Zimbabwe is one of the last countries of the world where the endangered black and white rhinos can be seen roaming freely. A mystery camp in the Southern part of the country, Amalinda, has within its natural fences this amazing specie (VIDEO). Amalinda also holds the keys to Africa’s history being the “neighbourhood area” of both King Mzilikazi Khumalo and iconic British explorer Cecil John Rhodes.
ZimEye caught up with founding director Sharon Stead who explains the mystery behind Amalinda.
QU: Your company specialises in hospitality and marketing Zimbabwe’s heritage sites, is that correct?
Sharon: That’s a fairly accurate description; my company comprises of 3 lodges and a touring bus service and the entire collection is marketed by myself and my marketing department to local, regional and international arenas. They are each positioned in iconic areas in Zimbabwe which embrace history, culture and amazing wildlife. It’s a very easy sell.
QU: Please give us a short overview of your company and what it offers to
tourists and local/returning Zimbos.
Sharon: It’s probably easier to go onto our website: www.amalindacollection.com but to give you a short idea; we have a lodge in Matopos, Camp Amalinda – it’s our 25 year old flagship. For returning residents, Matopos holds quite a dear place in many hearts because of its spirituality, history and culture. As kids many will remember either camping in the hills, cycling out from Bulawayo or having braai’s in the many picnic spots. I remember having many new years’ parties at Rhodes Grave and Maleme dam. It’s one of the last places in Zimbabwe that you can see rhino, black and white and through our efforts we have been assisting National Parks in rebuilding the fence around Rhodes Matopos National Park in order to further secure this area for the existing rhino. Of course the bushman paintings are phenomenal – still so well preserved and one of our guides at Amalinda is an Archeologist who has fascinating stories of the trials and tribulations of the bushmen. We developed a tour, Mzilikazi Footprint – war of warriors and this is guided by Paul Hubbard, our resident guide and tells the ‘other’ side of history unknown to many Zimbo’s who were taught in ‘pre-Zimbabwe’ schools. In Hwange we have Ivory Lodge which is a wonderful family safari camp offering the Big 4, game drives and game experiences at good Zimbo rates. And close by, we’ve build a 5 star offering called Khulu Ivory, which, only having being rebuilt after a fire burnt it to the ground in May, is now an award winning lodge and has become known as the signature camp of The Amalinda Collection. It offers fine dining, personalized service, private game drives and walks with Pro Guides, Nespresso Machines and mini bars in the rooms – all leveled at the discerning international traveller who aspires to the finer attributes of an old world safari. Tuskers campsite is a perfect place for over-land vehicles who like to go really raw and get close to nature. It’s really suitable for 4×4 safari vehicles but has the added value of hot and cold water showers for the ‘glampers’ (glamorous campers). And there are plans for building a plunge pool in the future.
QU: Please point us to a standard package your company currently offers to
someone visiting the Matopos?
Sharon: Currently we offer Zimbabweans with visiting friends and family rates within our rate structure; if you can prove you are Zimbabwean, have a residence permit/work permit you are entitled to a discounted rate which starts from US$150 per person per night. This price includes accommodation and the 3 meals per day and we can add on the extras like game drives and drinks. Matopos and Hwange are great self drive regions and most visitors to these areas are happy to conduct their own activities in the National Park; however, nothing beats being on the back of an open landrover with a professional guide to personally take you to areas you may not have been able to access or wildlife that you may have missed by being in your own vehicle. And options like game drives/walks tracking rhino can be paid for in camp at an extra cost of $65 per person per drive.
QU: You have gone on record saying Zimbabweans should consider returning
home. What gives you the confidence to say make such a bold declaration
since you are a white Zimbabwean and most white Zimbos have left the
country and are generally negative towards the nation’s current status quo.
Sharon: It’s a valid question and being the controversial person that I am, I’ll say I have every right and confidence to say just that – I travel the world marketing my country and give talks presentations on my properties. I see how the rest of the world lives, I speak to foreigners who get bitten by the African bug and can’t ever get the longing and urge to return to Africa out of their blood. They talk to me about not sleeping trying to figure out a way or opportunity to return. Zimbabwe, once known as the pearl of Africa to the travel agents internationally because of the ease of access, wild life splendor and friendliness, hospitality of our people is now back on the map due to the dollarization in 2009. I know that every time I come home from these trips, I thank the Gods above that I am Zimbabwean and that I’m blessed to still live here. Yes, being a white Zimbo has its challenges – we are the minority and are constantly being viewed with suspicion and jealousy In tourism we understand more infinitely the mentality and expectations of the international traveller. Marketing is all about relationships, relationships built on trust and an ability to deliver what is promised. I think that since my company/family have been in the business for 25 years we have stood the test of time, the hardships of what we term “the lost decade” between the years 2000 and 2010 when tourism plunged into almost non existence – those who were able to get through those years, who kept their staff employed, kept their lodges open (at whatever cost) have the edge on relationships with international/local agents.
Ex Zimbos’ are probably the most negative – probably because they feel disenfranchised, they’ve had to leave their homeland (for whatever reason) and still feel bitter – they constantly seek only the negative to justify their reasons for leaving and this is certainly very dangerous for the image of Zimbabwe and the image we, as people who are marketing the country are up against all the time. So I say, don’t throw stones, come back and enjoy your heritage; live precariously through current photos, tell the world how amazing your country is; talk of the wide open spaces, the magnificence of Hwange, Mana Pools and its wildlife, the majesty of the Vic Falls and Great Zimbabwe, of the spirituality of the Matobo Hills and awe-inspiring Gonorezhou. Knowing that the people in these areas are benefiting from tourism should be enough as this is the very topic that the Diaspora seem to be concerned about – they’re concerned for lack of housing, schooling facilities, clinics and that our people are getting enough to eat. Most privately owned lodges and safari operators have a link to some form of social responsibility – they are putting back into communities and wildlife much more than what these areas would see from government, so staying at lodges who have a strong connection to these responsibilities means that the assistance reach is huge. Supporting and staying in these lodges will help, and thats why I’m bold enough to encourage them to come home, on holiday or tell people to do so. Being negative about their homeland does not help this cause.
QU: How accurate are your views on the general Zim experience of life in
Sharon: I’m certainly not highly tuned to general life out in the sticks; however through my Trust and the work that we do in the communities surrounding our lodges, I have seen and continue to be sensitive to how tough rural life is. Oh it’s tough, and some areas of Zimbabwe are extremely arid and trying to harvest a living from these areas is almost impossible. These areas should be returned to natural and wildlife areas, we should stop kidding ourselves that people can fetch a life out of these places, just give it back to the wilds. When I’m in the rural areas working on our projects, I’m subjected to a small part of their lives and that’s why The Mother Africa Trust was born. I’ve got a strong passion to empower woman, to nurture their abilities to develop and become a force in society; being a woman in a very much male orientated society has taught me a great deal. I’m really interested in couching and sharing ways for other woman to gain this knowledge in order to level the gender playing fields in business. I hope that, to some extent, my work in these remote areas will have some impact, no matter how small – because if we start small, with time, we can change Zimbabwe, one person at a time.