The people and heritage of Motswari Private Safari
MOTSWARI Private Game Reserve is one of South Africa’s original safari lodges located in the Timbavati-Umbabat region in the Limpopo Province of South Africa.
Renowned for its remoteness, exceptional game viewing and supreme hospitality, it is a lodge with an ethos that follows the great legacy and vision of its founder, the late Paul Geiger, an impassioned, conservation-focused legend of his time.
Looking back on her father’s love affair with the Limpopo Lowveld and sharing some of her own personal journey, Paul’s daughter, Marion Geiger, and her husband, Fabrice Orengo de Lamazière, offered insights into the Motswari heritage that runs deep, is rooted in community and embodies the gracious spirit of its founding family.
From 1975 to 1977, before Motswari was in Geiger hands, the focus was on wildlife breeding programmes: nyala, cheetah and wild dog, specifically. Back then, this was also hunting territory and the game was skittish. Paul had observed this and, in 1980, he purchased the Java farm in the Timbavati, striking up a relationship with neighbouring Motswari. What began as an effort to get the animals used to the presence of safari vehicles, grew into much more: a life-long love affair with the region and between the Geiger family and Motswari, which means ‘to keep and conserve’ in Tswana, the local language. A year later, Paul bought a share in the property and shortly thereafter he acquired it in its entirety.
Having been chairman of the Timbavati meant that he was very involved in key decision-making that shaped both of the reserves. He was also completely dedicated to the well-being of both the land and the people that called it home.
Today, Motswari is a vast and bio-diverse territory that harbours many endangered species, like the rhino and the rare wild dog. At one stage, the lodge was a rehabilitation centre for the magnificent canines and, it’s exciting to note, that after five decades under protection, the population is stable, thriving and denning in the area.
As the second generation of passionate and proficient custodians, Marion and Fabrice are keeping a close eye on Motswari's evolution, ensuring it remains relevant and current, yet without compromising the heritage of the land and its inhabitants. Her late brother, Roland, was also deeply involved. “Roland, a pilot, took over the business with his wife in 1990, energised by his love of the place and with a dream of linking Motswari to Botswana and Tanzania for international travel.” Tragically, he died in a plane accident. At the time, Marion was newly married and paving her own way in an entirely different direction. “I felt so restless after Roland passed but Evelyn Millard, the GM of Motswari at the time, took me under her wing and helped me find continuity. Fortunately, my Dad also came out of retirement to take back the helm for a while, before passing the baton to me and Fabrice.”
Today, Marion’s effervescent energy permeates Motswari. Walk into any of the rooms and communal areas and you feel as if you’ve entered a private home. There are intimate nooks everywhere and informal galleries are filled with her vibrant paintings, vintage memorabilia and handmade craft that she has commissioned from local artists over the decades.
Marion met Fabrice at Motswari – a romantic tale that resonates beautifully with any true safari experience. Sharing a little about their romance, Fabrice says - "Paul would always say, ‘at Motswari you arrive as a visitor and leave as a friend.’ But l arrived as a guest and left as a husband!" he laughs. Adding to that, Marion smiles, “I brought the heritage, and Fabrice, with a background in real estate, introduced a fresh vision." At that point too, tourism in South Africa really took off and the couple, in search of a management company, partnered with Newmark Hotels & Reserves. “We’ve been with Newmark ever since and it's wonderful that Neil understands us so well – that we are family-run and family-owned." she says of Neil Markovitz, the CEO of Newmark Hotels & Reserves..”
Fabrice continues, this time telling more about Geiger’s Camp. “It was previously Marion’s brother’s personal home and is a short drive from the main lodge. Perfectly isolated from the main lodge and beautifully private, we decided to develop and enhance it, to honour Roland and the Geiger legacy.” The stylish homestead, with its 180-degree wraparound views, is a luxurious conflation between Bohemian chic and vintage safari elements. With the reimagining, Fabrice knew he would be able to create something out of the ordinary and, using local artisans, he conceptualised the look and feel, all the while ensuring that the house was in harmony with the surroundings. It is gloriously styled with a very personal touch and filled with beloved artworks, heirlooms and decor elements that serve as a constant reminder of Paul and the family’s connection and devotion to Africa.
The family has endured their fair share of challenges too. Referring to a brutal rhino-poaching incident Fabrice describes: “Marion saw the carnage and it was utterly horrific. We knew we had to do something and, together with likeminded friends, we started an association called Rhino Disharmony in 2014, whereby we collaborate with artists to create events that help us educate and do what we can to halt the demand for rhino horn. The event proceeds go towards local rhino protection efforts and on-the-ground support.”
As the couple navigate the post-pandemic recovery road, they are buoyant and positive. Guest numbers are on the rise again and the mood is upbeat. Marion and Fabrice are quick to acknowledge their teams as well, from front and back of house, to the guides and everyone involved in the business at whatever level. "Some of our staff are third generation, men and women whose parents and grandparents worked for my father,” says Marion. “They are like family – and we love them wholeheartedly.”
A Motswari staycation has always been the ultimate way to disengage from the urban hustle and now, more than at any other time, it holds serious value for people. "It’s incredible to be able to absorb the healing effect of nature and be soothed by an untainted environment as you settle into the rhythm of a true wilderness,” says Marion. And all the while enjoying great food and wine, luxurious accommodation and very personalised, sincere service."
Looking ahead, Marion hopes her two children will bring the next generation of thinking into the business. Already, her son has done an internship to better understand the workings of the family business. “Our kids have an intrinsic understanding of the crucial link we have sought to cultivate and nurture – the cherished relationship between Motswari’s people, conservation, our guests and the destination as a whole. These are the inter-connected pillars that make it all work so seamlessly."
Motswari is an institution framed by integrity, sincere hospitality and altruism. It’s a nurturing experience on every level and the best is yet to come.