Our Staff

Johan Jansen van Vuuren
Managing Director

Johan Jansen van Vuuren, Managing Director of South of Africa, has come a long way from his humble childhood days in Brakpan, where he learnt as a young boy that to get what you want means having to work very hard.

Johan’s business mindset developed early, when he started his own business at age five – charging a small fee to run errands for neighbours. After completing his army service, he gained valuable experience in the service industry and a wider worldview while working for several years as a steward on South African Airways (SAA).

Not long after, Van Vuuren opened an import business and his first furniture and decor shop called Kri Kri. While dabbling in properties with his then partner Barry Mc’Geary, Johan discovered a run-down property, one hour north of Pretoria. They both fell in love with the piece of land, which they called Shangri-La, meaning “Place of Eternal Youth.”

Against the advice of friends and colleagues who dismissed the property as a dubious investment, Van Vuuren, together with his partner, brother and parents, took a leap of faith and purchased the Shangri-La property as a joint venture. The beautiful country hotel opened its doors in 1990 and today, 25 years later, it still employs many of the original team.

Johan gained prominence in the Limpopo area as he worked hard to promote local tourism, and actively marketed the province by serving on the boards of the local tourism offices, the former Northern Province Tourism Board, SATSA and many platforms. With his keen interest in the property market and an entrepreneurial knack for recognising potential diamonds, Johan’s next challenge arose when he purchased the old Bronnehof Hotel in Bela Bela (previously Warmbaths). He renamed the property the Elephant Springs Hotel and later bought other properties in Limpopo.

Johan’s panache for transforming properties into distinctive noteworthy establishments soon led him to another popular tourist destination, the Western Cape.

Over the years, Johan has purchased other prime properties in areas such as Franschoek and Prince Albert. With the sale of properties bought earlier Johan returned to the first property he fell in love with, Shangri-La. He used this as the inspiration to recreate a luxurious piece of paradise in Paternoster on the Cape West Coast, which he called Abalone House.

Johan plans to develop the portfolio of properties, but for him, growing his business goes beyond merely acquiring more establishments.

With his strong focus on investing in the SOA family, Johan has devoted much time into developing his team of approximately 200 staff members. He also plans to open a R1,5-million Hospitality Training Academy to invest further in young South Africans. This facility will focus on training job seekers in the hospitality industry and empowering them with skills to enhance their lives.

Van Vuuren says that there is no greater satisfaction than sharing his own knowledge and seeing how others are able to implement it successfully.

South of Africa’s Head Office is located in a restored historic building in Bela Bela. Here the group runs its entire operations, from its Finance Department, Marketing, Sales, HR, Projects and Central Reservations.

In 2010, Johan decided to group his portfolio of properties under one banner, and so, established South of Africa. Since then, this vibrant company is gaining a foothold in the competitive tourism industry and with its plans to expand even further; it seems the only way for South of Africa is up!

Stef Venter
Stef Venter – Financial Director

Graduated from Hotel School, internship at Protea Hotel Witbank. He then went on to qualify as a Chef. Then moved on to work at a 5 Star game lodge as a chef and General Manager. He then served as a relief General Manager at Shangri-La Country Hotel and later operated Paternoster accommodation for a further 6 years. Stef has for the last 3 years based himself in Limpopo as a Finance & Projects Manager. Stef has extensive hospitality experience and joined the South of Africa family in the year 2003.
Johan Esterhuizen – Project Manager, South of Africa Head Office

Johan Esterhuizen has been involved in the hospitality and interior design industry for the past 13 years. In 2000 Esterhuizen joined the company working as Reservations Manager. In 2003 Esterhuizen began JC Creations, his own interior design company, specializing in softs for hotels. Shortly thereafter, Esterhuizen joined Riverside Estates in Houtbay, being responsible for all building projects interiors, F&B, wedding and conference coordination and Finance. He returned to South of Africa in 2012 tasked as Project manager, which includes all building and interior projects. Esterhuizen played a major role in the interiors of the new Shangri-La and is currently busy with the upgrading of Elephant Springs and the new reception venue at Birdsong Cottages.
Khatija Mahomed – Human Resources & Industrial Relations, Payroll, South of Africa Head Office

Shortly after matriculating in 2010, Khatija Mahomed began studying Counselling at the Blackford Centre For Counselling. She joined South of Africa’s Head Office in January 2012 as Filing Clerk, thereafter assisting with Debtors. Her study field played a big role when she was put in charge of HR, IR and Payroll in 2012. According to her she thoroughly enjoys interacting with staff as well as being part of their development process. She is still furthering her studies in Psychological Counselling.
Egmond du Plessis – Guest Relations & Social Media, South of Africa Head Office

Having worked in the hospitality industry since 2001, with several years of retail experience, Du Plessis joined South of Africa in 2010 and now heads the e-Marketing office as well as the Guest Relations department. He also plays an important role in the liaising with PR and marketing.
Leigh Longden – General Manager, Abalone House & Spa and Paternoster Cottages

Having worked in the hospitality industry for over 30 years, Leigh Longden joined Abalone House & Spa at the dawn of a new era. Having assisted with the opening of the Reuben’s Restaurant and Healing Earth Spa, Longden has put her experience of training and running 5 star properties to excellent use. She not only manages the 5-star Boutique Guesthouse, but is also in charge of our selection of self-catering cottages in Paternoster (Kliphuisie, Seaside Cottages and Oppidraai).
Pieter Erasmus – General Manager, Shangri-La Country Hotel & SpA

With nearly three years of British hospitality experience, his South African hospitality experience included working for Pine Lake Inn in White River, Mpumalanga and 9 years of service with the well known Mabalingwe Nature Reserve, Bela Bela, starting out as Conference Supervisor, followed by Conference & Banqueting Manager, Food & Beverage Manager, Operations Manager and eventually the sought after title of General Manager. Erasmus spent three years as the GM of Elephant Springs Hotel & Cabanas before taking the helm over at Shangri-La in March 2015.
Ken Strydom – General Manager, Elephant Springs Hotel & CABANAS 

Ken Strydom joined Shangri-La Country Hotel as General Manager when the property was still branded with Protea Hotel. His 3 years of Management Training, 5 years of Front Office, 6 years of Food and Beverage Management and 10 years of General Management is what has made Shangri-La the success it is today. Strydom spent 12 years at GM of Shangri-La, and has also assisted with the operations at Avuxeni Resort. Strydom’s relationship with guests, especially brides-and-grooms-to-be that agreed on saying their vows at Shangri-La (thanks to him!), have not only established Shangri-La as a Wedding Venue of choice, but also the leading venue in Limpopo, and the perfect escape-to venue for Gauteng.  Strydom took over management of Elephant Springs in March 2015.
Lise Manley – PR, Western Cape (Manley Communications)

Manley Communications, established in 2000, is a consulting agency specialising in creating, implementing and managing perception; from brand identity and marketing to public relations and publicity. Husband and wife team Ian and Lise Manley have built an energetic powerhouse drawing on their expertise and knowledge of the hospitality industry. Manley Communications is a company driven by passion and dedicated to creativity; real and measurable strategies from dynamic, vibrant people.
Annette Ashley
Annette Ashley – Sales, Western Cape (AI Marketing)

In 2004, Annette Ashley decided to celebrate the wealth of experience and contacts gained, by opening her own company offering all aspects of Marketing Services, Conferencing & Events. During her nine years at the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront Company, Cape Town’s No. 1 Tourist Destination, Ashley was the founder of the “Big Six” marketing platform in Cape Town. She moved on to Canal Walk to market the largest shopping centre in Southern Africa, where she spent 4 years. Significant results were achieved with 55% of international tourists visiting Cape Town, shopping at Canal Walk. Ashley is a Board Member of Cape Town Tourism and serves on the Committee of SAACI (Southern African Association for the Conference Industry). She is also a member of SATSA (South African Tourism Services Association) and Skal International.
Bruce Copley
Bruce Copley – Holistic Educator (AHAA Learning)

Dr Bruce Copley former University Professor is an internationally acclaimed holistic educator who has inspired thousands of people to rediscover their lost love of learning. Described as a real life version of the teacher in the award winning film “Dead Poets Society” Bruce who is affectionately known as ” Captain Oh my Captain ” creates unforgettable learning experiences for people ranging from pre-schoolers to senior citizens using a remarkable array of skills and talents. He brings a fresh and profound approach to Holism grounded in his own awakened awareness and fuelled by a passion to rekindle in others the freedom and fullness that is their innate birthright. Bruce is credited with catalyzing significant changes in major South African organisations such as Eskom, Sun International, ABSA, Old Mutual, SA Defence Force, Geen and Richards and Nedbank. As a playfully serious advocate of holistic wellness, Bruce’s 2 most important ongoing challenges in life are to walk his talk and to hold his visions lightly.
Lauren Copley – Copywriter (Innovatrix)

Lauren Burley Copley developed all the editorial content for the new South of Africa website. As an independent journalist and editor, Lauren has more than 30 years experience in a wide variety of fields encompassing newspapers, magazines, books, corporate and digital media. Her special fields of interest include medicine, business, tourism, technology, current affairs and human sciences. With a solid background in investigative and newspaper journalism, Lauren has written hundreds of articles on numerous topics in leading South African consumer and business-to-business publications. These include Men’s Health, Marie Claire, Readers Digest, Fair Lady and De Kat magazines. As a full-time writer, editor and website content professional, Lauren provides specialised editorial support in writing, editing, media and web communications for a wide variety clients and companies in South Africa and overseas.