Cape Town - The inspirational story of 59-year-old convicted turtle poacher turned sculptor, Makotikoti Zikhali, has once again captured the world’s imagination – this time at the prestigious Enviropaedia Eco-Logic Awards presented in Cape Town on Thursday night.
Having scooped a top honour at the Mail&Guardian Greening the Future Awards in 2014, the Makotikoti Arts Project (MAP) also won the best stand award for education and training at the 2015 Durban Sustainable Living exhibition.
On Thursday night Zikhali was awarded the Silver Eco-Warrior Award by Enviropaedia, an organisation founded 16 years ago to promote and develop an eco-friendly consciousness in South Africa.
“Makotikoti’s journey is an incredible story for us to all to learn from in making this world a better place for nature and for people,” said Enviropaedia spokeswoman Linda Baker.
Baker said Enviropaedia was also particularly encouraged by the growing numbers of artists and schoolchildren who were now producing artworks in aid of developing environmental education at KwaHlomula Senior Primary School in Kosi Bay.
This is the school Zikhali attended but abandoned at a young age to help his family fish for survival.
Forty years later, Zikhali was arrested and sentenced to five years in jail for killing an endangered loggerhead turtle near Kosi Bay mouth in the iSimangaliso World Heritage site. For Zikhali, whose mother died while awaiting his release from prison, it could have been the end.
Instead, it opened a new chapter. After meeting Zikhali in prison, Roving Reporters director, Fred Kockott, was convinced that ‘The Turtle Butcher’ case, as it was dubbed in the press, could be used to promote environmental education.
Zikhali was released on early parole in March 2012. Following a year’s intensive mentoring by renowned Durban sculptor, Andries Botha, Zikhali’s first sculptures entered the market, the sales of which support the development of arts and environmental education at schools.
The MAP has also inspired an environmental journalism programme convened by Roving Reporters in association with the Human Elephant Foundation, Wildlands and the Wilderness Leadership School.
Zikhali is now writing his life story under the guidance of Roving Reporters, and embarking on a series of Eco-Warrior trails to highlight critical environmental issues deserving the world’s attention, including plans by Ibutho Coal to develop a new coal mine on the border of the iMfolozi wilderness area.
“People need to think carefully about this proposed mining development and the damage it will cause,” said Zikhali after a recent five-day wilderness trail in the iMfolozi. “Perhaps it is best this coal stays in the ground.”
In early June, Zikhali will accompany six selected students from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and Durban University of Technology on a five-day environmental education excursion in the iSimangaliso world heritage site.
Thrilled by Zikhali winning an Eco-Logic award, John Charter, chief executive of the Human Elephant Foundation, said: “The MAP is a truly special initiative that deserves this recognition and all the support it can get.”