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28 October 2022
The idea of visionary Dr Anton Rupert, the SA College for Tourism opened in 2001 to grant opportunities to learners from rural areas in member states of the Southern African Development Community – and so break the poverty cycle. Most students to the college are also from areas where Peace Parks Foundation works, and the hope is that they may return home to these areas and cater well for visitors to these transfrontier conservation areas.
Tables set in white linen and adorned with fresh flowers await us, as delectable starters are being served. Outside, the view is panoramic over beautiful, sun-drenched Graaff- Reinet; inside it’s lovely and cool and one hundred students are chatting away animatedly as they tuck in to lunch. Many of them have also been hard at work in the kitchen all morning, preparing this delectable three-course meal they’re now serving. When the girls arrived at the SA College for Tourism eight months ago, catering for a luncheon would have sounded impossible – now they do it with aplomb.
Hospitality is one division of SACT, which owns and operates from the renowned Panorama Hotel with top notch facilities and resources. Panorama sits on eight hectares overlooking Graaff-Reinet and was a gift to the college by one of the Rupert family foundations, which also funded the upgrade of the property into a state-of-the-art training facility.
The Tracker Academy, the second training division of the college which opened in 2009, is the brainchild of Mrs Gaynor Rupert who took over as chairperson of SACT in 2006. Today the academy operates three campuses at Samara Private Game Reserve in the Karoo, Londolozi Game Reserve bordering the Kruger National Park, and Tswalu Kalahari Reserve.
In 2018 a Herding Academy will be started as the third division. All are aimed at opening up job opportunities to people where there is little sustainable economic development, but possibilities in tourism and eco tourism.
Andre Kilian – Executive Director of SACTExecutive Director of SACT, André Kilian, has been there from day one and says: “The pilot project in 2001 started with 20 young women. This year we have 100 young women at the college and over 1 300 graduates to date.” André says some students have opened their own guest houses, one started her own domestic worker training business, another has a coffee and art shop in Knysna, one is head of housekeeping at a renowned five-star hotel in Cape Town, another works at the presidential guest house in Pretoria, and others are working overseas in Dubai, England, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland and on various cruise ships.
He smiles proudly and says: “I see the students at the beginning of the year. By mid-year they have changed so much, and then they serve me at the Drostdy Hotel in town and their personal growth is unbelievable. This is the most amazing project I have ever been involved with.” He says many SACT graduates also find jobs at Thorny Bush Collection and Newmark Hotels, who all support the project. The Tsogo Sun hotel group will also come on board as a deployment partner in 2018. At present, SACT is in the process of establishing another campus in Hazyview.
During the main course of juicy, stuffed chicken breasts, SACT Training Manager Mariette Ferreira explains that she started as a trainer in 2003, and became manager nine years ago. “It’s a passion and I love it. It takes patience and understanding but is so rewarding when you get feedback on where students have gone in their lives. It keeps you going every year. The students make it all worth it. When they start in January, most of them are, for example, unfamiliar with the different cutlery, glassware and china required in food and beverage service, and then by the end of the year they are catering for weddings and functions themselves. Then we start again in January with the new students.”
The one-year course is Culture Art Tourism Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority (CATHSSETA) accredited and includes training for front of house, housekeeping, food and beverage, and cheffing – along with life skills courses like computer skills and CV presentation. This all gives students easy access into the industry. The top 22 learners are chosen for a further year-long practical learnership at the five-star historic Drostdy Hotel in town, a fully owned subsidiary of SACT. “We don’t promise jobs for everyone,” she clarifies, “but most students secure jobs with the help of a placement manager who seeks opportunities for them. There is a 98% pass rate too.”
The cherry on top, explains Mariette – as we enjoy perfectly made crème caramel for dessert – is that the top two students every year win the chance to work and travel in Italy, sponsored by a Swiss friend of SACT, Mrs Barbara Pudel. This year Yonela Noxesha from Coffee Bay is in the running and says: “I am falling in love with tourism, and I want to experience more and study more, and be mentored by big name chefs.”
Zimbabwean, Petronilla Mankiwa smiles and explains: “I feel honoured to be here. It was my dream and now my dream has come true. When I go home I can apply for a management post at Zim Parks, but one day I’d like my own catering company.” Jasmine Hobyane from Limpopo says her ambition is to work in a hotel, but her ultimate goal is to open her own B&B back home. “Anyone being given this opportunity to learn should grab it with both hands. The lecturers are caring and give everything to their students.”
Down the hill in town at the magnificently restored Drostdy Hotel – voted SA’s 8th best hotel by Trip Advisor – is where Louw van der Westhuizen is based. “I am the lucky lecturer who sees students blossom,” he says, as we chat in the beautiful Drostdy gardens. “I feel privileged to do what I do with the college and the hotel, and we strive to constantly motivate the learnership students here. Their freshness is something guests comment on often.”
Maria Marlouw was born in Graaff-Reinet and says she never imagined working in the Drostdy. Petite and very fresh faced, she’s on the practical learnership programme and says: “It has been easy to adapt because the staff and managers give us so much help and information. I used to be scared to work with people, now I have no fear and am not afraid of making mistakes either. My hope is to have a permanent job here – and one day to be head chef. That’s my dream.”
Receptionist Uviwe Nakase says she never imagined her first permanent job out of college would be at a five-star hotel. “I want to grow and learn and the Drostdy is a great place to do just that. I really love meeting people from different cultures every day. All the practical work at the college made the transition to a real job easy.”
As GM of The Drostdy, Janus Schoeman, says the hotel has many repeat guests who love the story that students are honing their skills here and they support the project. “What the college is doing is fantastic and the caliber of students is excellent too. The staff all love the vibrant energy they bring with them too.” Without question, everyone is happy.
Story and photos by Keri Harvey