DREAM DIARIES CHAPTER THREE – A story of leadership, community, and resilience by Chelsey Hale
Situated within the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, Mount Savannah Game Reserve is the ideal base from which to discover the birthplace of humanity. Brimming with a bounty of wildlife, this simple yet soul-filling retreat ticks all the right boxes for adventurers and nature-lovers looking to reconnect with nature.
“Mount Savannah has long attracted those looking to fully appreciate the harmony of the great outdoors,”’says Gliden Zwane, General Manager. “It’s the kind of place to savour unhurried breakfasts and home-style dinners cooked right over the braai — a place to kick off your shoes and relax with a glass of something crisp and cold as the sun dips behind the horizon.”
That said, it’s hard to imagine that life at Mount Savannah hasn’t always been so idyllic. After surviving South Africa’s series of hard lockdowns, the team suffered another major setback after a wildfire almost destroyed the property in August this year.
Fight or Flight: A fire on the hills
Veld fires have notoriously destroyed more than two million hectares in the Free State, North West, Northern Cape and Eastern Cape this year,” Gliden explains. “Here in South Africa’s dry Highveld, a fire tops the list as one of the biggest threats for emerging farmers, tribal lands, and the surrounding environment.”
In the early hours of Monday morning on 2 August, strong winds pushed a blazing inferno in a northeasterly direction and straight towards the collection of lodges situated on the reserve.
“At first, all we could see was a billowing cloud of black smoke. We assumed that it was a controlled fire, however, it quickly began to spread in our direction sounding much like a fast-moving train fitted with a million horsepower engine – completely unstoppable!”
As it fast-approached, Gliden realised that unless they acted quickly, he and his team were set to lose everything they had worked so hard to build.
“At that moment, I had a difficult decision to make as the general manager: to head to safety and wait for the fire service department to arrive, or to use what resources we had to save our lodge.”
As Gliden and his team decided to do what they could to tame the fire, hope soon arrived in the form of neighbouring farmers. “They lobbied back and forth from the reserve bringing water and assisting us in fighting the fire with their own fire units,” he explains.
Amongst the services which eventually arrived on the scene were the West Rand District Municipality fire services, Fire Ops SA, Conserv Security, Weltevreden FPA, Muldersdrift FPA, and Netcare 911.
“Through an immense amount of teamwork, the community was able to help us save the main lodge area despite minor damages to its thatch roof. Unfortunately, two accommodation units were completely burnt but thankfully, no one was harmed as we came head to head with the fire.”
Rising from the Ashes
As the team has slowly begun the rebuilding process, it’s important to note that much of Mount Savannah’s resilience and the ability of its team to overcome challenges is owed to the dedication of Gliden.
Over the years, he has quickly built up a reputation as a respected leader across multiple lodges and hotels under the Dream Hotels & Resorts portfolio.
“Before taking on his role as General Manager at Mount Savannah, Gliden was recognised for his development potential at Burchell’s Bush Lodge, one of our properties bordering the Kruger Park,” says Nick Dickson, the company’s CEO.
Gliden’s unassuming yet strong leadership style also led to him being the top choice to lead one of their stretch projects called “The Art of War.
“Our primary goal through this initiative is to build social coherence and strengthen relationships with the local communities surrounding our properties — a valuable lesson learnt during the unrest in Kwa-Zulu Natal and Gauteng in July,” Dickson explains.
In response, Gliden insists that he’s not one who likes being in the spotlight but humbly admits that a lot of their success at Mount Savannah comes down to his management style. “I don’t criticise, judge, or patronise any of my co-workers. Instead, I encourage everyone to express their ideas,” he says.
Despite suffering health issues from breathing in smoke, he has since ensured the prompt reconstruction of Mount Savannah since the fire.
“It hasn’t been an easy few months but what we’ve learnt is that everything that happens is a chance to move forward, especially if we choose to keep an even keel, to see the good in a situation, and most of all, to actively create opportunities instead of waiting for them.”
After a visit to the doctor, Gliden also admits to feeling completely devastated. “I felt weak and sad. I could have easily spiralled further down into a dark place, but I was fortunate to have my family colleagues and directors at my side providing endless care and support. It will still take some time for my lungs to fully heal, but at least the worst is over.”
Mount Savannah Community Work
Glidon and his team have also continued to focus on uplifting their community. Since taking on the role as General Manager, his primary focus at Mount Savannah has long been to nurture a positive reputation within the surrounding community where the lodge is located.
“In my experience, employees and community leaders respect other leaders who proactively decide to do good things and encourage teamwork and unity within their area,” he explains.
“A good leader should be able to find something to inspire their employees to get out there and make good things happen. This could be by, donating books at your local library or contributing to schools. Any amount of effort, large or small, can make a difference.”
Their next project at Mount Savannah is to run a competitive drive to collect books and raise enough funds to assist local families and their children who are in need.
“Sometimes the best service we can offer as a business, but also as individuals, is to show that we genuinely care about the community in which we live and serve,” Gliden explains. “Despite our setbacks, our primary goal is always to create something of valuable consequence to our community,” he concludes.
Read the story in Responsible Traveller Digital Mag HERE and Dream Diaries Chapter Two HERE