This is a story of two parts. The first ends in March 2003. The second will not end for perhaps some 20, 30 or 40 years.
The heroine of the story (or could she be the villain?) is Susan Harper, daughter of Ross Harper an occasionally circumspect Scottish
lawyer and Ursula Harper, of German origin, who married Ross nearly forty years ago.
Susan had a very ordinary Scottish childhood although her love of horses caused her to miss so much school that she nearly failed to
get into University. Fortunately she had her mother's tenacity and shared her father's love of, and for, the law.
She graduated at Strathclyde University with ease, converted to an English qualification and completed a traineeship with Clifford
Chance discovering the secrets of commerce and big business (well at least some of them).
In Clifford Chance she met, was wooed by and married a fellow lawyer, David - a good chap whose only fault is that he supports
Australia at cricket (which one supposes is hardly surprising since he is Australian).
So far so good and this might end the tale of a normal, middle-class professional family. It is true that they went to the Cayman
Islands for three years. It is also true that they are now back living in London having established a London office for Walkers, a
Cayman Islands law firm. But then again there's nothing extraordinary about that.
The turning point or focus of this story lies in their random choice of a visit to Africa for their honeymoon. This choice had a devastating
effect on Susan, which, in turn, had an equally devastating effect on Susan's husband and parents, and this is where the story really begins.
Susan was smitten by Africa. Smitten, smote, gobsmacked, electrified, seduced and completely captured. It does happen. It is said that
Africa is the home and origin of man. There may be something in the air which welcomes some mortals back and something in the
ambience which persuades them not to leave. Whether it's the sheer beauty of the landscape, the brilliant nights, the raw energy
of the animals, nature 'red in tooth and claw' we shall never know nor ever need to know.
Suffice it to say Susan was determined that she should eventually make Africa her home and was equally determined that she
should create a safari lodge set in a remote part of that continent. And what is just as extraordinary is that David, while not sharing
the same passion, understands Susan and is happy to go along with her plans.
Now enter the second heroine/villain of the story - mother Harper - Ursula. She brought up three children in Scotland while looking
after husband and a catalogue of animals. Because Ursula is something special, she is besotted with animals and is a conservationist to
extreme. Patient, tolerant, bemused husband Ross the dour Scottish solicitor, struggling to make a penny or two, rubs his eyes in
disbelief at some of Ursula's antics.
An early holiday in Peebles, in north west Scotland, got off to a bad start when Ursula noticed from
her bedroom window snails crossing a drive. She was out like a shot (at 6.30 in the morning) helping all the snails across the road. She
came out once on a pheasant shoot and disappeared after the first shot, to drive the pheasants away from the guns. No spider or fly
can be killed in the house or outside the house. A mouse in the house is as liable to be entertained as exterminated. In their heyday the
Harper family had 5 horses, 2 dogs, 7 cats, 3 parrots and a hamster. Ross used to claim that he ranked in the Harper household slightly
below the hamster.
And now the coincidence. In the same year that Susan was honeymooning in South Africa Ross foolishly delegated responsibility for
the family holiday to Ursula who booked up two weeks in Africa in diverse locations. She came back smitten like her daughter vowing
to return to Africa again and again and again.
What can David and Ross do against two determined women joined in a common purpose to purchase land in Africa? Their households
almost developed into matriarchal societies. Susan and Ursula conspired together showing that 'real leaders are ordinary people with
'Let's set up a company' said Susan. Susan's idea was simple, namely rewrite the company law textbooks and issue father shares which
were non-voting, non-transferable, non-dividend bearing and non-convertible. 'Sounds pretty much like a gift to me' grumbled father.
And so the quest began. Ursula and Susan determined to find somewhere quickly. Ross and David joined steadfastly together to
delay the inevitable for as long as possible.
And so the family travelled to Africa one winter to look at propositions set up by Susan over the summer. Not just in South Africa
but in Botswana, Zambia and a host of other places too numerous for father to recall.
And some of the propositions even got to draft contract stage but good luck favoured the men and there was always something
wrong either with the titles or the lodge or the personnel or the deal.
Ross started to read more and more about malaria and how many innocent people were killed each year. Every time he was bitten
by a mosquito he imagined cerebral malaria and was not pleased. Therefore, with the confidence of a complete coward he said that
the girls could buy any place they wanted in Africa subject to the finance being available but if it was in a malaria area he, for
one, would not be visiting it. Well that caused a bit of consternation in the family and for once in his life he was given some
David said that we must be confident about management and find the best manager in Africa - a manager with bush experience. Well
that was agreed and every time the Harpers separately or together went on safari each and every ranger was scrutinised as a possible
Numbers of safaris were made. Susan and her mother went on a walking safari with the legendary Lloyd Wilmot where Susan, quite
improperly, went out of the vehicle to 'play' with the lions (see photograph at the top of the page).
