Sisters are doing it for themselves! Opportunities for women working within the iSimangaliso Wetland Park are enormous and growing each year – whether employed directly by the Authority or its conservation partner, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, or indirectly through business operations linked to the World Heritage Site. In the fields of environmental management, tourism, law enforcement and others, there is a marked increase in the diverse functions that are being done or owned by women. And since August is Women’s month, we’d like to introduce a few of our female stars:
One woman who has been at iSimangaliso since the very birth of the management authority, Marketing and Brand Assistant Thandi Shabalala (above) has more than 17 years under her belt and has grown to become the world-recognised face and voice of iSimangaliso. With a deep and abiding love for the Park, Thandi has hosted VIPs, celebrities, film crews, journalists and tour operators from all over the world, promoting conservation, tourism and beneficial development.
The story of Slindile Mbuyazi (above) is actually more than that of one person – rather, it is the story of TWO extraordinary women. Sli readily admits that she could never have made it to where she is without the support, training and confidence imbued in her by her mentor, Amanda van Jaarsveld of Adventure Mania Diving, one of iSimangaliso’s licensed scuba diving operators. As a young mother with few options in the Mbazwana community near the Sodwana Bay, afraid of the sea, Sli overcame that fear to embrace swimming and then dive training offered to her by Amanda. She eventually qualified as a Dive Master with 100% – one of the first black females to do so. She is currently working towards her dream of raising funds to build a swimming pool in the community. “Many young children cannot swim, and drownings are a real fear. I want to teach my children and their friends that they too can swim, dive and build a career in the industry if they want to”, says Sli.
The very first black woman to be awarded a tourism concession in iSimangaliso, Abigail Mncwango (above) began operating her business ‘Whale Safaris’ in St Lucia at the beginning of the whale watching season in June 2018. Having worked in the industry for more than a decade, she had a good understanding of the environment, but admits that being on the other side as an operator has been quite a learning curve and shown her some of the stress points and challenges as well as the highlights. Abi is very upbeat about her empowerment through this opportunity, not only for herself but also for four people her business has been able to employ, who in turn have gained new skills and certifications. “As women, we have to be strong and open doors that were previously closed to us,” she says.
From alien plant removal, to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi’s logistics section working on the Buffalo TB project with Dr Dave Cooper, to becoming the Officer in Charge at St Lucia Crocodile and Education Centre, Nompumelelo Ngcobo (Mpume) is a young woman with a bright future in an unusual field. She started her career with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife only eight years ago and now finds herself on the brink of a fantastic new opportunity. Her current mentor, Dr Xander Combrink, has helped to secure her a NRF sponsored place to study a Masters of Applied Sciences in crocodile researchstarting in 2020. Mpume, who is perfectly comfortable handling crocodiles, snakes and other ‘scary’ creatures, is thrilled with the prospect to “add value to my career. I will grab this with both hands!” she says. Her work will involve her engaging with neighbouring communities, understanding their relationship with crocodiles in the ecosystem and focussing on education and changing negative perceptions.
These women are just a few of the hundreds who work throughout the Park, as ecologists, scientists, monitors, rangers, land care workers, skippers, guides, hospitality staff or in the office positions essential for the sound operation of a World Heritage Site.
South Africa’s government has done more than pay lip service to developing its female body of employees, which now stands at the national goal of 50%. For the first time in South Africa’s history, under new President Cyril Ramaphosa, women make up half of the government’s cabinet – which includes our own new Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, the Honourable Barbara Creecy – joining a list of only ten other countries to claim this status.
And while currently just over a third of iSimangaliso’s employees are women, this is something that the Authority’s CEO Sibusiso Bukhosini plans on changing. “The Authority is actively seeking to recruit more women at higher levels as the organisation develops and populates its vacant positions, in line with government’s targets,” he says. Great news indeed for the emerging female leaders of tomorrow!
Media enquiries should be directed to Debbie Cooper at firstname.lastname@example.org.