A Family Story

Jembisa is the product of a family story. It was built by a family who wanted to provide their children with an African ‘barefoot in the bush’ childhood. Africa was in the parents blood as they had met in Johannesburg after university in England and the wife had been born and enjoyed  a glorious childhood in Zambia.

A young family sets out on an African adventure

In 1995, with two little girls aged 2 and 3 and the third child two months away from being born, they moved to Johannesburg. Having already identified the Waterberg as the area that they wanted to move to, the husband daily drove the 3 hours north to explore the area with a local expert and property agent, Mr Billy Steenkamp. Whenever a likely property was identified the very pregnant wife was also driven up to the area – some of the roads being very corrugated and causing alarming thoughts that it might bring on the early arrival of the baby. After 6 months, the perfect properties were identified in the most beautiful area within the altogether spectacularly beautiful wilderness plateau that is the Waterberg.

Two properties were purchased, one a game farm and the other a game and cattle farm. This was the beginning of the Jembisa game reserve. A development plan was drawn up, fences removed, the land rehabilitated and some wildlife species were re-introduced.

Carefully chosen and lovingly built

The new baby, a boy, was born in Johannesburg and the family moved up to Jembisa in mid 1996. To begin with they lived in one of the existing cottages  - Kingfisher Cottage - while they, with the help of a local architect – Mrs Dale Erasmus- designed their African Bush Home. The result is Jembisa Bush Home. It was built from largely local materials with the thatch from the roof harvested from local grasslands, and the rocks literally gathered from within a 1km of the building. The result is a beautiful, graceful, spacious house that sits in it’s environment with great ease.

Whilst in a spectacular setting high above the Palala river, it was built back from the edge in order to prevent it being visible from afar in this wilderness area. This also provided area for a lawn around the house. A wide deck was built around a magnificent tambootie tree at the front of the garden from which the spectacular views of the river and wilderness can be enjoyed. One of the favourite spots for those wishing to hold their wedding at Jembisa.

In  a nutshell, the family enjoyed 9 years of living in this wilderness paradise. Throughout this time there were many adventures, the children turned from little English children to bushbabies and then grew up into their early teens, real children of the African bush. They became a part of the fascinating community who live in the Waterberg and still maintain close links with them.

Active in the Community

In 2000, the wife, in response to the HIV needs in the local community, started the Waterberg Welfare society. This has grown and now employs over 70 people and covers all areas of need such as educational programmes in local schools, a pre-school for orphans and vulnerable children, a hospice and testing and counselling services. More can be read about this in the Community page on this site. The husband was very involved in the Waterberg nature conservancy, a local organisation consisting of the majority of landowners in the Waterberg committed to following good conservation and community practice.

Growing up in the bush

The children were schooled on the reserve in a small rondavel. They were taught by the wonderful Mrs Grobelaar and other local children joined the school, so that there were  a total of 8 children from 5 years to 11years. School was only held in the morning and a common occurrence was for the vervet monekys to sneak into the schoolroom when no-one was looking and steal the snacks for break. The children learnt how to catch, fry and eat local food including flying ants and a beetle called a ‘butter bum’. The children became true bushbabies.

In 2004 the family moved back to England. This had always been the plan as there were family interests that they were moving to and also the idyllic bush schooling couldn’t be sustained for secondary school.

The atmosphere so specially created lives on in the the Safari Lodge

Jembisa had been designed from the start to be used as a place for small groups or families to come on safari and enjoy the activities and safari experiences that the family had enjoyed. As a result of the family heritage – Jembisa offers a wide variety of activities for children and families, tried and tested by the original family. One of the childrens bedrooms was built with plumbing in the walls, knowing that it would be turned into a bathroom once the home became a safari lodge.

This piece of Africa smiles on me more than any other... 

The family still spend several weeks a year back in their bush home and the rest of the time it is available for couples, families and friends to enjoy. It has also become popular with those wanting a safari wedding due to the wonderful atmosphere, setting and opportunity to house larger parties in the three bush cottages scattered over the reserve. The experiences that the family enjoyed whilst living there are clearly still enjoyed by the guests as evidenced in the wonderful comments and number of guests who return regularly feeling that it is also partly their bush home, and that they are a part of the story too, which they are.