In the world of hunting, be it by game rangers, professional hunters, or paying clientele, it is often the game scouts and trackers who are the anonymous unsung heroes. When I was a young game ranger in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) circa 1971 I worked with a game scout sergeant, Kuveya, who a number of years senior to me had reached almost legendary status in the department. During Operation Noah in the late 1950s while Lake Kariba was filling, he was gored by a buffalo on an island while rescuing game. Fortunately, he survived.
While serving with me in the Zambezi Valley’s Urungwe Controlled Hunting Area during 1973, he was gored by a young bull elephant which stuck its tusk into him just above his pelvis. Again, and very fortunately, the tusk missed his spine and six-weeks later Sgt Kuveya was back hunting. The elephant incident happened while he was hunting with a Rhodesian surgeon, so he was lucky in that once the elephant ran off, the sergeant was in good hands prior to being casevaced. Back then, the government game scouts who accompanied paying Rhodesian sport hunters went unarmed. It took courage to hunt dangerous game with a stranger, and more particularly so because the game scout was unarmed.
Periodically too, the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters & Guides Association awards a tracker for bravery in the face of an attack by a dangerous game animal. The award is usually because the tracker has saved a PH or client’s life. Ex Rhodesian game rangers, or those few of us still surviving amongst an ever-dwindling group of hardy souls, have an association called The Dagha Boys. Usually, at impromptu gatherings mention is made of legendary brave African game scouts such as Sgt ‘Mac’ Machavana, a hardy Shangaan game scout who taught many a fledgling young white game ranger the finer aspects of elephant hunting. Those game scouts were brave men who need be remembered, not blessed with any formal education, and speaking little if any English, they were skilled backwoodsmen and it was an honour to serve with them.
Below is an unabridged article which was sent to me by an ex-Selous Scouts colleague, Bill Boschoff, himself a skilled hunter. The article is about a legendary game scout who served in South Africa’s Kruger National Park during a bygone era. It makes for an interesting read.
Above: Corporal Nombolo Mdluli with a lion skull, obviously the skull is from a mature male lion.
Corporal Nombolo Mdluli served the Kruger National Park during the period from 1919 until his retirement in 1958 (nearly 40 years’ service).His exact age was unknown, even to himself. He started working for the Kruger National Park (then still known as the Sabi Game Reserve) at the old Rolle ranger post, which was a railway halt on the old Selati railway line some 55 km north-west of Skukuza. Here he served under Thomas Duke (1860 – March 1934) and served with various of the game rangers of the Kruger National Park, including Stephen Harold Trollope (7 July 1881 to 15 May 1949) and Herbert Ernest Tomlinson.
In 1926 he saved Trollope, who was stationed at Malelane at the time, from serious injury or death by shooting a wounded lion (one of a group of four that Trollope had shot on the banks of the Mhlambanyatsi Spruit) as it was about to charge Trollope. Apparently, the lion was so close it fell dead onto Trollope’s legs and Trollope never forgot this deed of bravery by his ranger corporal, and for many years after his departure from the park, still sent Nombolo an annual gift of £2.0.0.
So too Nombolo, also became Tomlinson’s right-hand man, who was stationed at Shingwedzi at the time. At Shingwedzi, Tomlinson had a maizefield and some Black children were given the task of keeping the baboons away from it. One morning (circa 1938) at about seven o’clock, while Tomlinson was in hospital at Elim, the children were on their way to the field, when a lion attacked one of the boys, tore off his leg at the groin and started eating it, while the bleeding body of the boy was lying beside the animal. The helpless boy kept screaming for help. The other boys hurriedly set off to fetch Nombolo. When he arrived at the scene of the slaughter, the boy was already dead. The lion had ripped off the boys head and eaten more of the body. The lion was nowhere to be seen.
While they were still standing around the body considering what to do, a lion with blood-smeared paws and jaws came charging out of the bush. The others ran away, but Nombolo stood his ground and managed to use his rifle, shooting the animal in the neck. The lion stumbled and Nombolo came closer to shoot him in the back. The lion collapsed next to the boy’s body. Nombolo sent a messenger by bicycle to Punda Maria to report to Ranger Izak Johannes Botha, who came to investigate and rewarded Nombolo with twelve shillings and six-pence for his bravery.
Colonel James Stevenson-Hamilton, Park Warden at the time, especially came to thank Nombolo and gave him five pounds as a reward and permission to kill any lion that caused trouble – a considerable concession for those days and an expression of confidence in Nombolo. Mrs Hilda Stevenson-Hamilton gave Nombolo a Singer sewing machine for his brave deed and made him a hat out the man-eaters skin. Nombolo wore this treasured hat for more than 40 years and later (in 1981) donated it to the Stevenson-Hamilton Library in Skukuza, where there is a display of the sewing machine, Nombolo’s photograph and a report of the event.
Nombolo tells of another incident involving lions while at Shingwedzi: “Ranger Tomlinson had two horses named Rome and Rubel. My horse was called Kramity. One afternoon a stable boy reported that a lion had attacked Rubel and that his hindquarters had been mauled. Tomlinson, with eight Black rangers, the stable boy and myself tracked the lion to a Mlala Palm thicket. We stood there arguing. The dogs had not been brought with us and I wanted them to be fetched before we did anything else. While we were arguing, I noticed the lion walking slowly into the bush.”
I showed Ranger Tomlinson where he was and said: “He is the culprit, shoot him! Look, he is not even scared of us.” Tomlinson took a quick shot at the lion and hit him in the leg. I told the ranger we could not go into the thicket without the dogs, but he insisted. I warned him and asked him why he did not want to do what I had taught him to do. “With all this noise the lion suddenly charged out of the bush, straight at me. I quickly loaded my rifle, but before I could shoot, the lion leapt at the man next to me. The lion was so close his tail touched my leg. I quickly turned around, pressed the rifle against his neck and pulled the trigger. Frans Bambi, the man on whom the lion sprang, also had a rifle, and when he fell, he accidentally shot himself through the hand. Blood was flowing from Frans’ head. Tomlinson angrily accused me of killing Frans. I hurled my rifle aside and pulled the lion off Frans, who stood up and we could see that the blood was coming from wounds caused by the lions bite. Frans’ pants were so soiled, it seemed as though he had taken a large dose of purgatives.”
Nombolo Mdluli retired from Shingwedzi in 1950 while working under WJD Groenewald. He later continued to work at Skukuza until 1958, after which he accompanied the former ranger, Harry Kirkman, to the Sabie Sand Game Reserve. He finally retired in 1971 after 52 years of work in the bush – a legend among his people in his own lifetime. Nombolo’s life philosophy was quite simply, “In my life, I have had most satisfaction from the fact I have tried to live up to the job given to me with as much honesty and sincerity as possible. As a reward the people I served took both my hands in theirs and thanked me for the conscientiousness, exactitude, righteousness, and courage I had tried to show”