ST FRANCIS BAY (Eastern Cape) – Decades ago, a highly successful entrepreneur presented the legendary conservationist Dr Ian Player with a question that kept him up all night. When he came down for breakfast, Dr Player had the answer. This weekend, during the SDC Championship at St Francis Links, that entrepreneur – Adrian Gardiner – is still living out his vision from that discussion.
“My life in conservation and game farms has been built around what Ian said to me. He drilled the importance of community into me, and involving the community in my projects,” says Gardiner, a close friend of golf through his relationship with Ian Player and his legendary brother Gary Player, as well as his friendship with Ernie Els. But it’s as the founder of the Mantis Collection of international privately-owned five-star boutique hotels and eco escapes, starting with the famous Shamwari Game Reserve in the Eastern Cape in the early Nineties, that Gardiner has been able to live out his real passion of using eco-tourism to uplift local communities.
Even his support of the SDC Championship is based around the local community. The R500 000 prize he is offering for the first hole-in-one on the 14th hole on Sunday includes R250 000 going to the player and the other half being donated to the Community Conservation Fund Africa (CCFA) which he founded in partnership with the Accor group in 2018. This same CCFA, in partnership with St Francis Links, has brought 50 youth from the local Sea Vista township to work at the tournament as course marshals and ball spotters.
Such is Gardiner’s passion for community that the name of his business, given to him at that breakfast by Dr Player, reflects this.
“When Ian stayed with me I asked him for a collective name for all of our properties. He came down the next morning and said I’d kept him awake all night as he thought about it. And he came up with Mantis, referencing the praying mantis and the role it plays for the bushmen as it watches over them whenever they travel. We broke this down further as an acronym – Man and Nature Together is Sustainable.”
What started with involving the local community in his first Shamwari project with about 15 employees eventually grew to 80 properties around the world. And community is at the heart of it all through the CCFA, which describes its operations as “working at the intersection between conservation, ecotourism and community”.
“Africa and wildlife has always been in my DNA,” says Gardiner. “I grew up in Zimbabwe and starting Shamwari was really about going back to my roots in the sense of creating that wild space that I grew up in. I mean, what is Africa without its wildlife?”
A major international golf tournament coming to the Eastern Cape certainly ties into his vision for the province. Gardiner is now working on his next project – the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve, a 2 500-hectare private nature and wildlife reserve that will be the first of its kind between the cities of Gqeberha and Kariega, and with benefits for the informal settlements on its borders. “It cannot work if we don’t empower the local communities. I feel so strongly that if we can show that impact, the Eastern Cape can become a model province for how South African can function better.”
And nothing Gardiner does is in isolation from this objective. The youth who are working at this weekend’s SDC Championship will be hosted for an educational day at the Nyosi Wildlife Reserve.
“I believe strongly that if you can change the lives of 50 kids, that’s another 50 changed South Africans.”
This weekend, professional golf is helping in that process as well. – Michael Vlismas