From the 7th to the 11th of May 2012, SANBI’s Municipal Programme hosted a learning exchange with municipal and civil society biodiversity management practitioners from Namaqualand and Cape Town. The Namaqualand contingency consisted of ten individuals from various SKEP partner organizations and projects, such as Conservation South Africa (CSA) representatives, SKEPPIES project implementers, Nama Khoi Municipality officials and civil society members, who travelled all the way from the semi-arid and sparsely populated parts of Namaqualand to experience the urban sprawl and the rich biodiversity pockets located on the Cape Flats.
The aim of this learning exchange was for the participants to share knowledge about the conservation of priority municipal biodiversity sites in a way that also addresses socio-economic development objectives of local communities. The exchange was facilitated by Tanya Layne, who coordinates SANBI’s Municipal Programme. The four day programme was set in motion with an intimate dinner and informal chatting at Jonkershuis, wherein the Namaqualand visitors were warmly welcomed by two ward councillors from the City of Cape Town. The itinerary consisted of visits to number of City of Cape Town nature reserves located on the Cape Flats, such as the Edith Stephens Wetland Park (ESWP) in Phillipi; Wolfgat and Macassar Dunes Nature Reserve bordering Khayelitsha and Mitchells Plain along the False Bay Coast; the False Bay Ecology Park in Zeekoevlei and Rondevlei Nature Reserve in Grassy Park. The group also engaged with community projects linked to the nature reserves, such as the Manenberg Peoples’ Centre, the brick recycling initiative bordering ESWP, and the Bottom Road Sanctuary in Grassy Park.
During fieldtrips participants engaged with several community partners and organisations. Here, participants shared their respective successes and challenges about matters such as expanded public works programmes, skills development, natural resource management, urban agriculture, tourism, the challenges of funding, projects, politics, urbanisation, poverty and its impact on biodiversity conservation. Luzann Isaacs, ESWP reserve manager passionately spoke about how ESWP has collaborated with its surrounding communities in managing the reserve. “At times our communities thought that conservation gets in the way of development” Isaacs elaborated “collaborating with our communities has made it easy for the community members to understand the difference between conservation and development”.
Abraham ‘Calatz’ Cloete, the Community Development Worker (CDW) and community member from Steinkopf informed the participants his community’s commitment and their community projects in Kurukku which is playing a crucial role in socio economic development and challenges brought by limitation of resources. “I can do a lot for my community with what I have learnt on this exchange” said Cloete.
Apart from the site visits, there was an opportunity for City of Cape Town biodiversity management staff and the Namaqualand participants shared experiences on various policy contexts in integrating community conservation in management processes. Participants were also given the space to process their learning through creative activities such as journaling and clay work.
The learning exchange shifted and broadened knowledge sharing opportunities for the various participants, as they were able to learn about the impacts of urbanization on biodiversity conservation in the face of momentous socio-economic challenges on the Cape Flats. SANBI’s interns from its Succulent Karoo, Fynbos and National Municipal Programmes were too afforded the opportunity to learn and participate on the four day exchange programme.
In spite of the urban conservation challenges facing communities on the Cape Flats, this learning exchange highlighted that there is a relatively strong role and presence of civil society on the Cape Flats. The learning exchange illustrated that when biodiversity and healthy ecosystems are kept relatively intact, they are able to meet some f the pressing socio-economic challenges. It further unlocked networking opportunities between the Namaqualand participants, the various City of Cape Town biodiversity management officials and Cape Flats local community champions.
“Conservation work is not easy in any context. The challenges on the Cape Flats are similar to those in the Succulent Karoo and I have received some inspirational ideas for CSA” said Nicholas Sigamu, SKEPPIES Project Developer. The City of Cape Town biodiversity management staff were moved by the approaches to community conservation in Namaqualand and are curious to visit. All of the participants have derived much inspiration from this learning exchange to plough back into their communities and organisations as a means to share and implement what they have learnt.