While we’re all aware of how restaurants and accommodation providers are faring in the larger cities, what’s happening in areas further afield? Thanda Safari is a private game lodge located on 35 000 acres of bush in KwaZulu-Natal, and while it is not currently open to guests it has worked hard to support its staff during lockdown. Aside from the essential wildlife conservation and protection team, the few who have remained on the reserve, such as Chef Phathwa Mdlalose are attending to maintenance and improvements, carrying out training and making use of this time to ensure that Thanda Safari can return stronger once travel restrictions are lifted and guests can travel safely once more.

Head Chef Phathwa Mdlalose comes from a remote community called Mduku about half an hour away from Thanda Safari. He first worked at Thanda over 14 years ago under the then Executive Chef and left to advance his career further before returning again in 2016. Here, he chats about how the lockdown has affected Thanda Safari’s staff.

How are you? How are things on the reserve?

Very healthy and happy to still be an employee of Thanda Safari. As part of a small team on the reserve, I have been busy working on a lot of maintenance in all lodges, including the kitchens, during this time. Multi-tasking and team work is the order of the day.

How have you found lockdown?

In truth I am less happy that our guests have had to stay away from us and that so many of our staff had to leave the reserve due to lockdown. But the fact that I am 100% healthy and still employed by Thanda brings lots of hope.

How has lockdown affected you and your family?

My two brothers lost their jobs and our kids had to stay at home as they couldn’t attend school but we are grateful that we are all enjoying the privilege of still being safe from COVID- 19 at least.

Has the lack of tourism affected the area?

Over 14% of my community lost their jobs when tourism businesses were unable to operate. These included the traditional dancers and singers who performed regularly at Thanda and other nearby reserves; drivers, either for guest transfers or to drive staff to/from their villages to work, and many others who supported the tourism operation from behind the scenes. This period has really put the spotlight on how much tourism really helps foster job creation which in turn helps empower our communities. Our guests’ absence is deeply felt.

How has your job changed?

I have worked hard to develop a career in cooking five star food and not being able to exercise my culinary skills is concerning.

What does the future look like, are you looking forward to Thanda Safari opening to tourists again?

Indeed, I’m looking forward to getting such opportunity again – it is why we are spending so much time on lodge maintenance and restructuring our ways of impressing the guests when they return.

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