Picture a lone water berry tree under a full moon in northern KwaZuluNatal. Mosquito nets catching the moonlight,a crackling fire and a soft snore are the only signs that nine people are asleep under the tree.
Nine people… depending on you to keep them safe. You’re on night watch, woken to take over for an hour,to keep the fire going and to walk the perimeter of the camp around the tree and sweep the beam of a powerful torch across the landscape to check for the reflection of eyes and for shapes moving in the night.
You needn’t worry too much about leopard or rhino, Mandla B had explained earlier. Hippo or buffalo, on the other hand… If you think you spot a hippo- or buffalo-shaped silhouette in the beam of the torch, wake Mandla Buthelezi or Mandla Mkhwanazi, who are sleeping with their loaded rifles within reach. But don’t wake them for a pair of eyes shining close to the ground, like those of a warthog. And if you do wake them, please don’t shine the light into their eyes, as that would ruin their night vision. And try not to wake the others or point the light in their direction. And don’t let the fire die!
It’s amazing how quickly that hour passes, looking for movement in the moonlit landscape, putting wood on the fire and listening to the night sounds: the gurgling call of a Mozambique nightjar, the warning bark of a baboon sentinel, the whoop of a hyena&helli