LOOK: Rural KwaZulu-Natal community among the winners of WWF’s Living Planet Award

Picture: WWF South Africa

Picture: WWF South Africa

Published Nov 16, 2022


A rural land restitution community in KwaZulu-Natal, a visionary neurosurgeon-turned-farmer and a climate business leader are the winners of this year’s World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Living Planet Award.

WWF’s Living Planet Award is given annually to exceptional South Africans who, through their catalytic contribution, inspire people to live in harmony with nature. The winners were named at WWF South Africa’s annual general meeting on November 11 at the Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden.

The Mgundeni community, in KwaZulu-Natal, received the award for their pioneering role in community-led land stewardship.

For over 20 years, this community has shown incredible foresight and consistent dedication as active custodians of their biodiversity-rich land in northern KZN.

The 300-strong Mgundeni community received 1 472 hectares of communal land from the land restitution process in 1999.

Located about an hour from the town of Utrecht, in the Amajuba District, this rural community are mostly reliant on livestock and small-scale farming within this high-altitude, biodiverse part of the Grasslands biome which also falls within a strategic water source area.

The traditional leader of the Mgundeni community, iNkosi Mabaso, has always had a deep appreciation of nature. In 2006, he wrote a letter to the local conservation authorities asking for assistance to protect the land from degradation, while allowing their community members to continue their agricultural activities.

In October 2009, the Mgundeni community became the first communal landowners in the province to enter into a voluntary biodiversity stewardship agreement with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, committing 124ha of their land to conservation.

A decade after their first stewardship commitment, the community rewrote history again in 2018 when they expanded their land under conservation and upgraded the original biodiversity agreement to a protected environment of 455ha. This commitment has empowered them to enhance their legacy and explore further conservation-compatible activities on their land.

Dr Paul Clüver, of Paul Clüver Wines, was recognised as a pioneer, innovator, and leader in the field of regenerative agriculture and for improving the lives of others and the natural world they depend on.

Dr Paul Clüver, of Paul Clüver Wines. Picture: WWF South Africa

In 1996, Clüver started a black empowerment farming trust, Lebanon Fruit Farm Trust while at the same time initiating a B-BBEE wine company, Thandi Wines, which became the first fair trade wine brand in the world.

Alongside his commitment to empowerment and social development, his lifelong dedication to conservation and innovation has been exceptional.

In 1998, he was appointed as a trustee of WWF South Africa, and he has been an engaged member for almost 25 years. In the early 2000s, he was the first landowner in the Western Cape to sign a perpetuity contract to legally bind part of the farm De Rust to CapeNature’s Stewardship Programme.

iNkosi Mabaso with WWF staff member Nonkazimlo Mafa. Picture: WWF South Africa

In 2003, Clüver worked with the Botanical Society of South Africa to forge a way to protect the iconic biodiversity of the Cape wine-growing regions from rapidly expanding vineyards. He felt that the wine industry needed to see the solution in a positive light.

Numerous discussions eventually gave rise to the establishment of the Biodiversity and Wine Initiative, which has since become the WWF Conservation Champion programme with 55 participating farms in the Western Cape.

Lastly, Joanne Yawitch, head of the secretariat of the Just Energy Transition Partnership, was recognised for her work towards achieving an inclusive, low-carbon and nature-positive South Africa by 2050.

Joanne Yawitch, head of the secretariat of the Just Energy Transition Partnership. Picture: WWF South Africa

Yawitch served as the CEO of the National Business Initiative 2011, a local business coalition made up of around 130 South African companies.

The NBI is a thought leader for business on environmental and socio-economic issues and partners with WWF South Africa on thematic areas such as freshwater and climate.

Together with C40 Cities, the NBI is also WWF’s co-facilitator of the Alliance for Climate Action (ACA) in South Africa.

The ACA mobilises and connects the private sector, municipalities, sub-national governments, investors and research institutions collectively.

In her NBI CEO role, she provided the strength of thought leadership that South Africa requires to have the environmental agenda, including climate change action, biodiversity conservation and water management, as well as the business of business.

Her lasting contribution as a leader in this role has been the establishment of connection points and avenues for business, policy makers and civil society to find common ground on the pathway to transition to a sustainable and low-carbon economy.

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