Meeting Siv Ngesi, his profession as an actor and comedian comes as little surprise. He displays a natural flair for comedy, although he declares acting is his first love. “My biggest passion is acting. My comedy and motivational speaking is my other woman, but my main wife is acting. I have Zuma tendencies.” Enquiring about his background, he quickly delves into his childhood. “I grew up in Gugulethu. I really enjoyed that. Grew up in the streets barefoot, causing kak. Then I moved to Langa; and when the white people let us in, I moved to Pinelands. We started slaughtering chickens, and sheep and cows in white areas. SPCA did get a couple of calls.”
Good-natured ribbing aside, the intent was to talk about his recent visit to Inverdoorn. We often make the assumption that all South Africans have been on safari, merely because they live here – so I decided to check whether he had ever been on game drives before. “Yes,” he informs me. “But with Inverdoorn…there was something special about you guys…I loved the giraffe walk…[it] was amazing…The cheetah thing was incredible…We had a very passionate game driver [Christo]. I had a great chat with him. He knows his stuff.”
The team at the reserve certainly kept him busy and it is evident he enjoyed his time there from the many photos splashed across Instagram, particularly of Bundu and Lavinia. I didn’t even have to ask him about the best part of the trip, because he jumped straight to it. “My highlight, without a shadow of a doubt, was playing with the rhinos. I have been all over the world and I’ve done some crazy things…but those rhinos. They have their own personalities…I always knew about the rhino problem, but I think being there with them just made me realise they literally have personalities. They are strong beasts…these prehistoric beasts…you can’t believe they’re being killed for a toenail and hair. They’re incredible to see…I’m more in support of the rhinos after chilling with [them]. I think that experience for me put it differently. It’s about putting a human aspect to it. That’s key.”
He got the chance to meet Velvet too, and learning about the cheetahs was an aspect of the trip which really stood out for him . “The thing with the cheetahs is that I know someone who is deeply involved, so I know Leah’s [Inverdoorn’s main cheetah handler] so passionate about them. And I can feel that come across in the whole environment of it. I think just the things I learnt about them is incredible. Just so insightful and informative….And they’re quite interesting animals. They’re like the Usain Bolts of the flipping jungle. And you know, they’re pretty nonchalant about it. When you see them you look at them and think ‘Ah! What can you do?’ Until you see them chasing something.”
Wildlife is what Inverdoorn is all about, and it is a big part of South Africa too – after all, people from all over the world come here for safaris. But what about people right here? Should they be going on safari too? “I definitely do [think so]. I think that sometimes in South Africa we take it for granted. There’s nothing like seeing an elephant up close and personal. There’s nothing like seeing how powerful those animals are. We just saw…one of them roll a car like it was a tennis ball,” Siv says, referring to the elephant that overturned a tourist’s vehicle in the Kruger National Park recently. “Watching the elephant roll that car, it looked like that elephant had better handling skills than Bafana Bafana.”
At every turn Siv displays both knowledge and passion, and he shows a great tenacity to contextualise much of what he says to South Africa. So I ask him, especially as we steer towards the topic of conservation, what he thinks the government should be doing about it. “The government needs more foresight. The government, in general, needs more foresight. Truthfully if each animal didn’t have a price tag, we wouldn’t have any more animals. It’s unfortunate to say. But we need to be able to take care of them in the long run. It’s like education. You’re investing in education, because in 18 years’ time you’re gonna be making money out of those kids. It’s an investment. It’s our resource.”
The other level to consider is the public, and what power lies in their hands to make a difference. “I think that whole video with the elephant has done a lot,” Siv says. “It literally exposed that those tourists were in the wrong. They could have gotten away from that. I think it’s about being vigilant and putting things out there; like social media, speak about it. We are shareholders in this country and that means we should have a say. To be able to talk about it as much as possible. Get the word out.”
Siv may be buoyed by an energy of optimism, but he is not afraid to be realistic, manifested in his appraisal of work done by charities, for conservation or otherwise. “What I find is wrong with charities, is that they need to be run like a business…The government doesn’t give a damn about it unless it’s business. That’s any government in the world. It needs to be: legalise it [rhino horn for example], you’ll make this much money. End of the day, you shouldn’t care if it’s going into the right hands or the wrong hands. As long as animals aren’t getting killed willy nilly. But what’s gonna happen, because South Africans like pointing fingers, is that South Africans are gonna go ‘no, we can’t legalise it because the ANC is just gonna take the bloody money and use it to buy cars.’ But we want to stop the rhinos from being killed…At the end of the day it needs to be business. The government needs to know we can make billions of rands….Then they’ll get involved…You guys are trying to talk to people who don’t have animals in their foresight. But what they do have, is they want to make money. And that’s the only way to get to those guys.” However, I point out that South African society is changing, and a unified culture and solidarity is being sought, with conservation becoming everyone’s concern. “But do we have 20 years?” he asks. “Thirty rhinos have been killed this year. Two a day! I don’t know if we can wait.”
Time spent with Siv is sure to be illuminating – and whether you are pursuing a lively debate or watching him perform, you will be entertained. He’s currently on the silver screen in Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and working one some new projects, which include two comedy shows, Born Free and Si Viva. Even though he enthusiastically professes his love for acting, it seems his greatest passion is for others – and his actions, like running his NPO Siv Gives Back or speaking out for those without a voice, breathe life into his own words: “The legacy I want to leave behind is: Sivuyile ‘Siv’ Ngesi used his talents and influence to change lives and the world."
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