Andries Mabila’s instinct for business started with his very first job, which was to protect his grandfather’s herd of cattle. As they roamed the bush of Rooiboklaagte he entertained his brother with tales of the scrub hare and common duiker they had seen.
An abiding love of animals was well established in the six-year-old herdboy, as was his keen eye for snakes. He learned to read animal behaviour, understanding why a flock of birds suddenly took flight or a little buck startled.
His desire to protect the animals in his care, and a gift for storytelling, inevitably led to Andries realising his full potential many years later, as the co-founder of Nghelekele Tours & Safaris, the only safari company authorised to offer a park-and-ride guided tour facility in the whole of the Kruger National Park. They have four vehicles and offer a variety of game drives and other services from Paul Kruger Gate, Numbi Gate and Phabeni Gate.
After completing school Mabila studied to become a private investigator, a job that requires a keen eye for details and the ability to notice unusual activities. After finishing his course, Mabila received an opportunity to study wild life, his lifelong passion. In his own words, “I fell in love with my career.”
A joint initiative between SANParks and Vuswa Fleet Services in 2011 led to the establishment of Nghelekele Tours & Safaris. Mabila and his partners, Joburg Ndlovu and Mike Machavi, welcomed this chance, part of a broader upliftment initiative aimed at communities bordering the greater Kruger National Park. The intention was to create sustainable economic empowerment opportunities through tourism and Mabila’s passion made him stand out from the crowd.
A few years later, his articulate enthusiasm and bold vision was noticed once again. He was one of only fifteen high-potential Mpumalanga applicants who met the criteria for the SAB Foundation Tholoana Enterprise Programme. Some 127 applications were received in Mpumalanga alone, with just over 700 received countrywide, making Mabila’s selection in July 2015 all the more noteworthy.
Catherine Wijnberg of Fetola, the implementing partners for the SAB Foundation Tholoana programme, says, “We see great potential in Nghelekele. Andries is an excellent guide, and also keen to learn how to grow the business. The Kruger National Park is a tremendous asset, so we’re glad to be supporting a business that is integrated into our premier wildlife resource.”
Since joining the programme, Mabila reports that he has made some changes in his business. “We now manage our finances better. Writing a monthly report to my mentor has taught me how every cent counts to making a business survive.” He has also focused on marketing, prospecting for work with hotels and agencies. This resulted in a long-term contract with Heading South Tours.
Mabila aims to grow the business. “We operate only on the south of the Kruger Park,” he says. “We’d like to expand throughout the whole park. We employ local guides who have an intimate knowledge of the region, having grown up in the area. They are connected to this place, and our clients notice and appreciate this.”
The life of a safari guide is not always smooth sailing. Andries recalls a group of delighted clients as he slowed his vehicle to a stop on a narrow bridge. A pride of lions was crossing the same bridge, strolling away from them. As he pointed out the females and the cubs, he glanced intuitively in the rear view mirror. To his horror, he discovered the male of the pride coming right up beside him. He jumped onto the high seat behind him, landing in the tourists’ laps. He laughs now, recalling the day: “I don’t know who was more surprised, the lion or the guests.”
Text by Liesl Jobson