One of South Africa’s most remarkable sons is perhaps one of it's least well known. Ian Player, brother of golfing legend Gary, passed away in November of last year. His memorial was held last week.
I have just completed “Into the river of life”, a superb biography written by Graham Linscott and published by Jonathan Ball. Ian's credentials alone speak of a truly extraordinary spirit. He started the now world famous “Dusi” canoe marathon. A race that winds through the powerful Umsindusi river along a route that Ian ran for the first time in basic canvas boats that weighed over 100 pounds. Player founded the Wilderness Leadership School which since 1959 has taken thousands of school children and business leaders on transformative nature trails. Al Gore, Edmund De Rothschild and some of the world’s greatest patrons of conservation were engaged through their experience in Africa with Ian and the equally inspired Magqubu Ntombela.
Player pioneered the fight against rhino poaching as early as 1961 when the population of white rhino was as low as 2500. He and professor Toni Hawthorn had to endure huge danger as they learnt the science of drugging, moving and reviving rhino’s with premature sedatives and inadequate equipment. The early stages involved huge heartbreak as animals who were caught in the logistical challenges died from infection, overdose and trauma right in front of their eyes after days of struggle. The white rhino population is now over 20,000 thanks to the efforts and methods developed by Ian and his colleagues.
Player however, considers the pinnacle of his career to be the development of the World Wilderness Congress. To date it is the longest running environmental initiative in the world and since 1977 it has hosted scientists, leaders and conservationists from all over the world, even during the depths of Apartheid.
There is no question that Ian is a true ambassador for the wilderness spirit that sits so comfortably in the core of South African culture. His efforts to bring alive the principles of conservation to a global audience in the height of our isolation are nothing short of the peaceful revolutions facilitated by the likes of Nelson Mandela. What we can take from player is his understanding and appreciation of his own Daimon. “Daimons” are the unique spirits that gave ancient Greeks their unique purpose and the genius that allowed them to create inspired gifts for the world. They as man were not seen as the creators of their endeavours and talents but rather as vessels for a higher power. Ian felt a unique sense of duty to protect the wild places of the world and to use their unique energy to protect the human spirit. Reading the challenges that Ian faced and overcame suggest a truly astonishing sense of integrity and perseverance that to the humbled reader seem almost divine.
It was only from the times of the renaissance that man suddenly took credit for his creative pursuits. The divine spirits as the source of our inspiration and intuition were cast aside and man himself was held up as the true creator of his ideas and endeavours. What has this cost us?
Does the rapid decline of our global ecosystem represent not only a disconnection from nature but the the very Daimons that give us true wisdom. When we consider the levels of depression, addiction and unemployment that pervade society these days, does it not symbolise a society that has lost touch with its intuition and the universal laws of nature. As we scramble around seeking short term resolutions that make us feel better about ourselves individually, should we not be opening ourselves up to our own Daimon that gives us the greatest inspiration to make a revolution in our lives for the collective. If Players life is anything to go by in terms of adventure, contribution, impact and the community he created, it is definitely worth it.
Winston Churchill, another person who reflected deeply on his life and his Daimon in the glorious hills of South Africa during the Boer War said "we make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give".
To get another insight into the amazing work and lives of Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela please watch this video