Sometimes the life of a man and the tale of a land are inextricably woven together. Their spirits intertwine, the man tending the land and the land nourishing the mind and soul of the man. Nearly seventy years ago in 1950, Boet Liebenberg first arrived into the beautiful wilds of Zambia. Through the eager eyes of a 16-year-old, he fell in love with the bush, starting a lifelong passion that would lead him on countless adventures and eventually the founding of his own safari company with his son.
Born in 1933 in Boksburg, South Africa, Boet spent his childhood split between the city and the bush. In accordance with the age, he grew up an avid hunter and fisher, but quit hunting when he realised he didn’t like harming wild animals. Instead, inspired by his love of the natural world and his friendship with conservation legend Norman Carr, Boet turned his dreams toward conservation and the safari industry.
Chris Liebenberg, son and co-founder of Chongwe Safaris, fondly remembers spending weekends fishing with his father and brother Geoff and going on family safaris with Norman Carr. It was these early father and son adventures that laid the way for the future success of Chongwe Safaris. Boet sharing his love of the natural world with his children was at the centre of their family life. Inspired to bring this same authentic bush experience to adventurers around the world, Boet’s vision for his future safari company began stirring in his mind.
While on a canoeing safari down the mighty Zambezi River, Boet and his family first laid eyes on the future site of Chongwe Safaris. With the tranquil bends of the river, the grove of shady Albida trees and the magnificent escarpment beyond, they knew they had found their new home away from home. They loved the confluence of rivers and terrestrial ecosystems, which provided a juxtaposition of fishing and boating against traditional safaris – a trait that still draws many travellers to Chongwe Safaris to this day.
Bringing Chongwe Safaris to life was an exercise in patience and dedication for Boet. His vision was in place, but many barriers and challenges still laid ahead. It took years of jumping through bureaucratic hoops to finally procure the Chongwe Safaris land and have the title in hand. It was purely his dream and vision that pushed him through when it would have been easier to simply give up.
Over the years, many others would come to call Chongwe Safaris their happy place too. By building a team that felt more like family than colleagues, Boet and Chris were able to create a magic that resonated with everyone who stayed at Chongwe Safaris. In the evenings, Boet loved to sit around the campfire and enthral the guests with tales of his wild bush adventures, sharing laughter under the starry skies.
After many years at Chongwe Safaris, the elephants could remember him, seeming to greet him with every return. He taught his sons that with time they would learn to recognise your voice. One of his favourite pastimes was to gather up the Albida pods (an elephant favourite) and scatter them around his lawn chair. He would gently encourage and soothe them as they came within inches of his chair, feeding on the pods.
Even when he was back in South Africa, Boet would speak fondly about Zambia and the lovely nature of the Zambian people. In addition to participating in the local conservation-based tourism industry, he also served as the chairman for the Wildlife Society of Zambia and Conservation Lower Zambezi. Chongwe Safaris was his most cherished accomplishment and he was tremendously proud of Chris and the safari experience they had crafted together. After arriving with nothing but a tent and some utensils, together they had built up Chongwe Safaris to be a thriving destination.
He inspired all those around him to have a gentler touch on the earth, a deeper connection with the fellow beings that walk the earth beside us. Towards the end of his life, his compassion for the natural world was so deep that he didn’t even like catching fish.
In fitting with a life so woven into the story of the Chongwe land, Boet chose a spot overlooking the confluence of the Chongwe and Zambezi Rivers for his ashes to be spread. Later this year, his family and friends will gather to honour this final request.
Long may Boet's spirit live on with the rivers, the trees and of course, with the elephants.
Photos by Adrian Steirn, Will Burrard Lucas and Andrew Macdonald