With a smile as broad as his heart, this tree-hugging local will charm you, just as he charms snakes into snake boxes when he removes them from locals’ homes at the edge of Lake Sibaya. From Thonga Beach Lodge, Bheki Tembe (a royal surname, he jokingly explains), is passionate about his environment – fauna and flora alike. “As we are living in a World Heritage Site, the environment plays an important role in our lives” he tells me. “I appreciate the way this lodge is teaching me to look after my environment. I love nature – I have a soft spot in my heart for wildlife.”
I try to push him into telling me which type of wildlife is his favourite. “We’ve got a lot of small, rare species here that I love the most. Oh but I also love birds. And snakes and spiders. Oooh and trees!” Clearly asking him to choose is creating a Sophie’s-Choice-like angst in this prince of the environment, so I steer him gently to safer ground. With extensive indigenous knowledge, he can tell you which plants are used for medicinal purposes. Bheki is also active in local community development, and appreciates the way the lodge supports the local primary school. “We are also educating young people in the community. Our village was left behind in development in the country and now we are trying to uplift ourselves.”
Can this man be any more perfect? I smile back, a little smitten, and let him wax on about his beloved community and crawlies and green things, mesmerized under his charming spell.