Born Into the Apartheid, Bred Into Nature

By: Gillian Meier

Richard Satekge(33) is one of six children born to a builder and a housekeeper at the height of the apartheid oppression. He grew up in the small village of Batlokwa (Matoks) a village between Polokwane (Pietersburg) and Louis Trichardt on the Tropic of Capricorn, in the north of South Africa. Richard's parents had high hopes that their bright son would become a school teacher. But Richard had other ideas -nature conservation was where he was heading.

This is the story of Richard Satekge is a remarkable African tale of a dream that is realized despite the challenges and obstacle faced by poverty, lack of education and oppression. It is a typical South African story of perseverance and triumph.

Richard noticed that times were changing and that more and more opportunities were being opened up for bright, intelligent young South Africans. His determination instilled in him a sense of hope. During his schooling, Richard recognized that he was most excited by the subject of biology. It didn't take him long to apply at the Pretoria Technikon (now the Tshwane University of Technology) to pursue studies in nature conservation.

Conquering the challenges: At the end of his first year of studies, Richard was faced with financial challenges and was unable to pay his tuition and so his results were withheld. Just as Richard was about to throw in the towel he saw the light at the end of the tunnel. The department of nature conservation agreed that they would settle Richard's outstanding tuition, and further agreed to provide him with a bursary to complete his final two years. Overjoyed by the enlightening news, Richard was back on track with his nature conservation goal in sight. He decided to complete his third year and the practical in one go. He started a position with Natal Parks Board to do his practical, but after just 6 months he was told there was no longer sufficient funding for student practicals and that he would need to find an alternative facility that could enable him to complete his practical year as a student nature conservationist.

The detour that landed him his dream: Desperate to continue working in his field and not finding suitable employment, he landed up at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria doing volunteer work for a year, spending his time analyzing and identifying samples from living mammals.

A year later he was offered a permanent post. It wasn't Nature Conservation, but it was a paying job. One of his mentors heard that a reserve in the Kalahari Desert was looking for trainee field guides and at his instigation Richard applied and was chosen from a large group of candidates.

Destination Desert: Without a moment's hesitation, Richard relocated from the bustling city to the serene tranquility of the Kalahari Desert in 2002 to fulfill his dream. After completing his training at the Kalahari reserve he became a guide and spent three years guiding guests from around the world and opening their eyes to the secrets to the Kalahari.

A dream is realized: In December 2004, management at the reserve approached him with an offer to complete his Nature Conservation qualification (for which he would be given a mentorship and financial assistance), after which he would be made conservator of a section reserve that consisted of 25 000 hectares. This was a section of the Kalahari that Richard had come to love and he could finally feel his dreams becoming reality.

In November 2006 Richard Satekge completed his diploma in Nature Conservation and now has a slice of the Kalahari safely in his care. Richard believes that a combination of determination, dreams and hard work makes life very worthwhile, especially when you're living at in the Kalahari Desert.

A paradise which is the Kalahari: The reserve where Richard is based is situated in the Northern Cape Province of South Africa, covering 100 000 hectares of land on the edge of the mysterious desert wilderness that is the Kalahari. Free from malaria and other tropical diseases, the reserve houses over 70 species of mammal including lion, cheetah, desert black rhino, sable and roan antelope. More than 200 species of bird can also be found in the reserve. Although the reserve facilitates extraordinary luxury facilities, it is the whole-hearted commitment of the staff that gets tourists talking about this paradise which is the Kalahari.

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