Janetta Bock Benadie has been involved in the SA College for Tourism (SACT) Tracker Academy since its inception. In 2010, she travelled with her husband Karel Benadie, known as Pokkie, to Samara Private Game Reserve to become part of the Tracker Academy’s founding team as a camp attendant. Since then, she has undertaken further studies and is now a fully-qualified tracking assessor, the person responsible for the facilitation and assessment of all theory components of the Tracker Academy skills programme, and the unofficial ‘House Mother’ of the Samara campus.
The following exchange is adapted from a short interview in which Samara’s Director Sarah Tompkins talks to Janetta about her background and how she came to be part of the SACT Tracker Academy story, as well as her thoughts on women in tracking.
Sarah – Hi Janetta, thanks so much for chatting to us. Can you just tell us a bit more about your background and how you came to work at the Tracker Academy?
Janetta – I grew up in a big family in the Northern Cape in a home where my mother encouraged me and my sisters to pursue an education. I realised early on that within me, on the inside, I’m much bigger than the small town that I grew up in and I wanted to live an adventure. My journey to Samara began when I married Pokkie and settled in the Eastern Cape. I vividly remember a day when he was still working on a farm that he went shooting and came home with a gemsbok. I had never seen one before and said, ‘Oh that’s a very big springbok!’ (she laughs) ‘I’ve never seen such a big springbok in my life!’ I soon became really interested in learning more about our local wildlife and in how we could protect it. I loved nature conservation and the tourism side of it gave me a unique opportunity to work in the field.
Sarah – That’s wonderful. So how did your career kick off?
Janetta – I started off as a receptionist at the Karoo National Park, working in tourism. I joined the Tracker Academy when Pokkie got a job as a Master Tracker and Trainer at Samara.
Sarah – What is the training that you have undergone here at the Tracker Academy?
Janetta – At first, I went to the Nature College to do my FGASA [Field Guide Association of South Africa] Level 1 test. After two years, I completed FGASA Level 2. I’ve been on a CATHSSETA-accredited facilitator course and an assessment course and I got those accreditations. In 2016, I did my moderator’s course. Today I am based at Samara where I am a fully-qualified moderator and I also manage the trainee trackers at Tswalu in the Kalahari [where the SA College for Tourism Tracker Academy has opened another training centre].
Sarah – How many women in South Africa have the same qualifications as you?
Janetta – I am a qualified moderator for the Tracking Trails programme. I’m not exactly sure, but I don’t think there are many women in this field. To be able to identify a track might look simple to other people, but you have to carefully analyse that track and stay focused. And when you follow that animal, you have to set a goal to find that animal. It’s something that applies to everyday life skills. You have to set yourself a goal, be aware along the trail, see all the signs left behind by the animal, and be able to accurately interpret them.
Sarah – What has been the most rewarding part of your job?
Janetta – All of my life, it has been important to me to share my knowledge to empower and educate other people in local communities. I always say to my students that I don’t just want to teach them about tracks and spoor. I came here to share the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years and to empower them – not only to become trackers… but in life in general. Many of them are disadvantaged and have social problems that I also try to assist them with. Today, I’m really proud to see how these gents improve their lives! For the training at Tswalu they had to take their FGASA Level 1 test the other day, and every single day leading up to the test, I’d been setting up practice tests for one student in particular. Then a few days ago, I received a WhatsApp from him thanking me for my support and telling me he had passed his FGASA test with 83%. And those things are the huge rewards that I get from what I’m doing.
Sarah – We have just had our first two ladies from the Tracker Academy graduate this year. Can you tell us a bit more about them.
Janetta – We introduced two ladies to the Academy in Tswalu this year and I’m thrilled. All these years I’ve been asking Alex [van den Heever, co-founder of the SACT Tracker Academy] if it would be possible for us to get ladies on board, because they are just as capable of becoming excellent trackers as men are. Their names are Justa France and Kelatlhilwe Malaki.
Sarah – How have Justa and Kelatlhilwe found the training?
Janetta – They have done very well and both have completed the programme and graduated. During the course, they sometimes struggled to keep up physically with the male students and they lacked their prior experience, but as the programme progressed they adapted and began to thrive.
Sarah – Is the introduction of women onto the programme something that could happen at Samara too?
Janetta – It could definitely work at Samara. It’s just a question of accommodation. The facilities at Tswalu specifically allow us to mix men and women because the bedrooms have ensuite bathrooms. It makes it much easier for the trainees. At Samara we would need to build extra accommodation.
Sarah – Thank you Janetta for your insight. Congratulations on the graduation of yet another cohort of trackers.
The Tracker Academy is a training division of the South African College for Tourism (SACT), which also includes a Hospitality School and a Herding Academy and operates under the auspices of the Peace Parks Foundation. The SACT Tracker Academy was made possible by a visionary action by Mrs Gaynor Rupert in 2010. It is a non-profit organisation which trains disadvantaged rural people in the traditional skills of tracking. It is funded by the Peace Parks Foundation, the Rupert Nature Foundation and various other donors. More information is available here.
Samara Private Game Reserve is a luxury 5-star destination with a passionate conservation mission set within breathtaking wilderness. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus or Instagram, or click here to start planning your stay with us today. A safari for the soul.