Celebrating 25 years with Gondwana – Green hands
Manni Goldbeck discusses Gondwana’s ten most important achievements.
During the Gondwana Collection Namibia’s 25th anniversary year we celebrate the rich history of the company. We recall the inspiring, interesting, humorous and heart-warming stories that have shaped the company. While we are sharing these fascinating stories, Gondwana’s CEO Gys Joubert and Media Coordinator Ndinelao Shikemeni sit down with founder Manni Goldbeck to take a walk down memory lane and find out what he sees as the company’s ten most important achievements.
Gys continues the discussion from Friday, posing the following question:
“Which other achievements from your long journey with Gondwana are closest to your heart, Manni?”
“They are all so close to my heart, Gys. Gondwana’s ‘Green Hands’, and by that I mean Sustainability and the concept of ‘Rewilding’ are very important to me. Our Environmental and Social Impact Manager, Quintin Hartung, categorises it more formally into seven areas: landscapes, wildlife, water, trees, energy, waste and communities. Our important symbiosis with communities and conservancies warrants its own platform and I’ll discuss it later on.”
Engaging conversations (ltr): Gys Joubert (Gondwana’s Managing Director), Ndinelao Shikemeni (Media Coordinator) and Manni Goldbeck (Brand & Marketing Director). Photos: Gondwana Collection
Ndinelao asks Manni: “Where did it start, this concept of rewilding that you are so passionate about?”
It was at the heart of everything Nela, or to use another metaphor, it was the seed from which the great big, lush tree of Gondwana grew. In 1996 we were drawn to the canyon with the dream to start a conservation area. It began simply with a single farm and would grow into the vast conservation area, the Gondwana Canyon Park, over the next two decades. It was a dream to rewild land that lay barren after intensive sheep farming, hunting and drought. The eastern part of the canyon was not sustainable using old land-use forms like farming as it was too dry and the rainfall too unpredictable. We realised that in the long-term the only land-use form that would be able to fund a conservation area would be eco-tourism, and this initiated our first lodge, Canyon Lodge. Our dream to create a conservation area did not stem from the desire to own land, but from the desire to be custodians of the land or a landscape, to care for it and preserve it for future generations This was the essence from which we coined the Gondwana motto: ‘Give back to nature what belongs to nature’.
“And was this dream realised?”
“Yes. It took many years, but gradually the conservation area grew, fences were dismantled and wildlife that once existed in the area was reintroduced. I’ll never forget the joy we felt as that last roll of fence was removed. (He pauses and grins before continuing . . .) The vegetation regenerated and the greater Fish River Canyon complex was restocked with wildlife. One of the greatest compliments I ever received was from a repeat guest who returned to Canyon Lodge and said: ‘You have brought life back to the canyon.’ And this includes bringing people to the canyon to laugh and appreciate its beauty.
“Being environmentally conscious didn’t end there, however. It was instilled in our DNA right from the start. It was always important to have the smallest possible environmental impact on the land, and as the company grew this was rolled out to all the lodges. A self-sufficiency centre was started at Canyon Lodge in the early days where fresh produce was grown and where a small dairy, cheesery and butchery was housed. This would move to the Kalahari Farmhouse in Stampriet later on and would provide employment for many. Our first recycling plants were our piggies that ate all the leftover food scraps. The three R’s – Reduce, Re-use and Recycle – always played a part expressing our intention to honour and respect Nature. Sustainability has been deeply entrenched in the company from early days. It came naturally to us to reuse and upcycle, and this has continued today as seen in our most recent lodge, Etosha King Nehale, which was built with sandbags.
“As far as rewilding goes, we continued to rewild the smaller conservation areas around our other lodges as well and reintroduced wildlife to the Gondwana Kalahari Park and the magnificent land surrounding Namib Desert Lodge where plains zebra now wander and giraffe lope across the plains. It is heart-warming to see, especially in this exquisite green season we are presently experiencing. We have park wardens and rangers who monitor the conservation areas on a full-time basis.”
“Is there a memorable moment that stays with you encapsulating your intention to leave a small environmental footprint?”
“There is, Nela. Water recycling plants have been installed at almost every Gondwana lodge now. These enable recycled water to be reused for the indigenous gardens that we established at the lodges. I was envious of the one I saw at NWR’s Hobas camp in the early days and wanted to install one at Canyon Lodge but at the time we lacked the funds. I’ll always fondly remember the first recycling plant we built at Namib Desert Lodge. It was a powerful moment. To be able to green the desert is life-affirming. Canyon Lodge followed and then the rest of the lodges. I would be a happy man to see every lodge in the country with a water recycling plant. Like many things, they come at a cost, but make a big difference.”
“And what about energy, are the lodges using green energy?”
“Yes, the lodges have arrays of solar panels, built with a double purpose to provide shaded parking for vehicles. They generate more than half of all the electrical energy required. In our first building phase at Canyon Lodge we wanted to provide solar-generated hot water for our guests, but the concept was still very new and the overseas company that provided us with our first solar water heaters didn’t take into account the fierce canyon heat and the water heaters disintegrated. Today the technology has advanced and we use solar water heating and solar electrical energy without a glitch.”
Followed by Gys:
“Before we end off this conversation about Gondwana’s ‘Green Hands’, Manni, can you tell us briefly about your quiver tree project? I’ve watched the quiver trees grow steadily over the years at Canyon Village. We’ve shared the sentiment before that one of the most beneficial things anyone can do for the planet is to plant a tree or trees.”
“Yes, absolutely, Gys, and if I had a chance to go back in time, I would plant more trees at our lodges. This is something Quintin and his team are busy doing at the moment. It’s imperative for the planet and for future generations. The quiver tree project is very close to my heart. It is the iconic tree of southern Namibia. In the late 90s when we started at the canyon, we witnessed how overgrazing and droughts, and some even say global warming, had a large impact on the quiver tree clusters, so from early on we started our own quiver tree nursery and have nurtured and raised thousands of trees. The quiver trees planted at Canyon Village in 2008 are slowly growing into a small forest. We also started monitoring the trees in the area and today we are in a good position to determine the age of quiver trees.”
In conclusion, Ndinelao asks:
“Is there anything you would like to add here, Manni?”
“I would, Nela. I am extremely proud of the many eco- and enviro-awards that Gondwana has received over the years. I have come to understand during my lifetime and my years with Gondwana that life is about giving, and giving back to the earth and honouring and respecting it is the only way for a great big tree to grow and flourish. Thank you.”
“And thank you, Manni and Gys. We look forward to continuing to share the ten most important achievements with all our Gondwana friends on Tuesday. This time we will be discussing Gondwana’s involvement with local communities and the Gondwana Care Trust. Until then, take care and keep well.”