Greg Vogt of Conservation Guardians spoke to us about how his organisation aims to help a rural community revive and rescue their precious reserve.
“The Shongweni Dam and Reserve is a special place to many who know it and have spent special leisure times at the dam. Whilst the dam has been de-proclaimed, it was one of the primary water sources to Durban, operated and owner by Umgeni Water and later managed by Msinsi Holdings.
The dam wall was completed in around 1927 by Italian engineers and in later years Dr Ian Player recognised the area as a valuable piece of biodiversity. The dam area is around 50 hectares and the reserve area includes an area of close to 1 700 hectares.
In 2013 one of the three communities neighbouring the reserve was awarded a land claim for the area that was then owned by Umgeni Water.
At the time, the reserve was operating well with 25km of perimeter fencing keeping the diverse wildlife in the reserve and a healthy operating system was in place providing an experience that included visitors being offered game drives, wildlife walks and birders incredible birdwatching opportunities.
The announcement of the land claim brought about doubt and whilst we do not have insight into the deeper facts imposed on Umgeni Water, the land owners at that time, we can only surmise what happened from 2013. On the handover date, the 30th June 2018, there was no perimeter fencing, assets were received in a degraded state and the situation can only be described as dire. It has taken five years for the community to receive entitlement to this property.
This raises the question around the concept of land claims and why news reports often announce sad stories around the issue of land claims. In this instance however, it is important to note that the land claimant has to date not received any money from the relevant government department, has not been mentored around the process of receiving their land and neither have they been trained on how they can operate this land sustainably. Most importantly, they did not destroy the assets on the land, and neither are they directly responsible for the lack of fencing and any other neglect we can describe.
The expectation however is that this land, pristine biodiversity, is expected to be a source of sustenance for the neighbouring communities. Yet we all know that preserving or conserving biodiversity requires investment and specialised attention.
Educated people who enjoy the biodiversity and wildlife on the reserve express their disappointment when they see local rural people chopping wood, or taking their cattle into the reserve. A few hours later however, those same people go home and enjoy a warm meal, hot shower and sit beside their heater to watch TV. Never do they once consider how these local rural people derive warmth for their families at night, heat to cook a meal with or some valuable protein to sustain their energy levels.
Conservation Guardians are now aiming to help this community by designing solutions for these subsistence users of the land, and we are well-equipped with the knowledge of how to do this. There is no use in apportioning blame to the previous owners and management company, neither the land claims department, because this will simply waste valuable time. We have started the process of providing solutions to the neighbouring communities that will replace their daily needs that currently impact negatively on the reserve.
Follow our journey as we slowly regenerate this beautiful piece of biodiversity and ask yourself why it is important for us to preserve natural spaces for our children.” For more info go to: https://www.conservationguardians.africa/ or to support them go to www.backabuddy.co.za