Five-star bush luxury in community-owned river lodge does us proud, writes Zenoyise Madikwa

A four-hour drive from Johannesburg to Thakadu River Camp left me filled with pride and hope for black South Africans.

Thakadu is a beautiful tented, five-star safari camp located in the Madikwe Game Reserve in North West, close to the Botswana border and its capital Gaborone.

I visited the area to attend the Fifth Heritage Park Walk.

On the way to the lodge we passed beautiful villages with houses bidding for top position of attractive architecture.

Though the houses which seductively face the road are in a village, they have many of the trappings of suburban homes - satellite dishes, tiled rooftops and manicured gardens.

And judging by the cleanliness of the area the people are proud and extremely hygienic too.

The beauty and warmth of the area extends to Madikwe Game Reserve, where Thakadu River Camp is set on the banks of the Marico River.

The camp is set within this riverine canopy and comprises 12-tented suites, each with their own viewing-deck overlooking the river. A perfect setting for a honeymoon.

Thakadu, which means aardvark in Setswana, is an exclusive and exciting safari experience.

Thakadu's rangers, who have an intimate knowledge of the area, drove us around Madikwe Game Reserve in an open vehicle, interpreting the encounters we had on the trip.

The malaria-free reserve has more than 13000 animals on its 76000ha and is home to an incredible variety of flora and fauna.

Black and white rhino roam the reserve, along with buffalo, lion, leopard, elephant, wild dog and cheetah.

The tents are beautifully decorated and spacious, styled in luxurious Afro-Asian design.

The use of natural stone, fibres, cloth and carpets as well as metal and wood features prominently throughout the camp.

The camp does not have TV or radio. The influence of the river is apparent, with the trees, birds and water providing a peaceful and tranquil mood.

Each tent has a sliding door that opens on to a private deck overlooking the river from which guests can view the wildlife in and around the river.

The main camp comprises an open-plan lounge, dining and reception area, with the pool and bar area offering views of the gully and river to the north.

Lodge manager John Ditsele told Sowetan that the five-star wonder is a community-owned and operated lodge.

It started operating last year and is one of only two such schemes in South Africa.

Ditsele, who is also a Molatedi community member, said the facility is an ecotourism partnership between the government, the Molatedi community and the operator, the Madikwe Collection.

"We have a 45-year lease to operate a commercial lodge with traversing rights across the reserve," he said.

"The community owns the development, with substantial benefits accruing to the community itself."

The staff, including the chef, the head ranger and the manager, come directly from the community.