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William Hlatshwayo – Presidential Game Ranger

Hlangana na William – Meet William

Kruger Safari Drives- Nelson Mandela - Crowned Eagle Tours2

The founder of Crowned Eagle Tours and Safaris, William Hlatshwayo, was born and grew up near the exclusive Sabi Sand Game Reserve, bordering on the Kruger National Park.

After completing his primary school education, William’s mother couldn’t afford to keep paying for his education and William went to work at coal mines far away from home. After two years he returned home and his mother refused to allow him to return to the mines as she believed that they were too dangerous. In 1980 William secured a position at the world renowned Sabi Sand Game Reserve as a gardener. He excelled and soon was promoted to a waiter, a job that he did even better but William could not speak English and this was a major hindrance.

William was then promoted to tracker, a job he loved, as he did not have to speak English.  After working with a number of rangers who he saw come and go, William met Wayne Elliott, a white man studying conservation management at the time. Wayne immediately recognised the young William’s potential.

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After a week with Wayne, William realised that this man was not just another ranger but a brother, friend, father, teacher, adviser and mentor. Wayne refused to speak any language other than to William. Wayne bought books for William and taught him to read and write. It was normal that when Wayne bought something, he would buy two, one for himself, the other for William. When out on game drives, Wayne would swap seats with William. Wayne on the tracker seat, William in the driver seat, thus forcing William to conduct the game drive, speaking to and interacting with guests.

William would sometimes struggle, but Wayne would help with explanations, and convey what William could not express. William had no intention of becoming a ranger, this was after all, a white man’s job. He was just having fun, or so he thought…

They say that if you want to survive in the bush, follow the Baboons! They have a difficult life, constantly pursued by both lion and leopard, they have to find a safe roost for the night, and make certain that their offspring get sufficient nutritious food. While foraging, baboons will always ensure that all food goes past the nose first before it goes into the mouth, thus ensuring that it’s not poisonous.

These habits are passed down through generations and generations. With that, William, with no high school education, decided to stay away from politics and learn all he could, even if he never intended to apply it.

Kruger Safari Drives- Nelson Mandela - Crowned Eagle Tours4In 1986 when Wayne realised that William was ready to take guests out on safari on his own, he convinced Sabi Sand management that they had their first black ranger. Wayne had a difficult task ahead of him. Even convincing other rangers was difficult, though they knew that William was improving his English language skills day by day.

Wayne did not inform anyone that he was also secretly training William to handle the .375 caliber rifle and to conduct game drives when they were out in the bush. Wayne was concerned that he would lose his job had management found out.

Sabi Sand management eventually decided it was time to put William through his paces. William was already a firm favourite amongst Sabi Sand’s directors children, who it seemed could not get enough of William when they came to visit.

Finally, William would get his chance and was asked to take Sabi Sands’s directors for a test drive.

One evening, whist on a sundowner, Wayne broke the news that William would be compelled to help out the next day as there were not enough rangers to go round. William was finally allocated some guests.

“Don’t worry,” said Wayne, “and remember, you know a lot more about the bush than your guests. Simply talk about what you know best and when you get back to camp head straight for the pub and join your guests for dinner.”

Soon, around the bar, the other rangers began teasing William, saying he thought he was now a “mlungu” (white man), but William took this in his stride, and never looked back.

William was soon being allocated guests on a regular basis and quickly became Sabi Sand’s director’s ranger of choice. He was also hugely popular with the directors children.

4-Day-Kruger-Park-Safari-Mandela-Safari-Crowned-Eagle-ToursCraneWhen asked where he had obtained so much knowledge of the African bush, William would explain that it was part instinct, part knowledge handed down from generation to generation, and part experience gleaned while a heard boy in his village. The only problem was that William felt that he could not express himself adequately in English, this was until Wayne Elliot began teaching William to speak and write the language.

Shortly after having taken his first guests, William was surprised one day after breakfast when, having safely delivered his charges after an eventful outing, he was summoned to the Wayne’s office where with a strong African hand shake and a big hug, Wayne unceremoniously promoted William to Game Ranger and allocated him a permanent vehicle, rifle and a tracker. This was a dream come true for William, a goal he had secretly chased for so many years. That evening all of Sabi Sands trackers and rangers gathered around the bar to celebrate the appointment of South Africa’s first black game ranger.

William spent almost a decade at Sabi Sands, becoming the first black head ranger in South African to hold such a position.

Another surprise came when an American investor offered William a trip to the United States, a three month internship at Hawk Mountain Sanctuary in Pennsylvania. William was tasked with guiding guests to look outs, during the raptors annual migration and was involved in observing and identifying birds of prey, as well as bird counts, trapping, ringing and nurturing injured birds back to health, lecturing attending to crowds and delivering talks to schools in the area. William thoroughly enjoyed his time abroad and was able to tour parts of the the United States and Canada.

William Hlatshwayo


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