and ensuring that Africa’s communities benefit from tourism”. This has led Beks to set up the African Bush Camps Foundation.
“We believe that conservation can never be achieved without involvement of local communities and understanding and developing their needs,” he says.
“Our foundation aims to empower rural communities with the skills and tools to thrive and accept tourism as an enabler, and in so doing partner with them in conservation. This is largely pursuing sustainable lifestyles in harmony with the wildlife and the wilderness areas in which they all exist.”
Beks is a prime example of the future of tourism in Zimbabwe (and also Botswana and Zambia, in which African Bush Camps also operates). He strongly believes conservation is key to building that future, but acknowledges there are areas of concern that are holding progress back.
“First, corruption continues to contribute to the constant dwindling of key wildlife species and, second, is the lack of willpower to do something about it and the utter ignorance of the importance for the need to win the fight against the extinction of the heritage of future generations’” he claims.
“We have done well in some areas to highlight the issues, but it certainly has not translated into treating the issues with priority and hasn’t shown the world that wildlife is one of the savings of mankind. It is a resource that has the ability to eradicate poverty in our countries without further harming ourselves or our environment.”
Looking ahead to the next ten years, he says: “We want to grow our footprint immensely in the business of conservation… It is not our intention to have safari camps in every corner of Africa. Our aim is to have enough that we can effectively manage, and attend to the growth and improved lifestyle for each employee and their families and other beneficiaries that are the custodians of the wilderness areas.
“Tourism is critical to conservation. Wildlife areas are under huge amounts of pressure from other industries such as mining and agriculture. Without these wilderness areas, there is no place where wildlife can abound and the tourism dollar is its only saviour.”
Somalisa Camp has recently undergone a major refurbishment and now also caters for the luxury market. But, says Beks, this is not to the detriment of the “authentic experience” but rather an enabler to support conservation and to become “more green”.
“We wanted to refurbish ‘Old Somalisa’ but at the same time reach out to a new audience,” he explains.
While Old Somalsa retains its basic appeal and “is as simple as it was”, ‘New Somalisa’ is aimed at those looking for a more luxurious stay. But behind both lies Beks’ principle of “the experience”.
“The experiential component is very much the fabric of my business,” he says. “Luxury to me is not Egyptian cotton sheets, but having the best guides and being able to view animals with hardly anyone else around.”
The refurbished camp uses sustainable materials and is powered by green energy – solar panels rather than generators and fuels. Its new waste management system means the camp can save 70-80% of its water, which is recycled back to the wildlife.
This type of development is, he says, “groundbreaking stuff”, and justifies the move to cater for the luxury market, which enables him to add to the coffers of his Foundation and to help finance his conservation plans.
Beks’ desire to be at one with nature is no more evident than in the family retreat he has built in the Matobo Hills. Enclosed by the iconic balancing rocks and affording sweeping panoramic views sits Khayalitshe. The name is taken from the Ndebele words ‘Ekhaya’ and ‘Litshe’, meaning ‘home in the rocks’.
“The idea is to be in the middle of nowhere,” says Beks. “This place speaks of peace and tranquillity. It’s as close to nature as one can get.”
Entirely built from sustainable material and run on green energy, it is completely off the grid.
During his travels around the continent Beks picked up various items of interest – Zanzibar doors, Moroccan taps, Benin lions, Pygmy stools from Cameroon – and these have all been incorporated into the build. The outdoor furniture is made of recycled car parts, the steps from reclaimed railway sleepers, the dry stone walls are reminiscent of Great Zimbabwe – each stone hand crafted.
Built with as light a footprint as possible, it even incorporates a tree as part of the house.
Floor to ceiling windows afford a jaw-dropping view from every room. “It’s about creating spacious places, but bringing the view into every room,” Beks says, proudly.
African Bush Camps is a small and independently owned African-based company run by one of Africa’s top safari guides Beks Ndlovu and his wife Sophia. Offering an authentic safari experience in the untamed African wilderness, its portfolio includes a variety of exclusive safari camps in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Zambia.