As site after site was inspected, surveyed, examined, scrutinised - site after site was rejected much to the delight of the men and
the frustration of the women. Perhaps the search might go on for 10 or 20 years and by that time Susan would have continued
work and saved enough money to allow her unwilling father to beat a hasty retreat to his fishing and pension.
But suddenly the world was to change. "Crash, bang, alacazan" - a wonderful site came by.
It met all the criteria and more.
Introduced by an indefatigable and companionable entrepreneur William Stephens, a farm of 2,000 hectares incorporated into the
Madikwe game reserve was inspected. Madikwe Game Reserve is described in full in this website. Suffice it to say it met all the
criteria set down by the Harper family.
First of all it was malaria-free so old grumbling father could not complain and could visit it in safety. Secondly it housed the Big Five in
Ursula and Susan inspected. David was dragged over and serious negotiations took place. Father Harper could not find any method
of sabotaging the deal nor indeed when he saw the place did he want to. It was ideal.
There was a river. A lodge could be built on the river. It was private land right in the middle of a well managed, well structured,
extremely large reserve.
But there was one criterion still missing. Management was paramount and while Ursula and Susan were Africa and animal
fanatics, running a business was... well different.
The story then took another turning. Fortune shone on Susan and Ursula because there entered into the scene the hero of the
story... big, rangy, unforgettable, blonde Garth Kew.
Garth was the answer to everyone's dreams. Garth had worked in Madikwe for a number of
years as tracker, ranger and manager and had already supervised the construction and start-up phase for another lodge in the
area. Garth was ideal.
What a find! Contact was soon made with him and Garth became part of the family, displaying a patience and tolerance beyond
belief, dealing with the female fanaticism and the male cynicism with equal aplomb.
Contracts were soon exchanged, the money was paid.
What did the Harper family have? A vast tract of exclusive and private land
with a beautiful farmhouse, traversing rights over Madikwe Game Reserve and little else... except for a young lady with extraordinary
determination aided and abetted psychologically by her mother, and aided and abetted practically by Garth the new
This was a real excuse for Susan and Ursula to visit Africa regularly (not that they needed an excuse). An
award-winning international architect was found (nothing but the best of course!), plans were submitted, planning permission
was requested, environmental impact assessments were undertaken, swimming pools, gymnasiums, air conditioning, central heating,
open fires, views of the river, luxurious staff accommodation - you name it - Susan and Garth provided it.
Now the original idea, well to the menfolk, was that the area was so big we could sell off parts of the land for others to build
corporate lodges thus paying for the construction of our lodge. It sounded good at the time.
But there was a change of that cunning plan. Would it not be better, argued the women, if the farm (inappropriately at that
time called Krokodildrift) was exclusive? 'We should be able to show our guests round without crowds' argued Susan. 'Businesses
should have a unique selling point. Our unique selling point surely is exclusivity?' And so no land was sold and no corporate lodges
were built although neighbours, on request, were allowed to view the game of Krokodildrift.
But what about the name? Father Harper liked the name Krokodildrift but there were no crocs in the river. Susan replied "anyway
who really loves crocodiles?".
The most important feature of Krokodildrift and Madikwe itself was that of the wild dogs - rare in the rest of the world but plentiful
in Madikwe. Therefore what about the name 'Wild Dogs'? - Ugh. Wild dog in Tswana (the local language) was 'makanyane'
and after interminable debate, full consultation and in the greatest spirit of democracy Susan determined that the name of the
lodge should be Makanyane.
And so Makanyane is scheduled to be finished in March 2003. At the time of writing the buildings are three quarters finished, the
swimming pool is being constructed, interior designs are being approved and staff are being selected. Garth is working flat out
checking builders, architects and the like aided, abetted and encouraged by ten e-mails a day from the impatient Susan. And
there is, at the insistence of the men, the most exquisite wine and fine wine cellar.
And so the first part of the story of Krokodildrift is nearly complete. And is the story going to end happily? We hope so. It's a
marvellous story of determination and provides for the family a united purpose.
And if we want an omen? Last week a crocodile was seen in the river at Krokodildrift - sorry - Makanyane - for the first time
in years. Are the African Gods telling us something?
Professor Ross Harper, CBE
30 October 2002