Sakkie Haufiku is the man with the keys to Twyfelfontein Country Lodge, and to a successful career in tourism. Sakkie has travelled far from his roots as the son of a farmer in Ohangwena to become the assistant manager of one of Namibia's premier lodges. After finishing grade 12 he met, by chance, a VSO teacher doing career guidance, who suggested he study food and beverages at Valombola Vocational Training Centre, launching Sakkie into the hotel and tourism industry.
While his mates at the training centre donned mechanics overalls, Sakkie pulled on a white jacket and chef's hat, causing some amusement. It was considered "a woman's job", and there were only three men in the class of sixteen.
But the move paid off. Namibia Country Lodges were on the lookout for talent, and they gave Sakkie Haufiku a bursary to study, on the condition, of course, that he would work for the hotel and tourism company later. Namibia Country Lodges prides itself on its relationship with rural communities, especially the communal conservancies, with which it has joint venture agreements. Apart form paying levies to conservancies, which are invested in rural development, the lodges provide employment opportunities, and employees are encouraged to set their sights high.
Sakkie's first position was as duty manger in his home area, at Oshakati Country Lodge, learning the ropes in reception, kitchen management and accounts. With that experience he thought he should study further, and attended the Polytechnic's 3 year instructor's course, which would prepare him to teach subjects like his own speciality, food and beverages. But the course was expensive and Sakkie's savings didn't go far enough. He completed stage 1, and then asked Namibia Country Lodges if there was another opening for him.
Which is how he came to be duty manager at Twyfelfontein, before he was promoted to assistant manager and given the keys to the lodge. It's quite a job, he chuckles, especially the planning. Twyfelfontein is far from any shops, and even further from Windhoek, which is where the prime cuts of meat, vegetables and wines are sourced. The lodge has a refrigerated truck that makes the 1,000 kilometre round trip twice a month. It is the assistant manager's job to make sure that nothing runs out. When a bus load of tourists arrive, all wanting a cold beer or coke, nobody wants to be disappointed.
Sakkie looks at the spectacular landscape around the lodge and admits that it is amazing: "one of the best," he says. Does he miss Ohangwena, which is very different? He doesn't have time to think about it, he says. Tourists keep him busy six days a week, night and day. When he does have a day off there is no way he could get back to the north. But he misses home cooking and Oshifima, although the lodge buffet of beef, lamb and crocodile tail is a succulent alternative.
"You have to have a heart for tourism," says Sakkie, and gives a huge laugh. "You must love it, to do it 7 days a week!" There are plenty of rewarding moments, he says. Tourists really appreciate the good food, the beautiful landscapes and quality guiding that the lodge staff offer.
There are complaints to deal with as well. Some visitors are used to air conditioning and fridges in the rooms, and expect 5 star comfort even in the arid semi-desert. Dealing with complaints is all part of the job. Sometimes guests are surprised to see Sakkie's beaming black face when they ask to see the manager, but his natural charm soon defuses the situation. Being black also has its advantages when dealing with staff, who are sometimes unwilling to take problems to white managers.
But the black-white thing is becoming part of the past. Sakkie explains that he is involved in top level company decisions and is part of the Country Lodges team. It is the future he is interested in. A manager's post would be the first priority and then, who knows, "perhaps a small lodge of my own with 10 rooms, maybe," he muses.
The future for Namibia is clearly in tourism, he believes. Both of his elder brothers work as tour guides, and he has the keys to his own success in his hands. He certainly has the last laugh on his mates who thought him funny in a chef's hat.