No, seriously, if you have the means, what reason on earth is there not to live at Mabalingwe? It not only has a Bushveld atmosphere, it is the Bushveld, with its curling hills studded with boulders, with its covering of Mopani and thorn trees, its hard dusty earth, and, of course its animals that seemingly come in fives: big five, small five, and as we learnt, even ugly five. Yet the Mabalingwe lifestyle is not the rough-and-tumble, can-of-the-best Bushveld thing. Mabalingwe is a luxury game reserve and a number of very fortunate private individuals were allowed to build luxury homes, all within certain design parameters. Spacious thatched-roofed, timber-adorned, dark-bricked Bushveld villas are tucked into folds and against the slopes of the hills, comfortably shaded in against the backdrop of the veld. To sit on a wide wooden deck at Mabalingwe and gaze out towards the plains to the west and imbibing a favourite tipple, is an experiment in total contentment.
It’s like another country, this 8,000 hectare utopia, and overseeing it, with specific reference to the game populating the reserve, is Hannes Wessels. He is that particular breed of the best type of conservationist: the conservative, devout believer. His entire conservation philosophy is based on the very basic principle of respect for the animal and the creation, without ever suffering the angst of trying to elevate the animal kingdom above the well-being of mankind.
Hannes recently connected with the South African Predator Association when he donated five tons of meat to the malnourished lions of Walter Slippers in Alldays. He is utterly matter-of-fact about the handsome donation, "I had the meat; the lions needed it." Punctuate with shrug. Nonchalance aside, Hannes Wessels is clearly passionate about all animals, but lions in particular.
He’s had lots of experience with the regal predator of Africa and has raised quite a number of them. Initially the cubs were hand-raised, but he developed a distaste for the method. There are now three adult lions on Mabalingwe, in lavish enclosures off-limits to casual visitors. He breeds lions for the relocation market.
Like any true and effective conservationist, Hannes is a pragmatist. He knows that if an animal is stripped of commercial value, it is doomed. The flipside is that an animal with a price tag plays a valuable role in conservation. Every cent which accrued from the sale of lion cubs went straight into the conservation efforts on Mabalingwe. So it is understandable that what really gets his goat are the preening animal rights nobility living in mollycoddling luxury doing their best to hamper his efforts and that of other true conservationists. He is especially scathing in his comments about the misinformation drive by DSTV’s Carte Blanche and the Blood Lions sham documentary.
Mabalingwe is far removed from the corridors of state power, but it has its own force, a resilience and a dynamism connected to many other currents of energy. It forms part of a meta-collection of farms and reserves which is so wide and strong it will withstand the tempests of political upheaval. It is here to stay. They make a statement punctuated with a generous donation of meat; one conservationist to a population of lions in need of a helping hand.
And when you drink coffee on the deck of the Mabalingwe restaurant and you watch a fish eagle stretch its wide, wide wings, you know that if the delusional animal rights warriors can be fended off, the wild animals in South Africa are in good shape. People like Hannes Wessels are looking out for them.