At this point, &Beyond’s core impact model of Care of the Land, Wildlife and People was taking shape: it was the first chapter of the Phinda Private Game Reserve conservation story, and Isaac Tembe had been employed as relationship builder and communicator between &Beyond and the neighbouring Phinda communities.
When asked what took him to Phinda, Isaac explained: “I was very excited because here was an organisation talking ecotourism and conservation, with a genuine concern about the communities.”
This was an opportunity that spoke to Isaac at the deepest level – a community initiative that wasn’t simply ticking a box, or a thinly disguised marketing tool, but something truly meaningful. He took up his role, armed with a solid background in both the academic and practical aspects of community development – and then he hit a wall of suspicion and resistance.
In the community’s view at this time, conservation was Public Enemy Number 1. The devastating impact on rural communities of conservation interventions imposed by the previous government had sent a clear message that conservation was more important than the people. So why should things be any different now?
The building of community trust in these circumstances was a process that called for a very special skill set: it demanded patience, a quiet diplomacy, a sensitivity to the communities’ concerns, and respectful exploration of their needs, the capacity to really listen and the ability to ‘hold the space’ throughout these discussions. Today, these are the very qualities that define ‘Baba (father) T’ as Isaac is affectionately known.