Preservation of natural habitats

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Zoë Gauld-Angelucci, 32

Head of programmes
The Greenpop Foundation

Zoë Gauld-Angelucci has always loved the natural world. She spent her childhood tending to tomato plants and enjoying taking long walks along the river near her home. Fast forward two decades and she attended the University of Cape Town, where she gained a broader perspective on the numerous intersecting social and environmental challenges facing South Africa. She subsequently made the decision to pursue a career tackling these issues.

She went on to complete an MPhil in development studies and wrote her thesis on the social impacts of urban greening projects run by a local environmental NGO, The Greenpop Foundation. Little did she know that this academic project would transform into a fulfilling career spanning almost eight years with the organisation.

In 2018, she took up the role of Greenpop’s head of programmes — a job that offered her the opportunity to tackle social and environmental justice. This position allowed her to develop, implement and oversee all of Greenpop’s reforestation, urban greening, food gardening and environmental awareness projects across South Africa, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. Gauld-Angelucci is particularly proud to have facilitated the selection of Greenpop as an official supporting partner for the UN decade on ecosystem restoration — a title that solidifies the organisation’s contribution towards the global field of ecosystem restoration.

Gauld-Angelucci believes that climate change should be seen not only as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of social justice in South Africa — and that without a focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change, social and economic development gains will be short-lived. In 2020, Greenpop set an ambitious goal to plant 500 000 trees by 2025 and one million trees by 2030 in projects across sub-Saharan Africa. Gauld-Angelucci encourages businesses to get involved and support Greenpop to reach its goal of creating a greener South Africa for generations to come.

“Climate change should be seen not only as an environmental issue, but also as an issue of social justice in South Africa — and that without a focus on mitigating and adapting to climate change, social and economic development gains will be short-lived.”

Shai Rama | mg.co.za
Bishop Ngobeli, 47

Bishop Ngobeli, 47

Conservation manager
Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo

Bishop Ngobeli’s interest in conservation stems from his childhood. He grew up in rural Venda, where he says he was always exposed to the natural environment. He studied nature conservation at the University of Pretoria, then began his career as an intern at Mokala National Park, near Kimberley.

He later joined the department of water affairs and forestry and became a project manager developing parks for the City of Johannesburg. He is currently conservation manager for Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, where his responsibilities include taking care of reserves, koppies and bird sanctuaries.

Ngobeli is also president of the Institute of Environment and Recreation Management, a position that allows him to fulfill his passion for “greening our communities” and advocating for broader access to open spaces. In 2020, he was recognised as an emerging leader by World Urban Parks, an international organisation representing the urban parks, open spaces and recreation sector; he is the first black member of its board.

Ngobeli is also leading the president’s 10 Million Tree Programme, launched in September with the goal of planting two million trees each year. “If you look at areas like Protea, Diepsloot, Braamfischerville and others, these areas are still brown, so we need to have such initiatives and make them green by not only planting indigenous trees, but also fruit trees, so that in the near future, communities can utilise these trees for food security,” Ngobeli says.

He adds: “Government has provided electricity and water to citizens, but we need to go further to ensure a better quality of life that comes from green and open spaces.”

“Government has provided electricity and water to citizens, but we need to go further to ensure a better quality of life that comes from green and open spaces.”

Sandiso Ngubane | mg.co.za
David Tshidzumba, 24

David Tshidzumba, 24

Youth brigade chairperson and co-ordinator
SOLVE — Save our Limpopo Valley Environment

Save Our Limpopo Valley Environment (SOLVE) is an
organisation that advocates for the conservation and sustainable development in the Vhembe region.

SOLVE is fighting the authorisation of the Musina-Makhado Special Economic Zone in the ecologically sensitive and unique biome of the Limpopo Valley. David Tshidzumba, the youth brigade chairperson and co-ordinator of SOLVE, says: “Our work is to protect the communities in the region, because this project will hurt communities here that are already struggling as it is.”

Tshidzumba was mentored by SOLVE’s late co-founder, Walter Schultz, whom he formed a great connection with. “He was a man of many words, but he backed that up with even more action! That’s part of my motto and something that Wally lived by: ‘Don’t tell me, show me’.”

SOLVE’s projects focus on environmental conservation and community engagement. Tshidzumba elaborates: “We are focused on making sure that we protect Limpopo from any activity that will have adverse effects on its people and natural landscape. A strong environmental network can only be positive for the region.”

In 2011, SOLVE successfully opposed the Mudimeli coal mine that was being proposed by MC Mining Ltd, formerly Coal of Africa Ltd, by submitting objections at public participation meetings, organising a protest in Polokwane and writing articles to drive its share price down.

The organisation’s projects also include actively visiting schools and giving talks about the climate change crisis. “We believe more of it needs to be in the curriculum. We also attend public participation meetings on any proposed project in the area to actively engage, and we host workshops in the Louis Trichardt area to educate people about the importance of our precious environment,” says Tshidzumba.

“I strive for a future where sustainability is no longer something that is just discussed, and remains just that.”

