Snakes alive! Dozens of them. And if you live in Potch, they’re near you
Collen Lengwasa and his family’s fascination with reptiles has set them on a path to educate people about the animals
As you drive up to the Lengwasas’ property in Dassierand, Potchefstroom, you are welcomed by a sign on the gate that says the house is guarded by a snake, accompanied by an intimidating picture of a cobra.
Nothing about the place says 18 indigenous and exotic serpents are slithering freely on couches and in terrariums in the house.
In 2017 Collen Lengwasa, 40, shocked his wife Lidia Pina, 36, when he and their 11-year-old son came home from a reptile expo with a snake.
“I packed my bags and wanted to leave our marriage. I couldn’t understand why he let me fall in love with him and have a family before he decided to let snakes into the home. I knew he was fascinated by them because at work he does a lot of conservation and deals with reptiles.
“He promised to keep it in the garage and eventually my two boys were spending all their time in what they made a man-cave, cleaning, petting and feeding the snake. Eventually I started joining them and learning about the reptiles. Today I have a favourite, Lucy (an albino Burmese python),” said Pina.
They now own 60, some of which are homed with breeders and keepers in their circle until they have more space.
As a youngster growing up in Mmakau village, North West, Lengwasa was exposed to snakes during hunting seasons.
One of the boys said a snake was looking at me and I shouldn’t move. We stood there for minutes waiting for it to act, but it suddenly moved past without harming anyone and I think that’s what sparked my fascination with them.Collen Lengwasa
“Going to the wild was the only way to pass time, so we would compete on how many caves we’d been into and how far we’d gone looking for prey. One day while we were indulging in wild fruit, I felt my body shiver and my hair rise. One of the boys said a snake was looking at me and I shouldn’t move.
“We stood there for minutes waiting for it to act, but it suddenly moved past without harming anyone and I think that’s what sparked my fascination with them,” Lengwasa said.
The family rarely entertains because many friends and family have an overwhelming fear of snakes.
“The anthem with our friends and family is that they won’t come to our house. We are loners and the snakes are our family.
“People who don’t know us assume we are witches, but it doesn’t offend us because we understand that in African culture snakes are seen as evil creatures. Hence we are on a mission to make sure communities[understand why we do what we do],” said Lengwasa.
To manage the stigma he started a company, securing licences to keep, showcase, capture and release the animals.
“We showcase the beauty of reptiles, while promoting safety, socio-economics, heritage and diverse African cultures. We want to build healthy relationships with and a better understanding of our indigenous reptiles and society,” Lengwasa said.
“We want to have a snake park one day. That’s our dream.”
“We are not naive. We keep in mind that these are animals with their own thoughts. But our love for them has made life good. They know us and not once have they escaped or struck.”