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25 years ago Bertie Ham did not imagine where his almost accidental business start-up would take him. With his business partner Renè Kronsbein, who joined a few years later, the business grew not only in size but also in technology. Today, Savanna Car Hire is a specialised car rental business at the country’s forefront of safe and reliable 4×4 safari camping vehicles.
Namibia is the ultimate safari country for many reasons: the abundance of wild places, large areas of uninhabited land and natural vegetation, beautiful untouched wilderness offering dramatic panoramas, geological features that astound and a variety of landscapes that will amaze even the most blasé traveller. But above all, this large country has a road network that allows even the most adventurous to reach the furthest corners of this desert land. Visitors can explore its variety of interesting destinations along tar, gravel and salt roads, and venture off the beaten track on 4×4 routes over mountains and through dry riverbeds. Namibians who love camping and exploring have been going that way for generations. But visitors have only been able to taste the freedom of exploring on their own since specialised rented vehicles have become available.
Bertie, who has tried and tested many cars over the years, starting with that very first Combi with which he took his family on camping trips, can tell you exactly what was wrong with which make and why, from their very first batch of small rental cars until they eventually opted for Toyota 4×4 double cab Land Cruisers as their flagship camper.
Even though he considers these hardy and reliable cars to be the best suited and safest for Namibian roads and for the weight of the camping gear they have to carry, Bertie nevertheless reinforces the suspension and he does not compromise on the type of tyres. Safety and reliability will always be his first priority. Looking at the innovative ways he and his partner have adapted and improved the campers over the years, it is obvious that they are experts not only on the mechanics, but being avid campers themselves they also have first-hand experience of what makes camping a comfortable and gratifying adventure.
Hans Cloete has always been good with his hands. At a young age he witnessed the forced removal of people from the Old Location to Katutura, at which time both his parents left Windhoek to stay on a farm out of town. Hans remained in the care of his older sister and her husband. Hans eventually followed suit, leaving school and a living situation that had become unbearable. His innate skills and handiness became obvious to the farmer, who encouraged Hans to return to Windhoek as a young man and find practical work. Finding his first job at a mechanical workshop, washing cars, he couldn’t help being interested in what was going on around him and soon learnt as much as he could about fixing cars. Now aged 67 years, Hans has a lot to be proud of. He has brought up his five children, all of them have completed matric exams and his son is about to finish his medical degree at UNAM. He couldn’t be prouder. Work hard, he says, and make the best of any situation.
Born in a small village near Oshakati, Andreas Jerobean had to walk 20 kilometres to school every day. After grade seven he decided to leave school and start making a living. This was prior to independence, and the rural countryside was a rough place to be. Young Andreas left home and worked at Rössing Mine before eventually finding his way to Windhoek and to Savanna Car Hire. Andreas has been with Savanna for eleven years now, washing and cleaning 4-wheel campers after clients return from their trips around the country. He finds it interesting, he says, how there are two kinds of people: those who clean the car before dropping it off and those who don’t. He cleans about fifteen cars a day, getting through his work as quickly and efficiently as possible. Andreas met his wife while they were at school together. She is in Ovambo with their children while he supports them from the capital. This way, he says, he has been able to provide a large house for them, which would have been impossible in Windhoek.
Bertie is very grateful to have Renè as his younger business partner who takes care of the day-to-day running of the business, allowing Bertie to concentrate on what interests him most, such as sourcing the next level of self-drive camping. With a smile he acknowledges that he may have reached the age when comfort and extra luxuries are important. No wonder then that the next addition to the Savanna Car Hire camper fleet will have a range of special features to entice the discerning, and perhaps older traveller.
From a small building on Snyman Circle in Windhoek which Bertie and his siblings inherited from their father, Savanna Car Hire has expanded into an adjacent warehouse, covering every square meter and still there is not enough space. Their expansion did not only grow their own business, but because they make use of Namibian suppliers to build the camping cabs, these partners also innovate and expand.
With a sense of responsibility, and of fun and lots of energy as the little warthogs with tails in the air on the Savanna Car Hire logo, there seems to be no stopping the team to embrace every new challenge.