Alexandra van Nieuwenhuizen | mg.co.za
Enock Pedze, 40

Enock Pedze, 40

Chairperson
South Africa Volunteer Work Camp Association

South Africa Volunteer Work Camp Association (SAVWA), is a youth-focused NPO working on projects addressing permaculture. SAVWA is a member of the Coordinating Committee for International Voluntary Service, which aims to address climate change and protect our environment.

“We want our youth to learn from an early age about sustainable food production techniques. Especially for those with fewer opportunities, we provide free capacity building and skills training programmes that help to bridge the critical capability gap, in addition to developing a greater awareness of their ecological footprint,” says SAVWA chairperson Enock Pedze.

SAVWA is dedicated to analysing and re-evaluating existing farming systems and improving land cultivation. In this way, SAVWA aims to create a holistic production management system that promotes and enhances agro-ecosystem health, including biodiversity, biological cycles and soil biological activity. Through this initiative, the use of pesticides and chemicals are minimised, reducing major environmental issues by ensuring healthy soil, water, flora and fauna. Pedze says: “We can provide healthy, sustainable production of our own back yard gardening at home, or any place you can imagine.”

SAVWA believes that greening the future involves a fair transition principle, which Pedze explains as a “process to build sustainable economies and resilient communities. This transition process must be equitable and restorative in creating new relationships of power for the future through reparations.” This transition describes both where humanity is going and how we will get there. “The effects of climate change have been identified as one of the biggest threats to society and communities. Greening for the future is to approach production and consumption cycles in a more holistic, waste and pollution-free way.”

 

Permaculture systems provide for their own needs, do not exploit or pollute, and are therefore sustainable.

Alexandra van Nieuwenhuizen | mg.co.za
Deon Louw, 36

Deon Louw, 36

Urban greening project manager
The Greenpop Foundation

As an urban greening project manager, Louw’s paired passions for education and ecology coincide. Central to his work is the Fynbos for Future initiative, which connects children living in underserved — and “under-greened” — communities with their natural heritage by planting indigenous gardens at schools. Navigating economic and structural obstacles is primary to the programme, Louw says. “Our aim with building outdoor biodiversity classrooms is to bring nature to the kids and, in doing so, removing accessibility barriers to natural spaces in Cape Town.”

Greenpop has worked with schools across the metropole since 2010, providing eco-education workshops to learners and planting thousands of trees. Following the 2018 drought, the nonprofit’s urban greening programme refocused on restoring the Cape’s fynbos ecosystem. The resulting school gardens work as both educational tools and biodiversity corridors, promoting environmental responsibility in children and supporting nature’s resilience. Greenpop’s urban greening programme pursues an ecologically robust future, where local biodiversity is accessible to all and conserved by engaged community custodians.

Louw suggests that contributing to the natural world’s continued preservation offers an antidote to the existential crisis of climate change. “Many people don’t know what to do with this information,” he says of the increasingly urgent warnings of planetary catastrophe, “and it could lead to anxiety and even apathy. To see the positive change we all long for, we need to get active, not anxious.”

Getting active is easy: “One can do amazing things in the fields of urban greening and sustainability by just volunteering one’s free time,” Louw says. “Greenpop can only achieve what it does with the constant help of countless volunteers, and every bit counts.” As to looking ahead to future projects, he says: “My dream would be to increase our capacity to enable us to work with more people, plant more food and plant more fynbos.”

Greenpop’s urban greening programme pursues an ecologically robust future, where local biodiversity is accessible to all and conserved by engaged community custodians. Deon Louw suggests that contributing to the natural world’s continued preservation offers an antidote to the existential crisis of climate change.

Lucienne Bestall | mg.co.za
Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network

Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network

Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network

Founded by community leaders, the Sekhukhune Environmental Justice Network (SEJN) first focused on communities affected by mining in the region. “Mining causes environmental degradation in nearby communities,” one of the founders, Mmathapelo Thobejane, says. Based in Ditwebeleng village, the SEJN works throughout the Sekhukhune District Municipality and has reached close to 50 schools, communities and traditional homes. With the help of Bohwa Bja Rena, a community development trust, the SEJN planted 150 trees in schools across the municipality from 2019 to 2020.

The efforts of the organisation have been recognised by the communities of the region, and allowed for the development of partnerships that expand its range of work. This expansion helped to provide the SEJN with a seat at the table when the community sat down with government and mining representatives three years ago. “The biggest success of our organisation was when we managed to engage the department of water and sanitation and the nearby mine about the water pollution that was happening in our area,” Thobejane explains, “and livestock owners managed to get compensated for the animals lost due to the polluted water.”

Thobejane wants to continue her organisation’s work but on a larger scale. Funding remains an issue for the SEJN, despite its successes. “We want to see our school greening project implemented in 30 schools in the neighbouring Fetakgomo Tubatse Local Municipality, and trees planted in at least 50 more schools,” she says. When resources are low, the organisation has learnt to prioritise campaigns that can be run at no cost. These campaigns use community donations and charity drives — such as the distribution of personal protective equipment during lockdown and arranging psychological support for the community’s healthcare workers. “We see ourselves running sustainable projects that will maintain our work without struggling for funds, and our management team being able to get proper work and earn something instead of volunteering all the time,” Thobejane adds.

 

“Never give up, especially if you have a passion to help vulnerable communities and those who need your services.”

Nabeel Allie | mg.co.za