How a love for sto­ries helped to build the Gond­wana lodges

Though he’s a big-shot busi­ness­man, Man­nie Gold­beck, the man at the helm of the Gond­wana Col­lec­tion lodge group, is a down-to-earth tourism vi­sion­ary who be­lieves in the power of sto­ries.

“Tourists want sto­ries when they visit an­other coun­try,” says Man­nie Gold­beck. “So we tell sto­ries.”

Man­nie and I are hav­ing lunch in a quiet cor­ner of the Gond­wana hall at the Wind­hoek Show. Last night, Mervin Beukes from Re­hoboth won the in­au­gu­ral Okam­bashu Story Quest (see next page) – a com­pe­ti­tion to find the best sto­ry­tellers in Namibia, which re­ceived more than a 100 en­tries in its first year. Man­nie, the man­ag­ing direc­tor of the Gond­wana Col­lec­tion, an as­sort­ment of lodges and tourism projects all over the coun­try, was in­volved.

“At Gond­wana, we want to re­vive the tra­di­tion of sto­ry­telling in Namibia,” he says. It’s no sur­prise that the com­pe­ti­tion ties in with Gond­wana’s new motto: “Have a story to tell.”

“Whether we tell sto­ries to our guests or they go home and tell their own sto­ries, it all comes down to sto­ries,” says Man­nie.

Man­nie is a third-gen­er­a­tion Namib­ian, who grew up on a farm east of Wind­hoek. His grand­fa­ther was a Ger­man sol­dier who set­tled here in 1890. As a young boy, Man­nie dreamt of be­ing a jour­nal­ist, but he be­came a teacher in­stead. He taught his­tory and geog­ra­phy at Con­cor­dia Col­lege in Wind­hoek. Then, 25 years ago, he de­cided to switch to a ca­reer in tourism.

“At first I had a tour­ing com­pany called Top Travel, which I sold when I re­alised there was a real need for ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions near the Fish River Canyon,” he says. “At the time only Ai-Ais was avail­able. Peo­ple vis­it­ing the canyon had to stay as far away as Keet­man­shoop.

“So with the help of my busi­ness part­ners, I started buy­ing up sheep farms near the canyon. It was dur­ing a pe­riod of pro­longed drought and many farm­ers had lost money or moved away. We wanted to cre­ate a huge con­ser­va­tion area called the Gond­wana Canyon Park. The park now cov­ers 130 000 hectares.”

The fences on the old farms were dis­man­tled and the bound­ary fences next to gov­ern­ment land were lifted. “Most of the game had been killed,” Man­nie says. “So we rein­tro­duced gi­raffe, har­te­beest, wilde­beest, spring­bok and moun­tain ze­bra.”

Of course, you need an in­come to fund con­ser­va­tion work. “We weren’t farm­ing with sheep any more, we were farm­ing with tourists,” laughs Man­nie.

An old farm­house on one of the sheep farms called Kairos was a Bavar­ian man­sion built in the early 1900s. Man­nie con­verted it into the Canyon Lodge and wel­comed his first guests in Novem­ber 1995. (The wrought-iron bed mounted on the roof of the house is a Bavar­ian tra­di­tion: It shows that a bach­e­lor lives in the house, wait­ing for a bride…)

Canyon Road­house (with a vin­tage car theme) and Canyon Vil­lage fol­lowed soon af­ter, as did many other lodges through­out Namibia. Cur­rently, there are 14 lodges un­der the Gond­wana ban­ner, from the Zam­bezi River to Sos­susvlei and east into the Kala­hari.

Man­nie’s love for sto­ries is ev­i­dent in his other pas­sion: writ­ing. Since 2011, the Gond­wana Col­lec­tion has pub­lished about 20 books, all sold at the lodges.

“I’ve al­ways loved books,” he says. “One of my teach­ers nur­tured my in­ter­est in his­tory. Maybe the books have some­thing to do with my child­hood dream of be­ing a jour­nal­ist.”

Gond­wana’s His­tory Se­ries, which started as a weekly col­umn in Die Re­pub­likein and All­ge­meine Zeitung news­pa­pers in 2010, has grown into five books, with a sixth on the way. The sto­ries are filled with life and colour: Farm­ers try­ing to make rain us­ing rock­ets, di­a­mond smug­gling in a brothel, a farmer’s wife fight­ing off a lion with her bare hands…

Man­nie co-wrote his lat­est book The First World War in Namibia with war ex­pert Gor­don McGre­gor.

When Man­nie takes time off, he likes to travel out­side Namibia. Re­cently he went to Cuba; Mon­go­lia is on his bucket list. He also trav­els to South Africa a lot, a coun­try he de­scribes as his “sec­ond home”.

But most of the time this hum­ble en­tre­pre­neur just lives his pas­sion: farm­ing with sto­ries and tourists.

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