Everybody should have a chance to star. Way back in 1974 at a classical concert in London, a singer collapsed, whereupon a music student from the audience calmly made his way up to the stage and took his place. As the conductor said afterwards “I only hoped he could sing.”

Dawid Eiseb’s moment of fame came just as suddenly last Thursday night at the Song Competition at Tourism Expo, when the MC failed to turn up. What do you do when there is no Master of Ceremonies? WWF’s tourism adviser Usiel Ndjavera had a bright idea – ask Dawid Eiseb, the young manager of Sorris-Sorris Conservancy.

Eiseb didn’t need to be asked twice before bounding onto the stage and grabbing (one) the microphone and (two) everybody’s attention. To be fair, it was a double act. WWF’s elegant and enthusiastic Ingelore Katjingisiua shared the stage, and between them they soon had the audience in just the right mood for a song competition.

Eiseb grew up in Sorris Sorris, which sits at a key junction in Damaraland, connecting Swakopmund, Khorixas and Twyfelfontein. Many tourists pass by, but before the conservancy office and information centre was built, that’s all the tourists did: pass by.

The conservancy has traditionally earned its income from trophy hunting. The few animals that are shot – usually older males – provide sufficient income through the sustainable use of wildlife to pay the salaries of game guards, who put a stop to illegal hunting – poaching. The net effect is that wildlife increases.

Sorris Sorris straddles the Ugab River, which passes below the Brandberg. It is a favourite route for elephants: a big draw for tourists. Eiseb is usually on hand at the conservancy office when tour busses drop in. There is a drinks kiosk and information centre, and Eiseb talks to the tourists, all of whom want to see Namibia’s wildlife.

Like many conservancies in scenic areas, the chance for Sorris Sorris to earn money from tourism rather than hunting is an attractive option. Apart from the fact that few people want to see wildlife hunted, tourism provides new income opportunities, such as jobs in lodges, as tour guides and as craft makers.

Sorris Sorris has seen the opportunity, and together with private investor Vitor Azevedo, representing NES, Namibia Exclusive Safaris, the conservancy is developing a joint venture lodge to be called /Horoti, which takes its name from the giant rock formations to be found in the area. The lodge will overlook the Ugab and the Brandberg, and will be part of a chain of NES lodges stretching from Kunene to Etosha.

Joint venture lodges are staffed by locals, who often sing to guests after dinner. Some of the lodges have sent choirs to perform at Tourism Expo for the last four years. This year the competition was widened to include cultural groups, and was renamed the Conservation Tourism Song Competition. To the joy of many in the audience, first time participants Okakondo Cultural Group came second, with an exhuberant display of Owambo dancing that had the stage bouncing.

For the second year running Twyfelfontein Country Lodge took the first prize: N$ 10,000 given by Standard Bank. Total prize money from the bank was N$ 40,000, with each winning group in four regions receiving N$ 2,500. The event was sponsored by the Environmental Investment Fund of Namibia.

Eiseb made the most of his chance as MC, and kept the audience on tenterhooks until the last moment. He sees his future in tourism and management, and has completed a distance course certificate in tourism with Witts University in South Africa. In a small place like Sorris Sorris, where the main activity has always been sheep farming, the conservancy has provided new opportunities for people like Eiseb to shine, and to foresee economic development for the area. MC stands for much more than Master of Ceremonies, according to Eiseb, it also means Manager of the Conservancy.

Steve Felton
Find more news stories on these themes: