Durban - After being under attack by lions, Zululand game ranger Magqubu Ntombela went back to retrieve his three-legged pot, which he had dropped in his hasty retreat.

His friend and fellow ranger, Dr Ian Player, was angry with him for risking his life. “When he (Magqubu) decided to go back and fetch it, we had a furious argument. I said his life was more valuable to me than the pot. He ignored me, braved a wounded lion and returned, smiling, with his pot,” Player later wrote.

The pot was a regular topic between the best friends, with Player recalling that Ntombela insisted on taking his ibhodwe (three-legged pot) with him, when the two travelled overseas for a congress. “He wasn’t going anywhere without it. And when mealie meal wasn’t on the menu, he asked some Red Indians if they could get him some. They did, too, somewhere in New Mexico,” wrote Player.

Ntombela died in 1993, aged 93, while Player died in 2014, aged 87. They were a legendary duo in the world of conservation, with Player leading the fight to save the white rhino from extinction in KwaZulu-Natal in the ‘60s, and the pair establishing South Africa’s first wilderness area.

The result was Player’s Wilderness Foundation, which recognised the importance of wilderness for the human spirit and for biodiversity conservation, and also included the Wilderness Leadership School.

Now local film producer Duncan Macneillie is sourcing funding in South Africa and overseas for a feature film with the working title Zulu Shadow.

A proposed new feature film, Zulu Shadow, about legendary conservationists Dr Ian Player and Magqubu Ntombela, is in the pipeline.

Speaking to the Independent on Saturday this week, Macneillie, who also produced and directed the hit movie Jock of the Bushveld, said that, prior to his death, Player had asked him to do the feature.

“I did three documentaries with Ian and Magqubu in the early ‘80s, and I knew them well. Theirs was a special relationship and the film will focus on that, but also deals with Ian’s mission to start wilderness trails and protect certain areas in game reserves, which then spread to the rest of South Africa. Ian and Magqubu met each other during the trying times of the ‘60s, and teamed up.

“Magqubu never spoke English and, to be honest, Ian’s Zulu wasn’t great. They were both stubborn people and, at times, Magqubu would undermine Ian’s authority, but he also taught him about the myths and legends of Mfolozi. Magqubu was a true mentor, he was, in my view, one of the last of the old Zulu order, who came from a disciplined background. Culturally they were so different, but their missions gelled,” said Macneillie.

He confirmed that the second draft of the screenplay was almost done. He has been working on it with his daughter, Kristy Macneillie. The story remains relevant with poaching in SA, while the goal is to have an impact on conserving wilderness areas across the globe.

“We’d like production to start in the new year and filming in the winter months, in Zululand next year, because it’s cooler then,” said Macneillie, who will also head overseas soon to source international funding. Part of the proposal includes original music by Johnny Clegg and Bryan Adams.

Player’s list of awards and achievements are extensive, from Knight in the Order of the Golden Ark (Holland) and decoration for Meritorious Service to South Africa, through to gaining a Doctor of Philosophy at the then University of Natal and a Doctor of Laws from Rhodes University. He was also fascinated by the human psyche and drawn to the works of Carl Jung, which he studied for decades with the late Sir Laurens van der Post.

The spirit of the wilderness was a deep shared connection between Player and Magqubu. When Magqubu died, Player wrote: “To Magqubu, the hills and the trees lived. The animals and birds were his brothers and sisters. His eyesight was phenomenal and his hearing so acute, that he would wake from a deep sleep to the sound of a hyena or a leopard passing the camp. He had extra-sensory powers, which enabled him to anticipate danger. He could not read or write, but he always smiled, with teeth in perfect condition at the age of 93, and said: ‘My lips are my pen, my ears, my books’.”

For further information or to assist with funding, email duncanmacneillie Additional sources: The Wilderness Foundation and Dr Ian Player websites

Independent On Saturday