We get to know our very own Chris Thwala
Chris is an integral part of the Stanley Safaris’ team working hard behind the scenes to ensure our guests are having the best safari possible. Chris is responsible for making all our guest bookings, reconfirming all services and ensures that every safari we book runs smoothly.
It’s an icy winter’s morning in Cape Town when I finally meet with Chris over zoom. As Shaun’s right hand man at Stanley Safaris, he’s a busy guy and this is our third attempt at meeting for an interview.
I’ve been looking forward to interviewing Chris for a while. He is the newest member of the Stanley Safaris team, but has a wealth of travel experience as well as multiple projects that he heads up in his personal time. He’s a really interesting person.
I ask Chris where he grew up.
“That’s a tricky one and you’re the second person to ask me this question this morning. So I was born in Johannesburg, but I grew up in Newcastle, which is sort of like Northeast of KwaZulu Natal okay? I spent my childhood there, but just when I was about to become a teenager, I moved to Johannesburg, to Alexandra specifically, which is north of Johannesburg. That’s where I spent my most of my teens, then I went to the UK and now here I am in Cape Town.”
Although Chris is a new member of the Stanley Safaris team, I know he has been working in the tourism industry for a long time. I ask if he always knew he wanted to work in this industry or if it’s just a path he stumbled upon.
“It’s definitely the latter,” he says, smiling. “It’s the path I found myself on, but I think I was in preparation for it, because I was in the church ministry before I started working in tourism. The ministry got me travelling, and I just fell in love with it – exploring different cultures and different countries.
“It made me more versatile rather than being homogeneous. So, rather than be just being a single focused person, travelling with the ministry opened my eyes to a lot of different things. I got to love poetry; I got to love arts; I got to love different foods, cultures, things like that.
“And my very first safari actually took place while I was still a minister. I went to Kenya’s Samburu National Park, and that’s when I really began to love safaris and tourism.”
Chris was only 19 when he did that trip. He was bitten by the bug pretty early in life.
I ask him what he does at Stanley Safaris. He gathers his thoughts for a moment.
“Because we are a small team, I assist our managing director with bookings. I do the back end of the business, and I make sure that our guests get the right accommodation. Essentially, I make sure that the administration process is flowing smoothly. From the quotation to issuing the travel documents, tickets and itineraries. I also organize site inspections, visit our suppliers, and just make sure that we are maintaining those very important relationships.”
When asked about his favourite part of this job, Chris thinks for a little while. The way he answers shows how much respect for this industry he has, and how well-suited to his occupation he is. He even asks me if he can go back to this question at the end of our chat to include a little more information.
“What I love most about Stanley Safaris is that we’re such a small team, and so I’m learning so much from Shaun. I’ve been in tourism for some time, but Stanley Safaris is really special because of the way that Shaun does his work.
“When he’s focussing on particular regions, he does something different to what everyone else is doing. In Botswana for example, he’ll send someone to the Makgadikgadi Pans instead of Chobe National Park. I’m getting to love Africa from a different lens in working with him and learning from him.
So I’m getting a lot of skills and I’m enjoying working with our guests personally, rather than just working with a group of people. I get to know the guests, even though I haven’t even met any of them. Our work is really personalized which I’m really enjoying.”
I ask Chris about the best trip he’s ever taken. You can tell a lot about a person based on their response. He pauses for a second before answering.
“I guess you always remember your first don’t you? My very first trip was to the UK – to Bournemouth and Weymouth and Dorset and I really enjoyed my myself there. My very first time seeing the ocean was in the UK. My very first time seeing a lion was in the UK.
“Even the first time I got mugged was in the UK!” he laughs.
“So yes, you always remember the first, which is the United Kingdom for me. But in Africa, my favourite trip was to Mombasa in Kenya.”
Chris’ dream holiday destination is clearly influenced by the work he’s doing at Stanley Safaris.
“My dream destination would definitely be to East Africa. The migration in happening right now, and I’ve love to see that in the Serengeti or in the Maasai Mara, but then I have to include the beach as well, so it would been to be a combination of Zanzibar and the migration. That is definitely number one for me”.
I don’t know Chris well, but from the brief time we have spent together, I know he’s a busy man with more than just his job keeping him occupied. My final question for our interview is about some of his interests external to work.
He gives it some thought before answering.
“Well tourism is my passion, but my other passion is mental health. In 2017, I founded a small NPO called Minds of Good Health. It is designed to spread the word about mental health, especially depression.
“I’ve battled with depression and I’m prone to it, and I feel like it’s something that is stigmatized, something that is taboo, something that people don’t want to talk about.
“But I think that when we talk about something, it’s out there in the open. When you expose your wound to the air, it heals, rather than just bandaging it up.
“So I speak at schools and at conferences, promoting mental health to young people and helping those who are currently battling with depression. To date I’ve helped just over a hundred people, across the country.”
Chris’ passion for his work is clear in the way he talks. Whether it’s the planning he does at Stanley Safaris – putting the extra effort into creating a seamless trip for the clients, or the organisation he’s created to help people the way he needed someone to help him, the people Chris works with are at the centre of everything he does.
He’s relentlessly positive, a big personality with a big skillset and a big heart. With Chris involved in your travel plans, you can be sure to receive the very best service with meticulous attention to detail.
Get in touch with Stanley Safaris for an African safari unlike anything else, planned by the people who know and love this continent most.