Riveting memoir from a man at home in the wild

2010-04-21 00:00


Ihlalanyathi: The Red Billed Oxpecker: Story of a Field Ranger in Zululand

by Bheki Buthelezi

As told to Michael Clark

Privately published

IT IS seldom that you pick up a book dealing with nature and find yourself struggling to put it down. Though that might just be me. I have always found it easier to flick on the Discovery Channel or something to get my kicks out of the bush. So it was with some trepidation that I picked up Ihalan­yathi by Bheki Buthelezi .

The book could be described as semi-biographical, as it charts Buthelezi’s path to becoming finally an expert in a field he absolutely thrived in — in the bush, as a field ranger. Set mainly in Zululand at Hluhluwe, Buthelezi’s story reveals an entertaining background, from charting his roots back to Zulu royalty, through to stumbling upon a job at the Natal Parks Board — and ­almost relinquishing it out of his respect for his elder brother.

Thank goodness his brother gave him his blessing, as Buthelezi’s sponge-like mind gathered enough knowledge in his formative years to become an expert ranger, whose ­stories and experiences left a mark on countless visitors from these parts and abroad. A man with an insatiable desire to learn, he knew all the birds at Hluhluwe by their English, Latin and Zulu names. And the same goes for the trees indigenous to the area. The book is littered with clippings of comments by grateful patrons, and Buthelezi’s account reveals a man who is totally at ease with nature — indeed, completely absorbed by it. There is plenty of humour, too, as one can expect when relative novices take to the bush.

Edited by Michael Clark, the story has been left untouched as far as possible — and the story is all the better for it, as Buthelezi’s vivid descriptions make readers feel as if they are trawling through the Hluhluwe reserve, in single file behind the author, as he ­instructs all his visitors to do.

Those who care about these things may point out the loose grammar, but the anecdotes are reeled off with such easy regularity that it is very easy to understand exactly what Buthelezi is saying. In fact, one could argue that this makes the story even better, as you get a sense of it coming from the horse’s mouth. So ignore the at times imperfect prose, because this is a ­story rich in entertainment and ­reveals a total affection by a man for his surroundings.

Sadly, Buthelezi died just before his memoirs were printed. But, thankfully, his story has been safely captured in Ihlalanyathi, which will keep anyone with a vague interest in our four-legged friends and “foes” thrilled for hours. I would tell you more, but I simply have to get to the end of the chapter that includes a drunken man, a crocodile and sturdy rock. It’s that kind of story …


• Ihlalanyathi is available from Michael Clark at 033 702 1184 (mornings) or 033 702 1061 or e-mail Rosanne@dbnmail.co.za

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