positive, proactive partnerships and cooperative management with all stakeholders. This is done by employing a sustainable natural resource and environmental management approach, as guided by the Ezemvelo Corporate Strategy.
The areas under his guidance include fields as diverse as district conservation and natural resource management, community conservation, and co-management. Co-management, says Keswa, entails the conclusion of agreements between private and communal landowners through the KZN Biodiversity Stewardship Programme, either in the form of a Biodiversity Agreement or a Protected Area Management Agreement.
These agreements form part of the contractual arrangements that are assented to when formally establishing a biodiversity stewardship agreement. The agreements formalise arrangements between landowners and the KZN Nature Conservation Board (Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife). On the one hand, they set out the obligation of the Board to support landowners in their conservation efforts, and, on the other, the obligations of landowners in managing their land for biodiversity conservation purposes. Keswa points out that there are also co-management structures in place between Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and certain communities resulting from land restitution process settlements in various state-owned, protected areas.
Keswa comments that ongoing awareness drives are really important in order to continuously remind the general public of the role and importance of conservation. As examples of these awareness drives, he mentions the Ezemvelo Cup Provincial Tournament, which is a netball and soccer event involving 80 teams from traditional councils surrounding Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s geographical area that is aimed at raising biodiversity conservation awareness through sport.
Then there is S’fundimvelo, which is aimed at schools within high-poverty communities that border on Ezemvelo’s existing parks, as well as schools situated in areas of high conservation value. The programme concentrates on Grade 6 learners. There are currently 106 schools participating in the programme, which comprises a teacher workshop, a resource box, and a trip into the local Ezemvelo park or reserve. These are followed by a support programme during which the schools implement their own environmental action project.
He explains that, among the awareness projects, the Rhino Ambassador Project has provided a platform for Ezemvelo to educate communities on a larger scale about issues threatening the environment. This is done by young rhino ambassadors within the communities. These youngsters are from local churches, schools and traditional councils, and also from protected areas. They present seminars with the aim of raising awareness in their communities, focusing on rhino poaching, but also on other conservation issues.
Keswa mentions that medicinal trees have been donated to traditional healers in cooperation with Medicinal Trees and the Wildlands Conservation Trust. These trees will be planted in the development and medicinal plant forests and in various medicinal plant nurseries across the province. Some of the trees will also be donated to schools and communities and will be used around municipal buildings.
Challenges Become Opportunities
When asked about challenges, Keswa is quick to point out that challenges are also seen as opportunities. As an example, he cites the negative perceptions of various stakeholders concerning biodiversity conservation in general, including neighbouring communities in the protected areas and the public at large. This is both a challenge and an opportunity, he says. On the plus side, many of the awareness drives are helping to change these negative perceptions into positives and even into active participation.
One of the ongoing challenges is the human–wildlife conflict that exists within neighbouring communities in the protected areas, particularly in the absence of appropriate prescripts on compensation, notes Keswa. On the biodiversity side, the battle against alien and invasive plant infestation both inside and outside protected areas is a challenge that is considered to be one of the main threats to biodiversity conservation. Parthenium and Chromoleana plants are high on the list of unwanted species that have to be eradicated safely and bearing the surrounding environment in mind. Last, but not least, he mentions the scourge of rhino poaching and stresses that no stone is being left unturned in the fight against it.
All of the challenges mentioned are being managed under the auspices of the Biodiversity Conservation, Investigation, Enforcement and Liaison, and Rhino Security initiatives. Such challenges are also included in the trans-boundary area management plans of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. Keswa is also responsible for protected regional terrestrial and marine areas, which means that Ezemvelo’s reach extends into the sea. Keswa renders strategic leadership services to both coastal and biodiversity management groups within the larger organisation.
He speaks about protected areas expansion, conservancies, stewardship and spatial conservation as naturally as if he were discussing his next meal. He came into nature conservation almost by sheer coincidence, while he was involved in another profession in the health sector. But, having become an integral part of nature conservation, nothing will ever get him to change course. Both Keswa and the Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, have welcomed the R232,2-million grant received by Peace Parks Foundation from the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lotteries to combat rhino poaching in South Africa.
The government and two of its public entities, South African National Parks (SANParks) and Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (Ezemvelo), will be working closely with Peace Parks Foundation to develop a multipronged approach to combating rhino poaching and wildlife crime. A larger part of the funding will be spent on enhancing the existing efforts to protect the rhino in South Africa, which hosts 83% of the continent’s wild rhino population. Much still has to be done, but, with the skills and experience of the Ezemvelo staff, the strategic intent and practical application will clearly be there for years to come.
Challenges in Biodiversity Management
Invasive alien plants
Human wildlife conflict
Public perception towards nature conservation management in general
Providing Strategic Environmental Leadership
Stakeholder engagement, particularly with those in rural communities, is one of the most important areas of responsibility for Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, along with perception-changing initiatives, complemented by Ezemvelo’s CEO’s approach of ‘African Conservation’ against the backdrop of prevailing socioeconomic challenges.
Sifiso Keswa, Senior Manager: People and Conservation, who is responsible for the unit’s general management and strategic leadership, sees his role as looking after much more than just the biodiversity that the organisation is responsible for managing; he also sees the people in and alongside the fauna and flora. Having started his career with a nature conservation qualification, he completed a Masters in Environmental Management and today provides strategic leadership in order to ensure
by Ilse Ferreira