Once a cattle herder and now the managing director of a tour company, Khimbini Hlongwane bears evidence to what can be achieved through determination and passion.
Hlongwane is the founder of Vomba Tours & Safaris, a tour operator based just outside the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga. Established in 2015, the company is a finalist in the prestigious Lilizela Awards in the category of black-owned tourism enterprises employing fewer than 50 people.
Hlongwane hails from a small village where he used to herd cattle and goats in the bush.
“This exposed me to wildlife from a young age and I was fascinated by the behaviour of various animals. It was really fun yet challenging because every day we had to try to find food without becoming food,” remembered Hlongwane.
His love for wildlife saw him joining Inyati Game Lodge in the Sabi Sand Game Reserve as an animal tracker in 1994. Five years later, he became a fully-fledged game ranger at the lodge, guiding tourists on game drives and walks. Now, 24 years after he entered the industry, Hlongwane has achieved his dream of operating his own company.
Vomba offers safaris in the Kruger National Park, village tours and trips to Mpumalanga’s Panorama Route and the Mozambican capital of Maputo.
Hlongwane said his company has improved the lives of his community members. “The people are proud to see what a company from the middle of nowhere is able to achieve, and it inspires them,” he said.
Vomba provides full-time employment to three locals and part-time and freelance work to another 12.
Future plans include educational safari drives into the Kruger Park, a collaboration with local crafters, a tented camp and an enlarged vehicle fleet.
“We are delighted we have been nominated as a finalist. We wish to thank all our clients and friends. I would like to give a special thank you to the Vomba team members for all their hard work.”