iSimangaliso bids farewell to colleagues
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority was deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic loss of two long-standing colleagues in a traffic accident on 5th November 2014 as they returned from siting five new field ranger camps that are being built to combat rhino poaching in the world heritage site.
The late Thembi Buthelezi, Environmental Management Officer, and Herbert Mthembu, iSimangaliso’s Park Operations Director.
In the memorial service for them, attended by families, friends, iSimangaliso board members, community elders, colleagues, former colleagues and several hundred members of the wider iSimangaliso community, iSimangaliso CEO Andrew Zaloumis paid tribute to their contributions to the organisation. “We have been overwhelmed by the solidarity and care shown by communities and friends from near and afar. Our office has been inundated by visits and messages from people sharing in our sorrow and giving support, coming together as a family – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, municipalities, traditional amakhosi, community members, tourism operators and business associates… so many lives have been touched by these relationships and brought together by this tragedy”. iSimangaliso’s Board Chairman, Mavuso Msimang echoed the CEO’s sentiments and remarked on the sense of social cohesion at the memorial service. He implored those present to honour and remember the spirit of what the Park was in the process of achieving, and “to continue to ensure that the good work of conservation and development done here continues.”
Faniyakhe Herbert Mthembu was born in the Kosi Bay section of iSimangaliso – a true son of the soil. He had 40 years of committed conservation experience. In a career that began as a General Assistant at age 18 with the then Natal Parks Board in 1976, his willingness to work hard and contribute enabled him to move quickly through the ranks. He was promoted to Field Ranger and then headed up anti-poaching operations. He completed his career with Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife as Conservation Manager of the uMkhuze section of iSimangaliso in 2004 when he joined iSimangaliso as its Park Operations Director. He had begun his Masters degree on full scholarship this year.
In his memorial address, Zaloumis said: “Taking an executive desk job didn’t mean he lost his love of the bush. He had a deep knowledge and understanding of fauna and flora and appreciated wild places. He was happiest on field days – and I always knew when it was a field day because Herbert would appear in his bush hat and his boots with a beaming smile.” “Herbert wasn’t shy of confrontation. In the early days of his career, conflict between conservation and communities was much more heightened than what we see today. He was warned on several occasions by local leadership that he and his staff would be killed. But he persisted, and he forged strong relationships with people in every isigodi around iSimangaliso. So much so that he could arrest a man for poaching and still break bread with him the next day. Herbert’s integrity was key. He always believed that you should act in a manner that allows you to look another in the eyes. He believed in ubuntu in the true sense and this reflected in his work and approach to problem solving. Herbert was a builder; a builder of bridges between people, conservation and the Park, and a face of hope from iSimangaliso. He was set to lead the iSimangaliso delegation to the World Park’s Congress in Sydney this November.”
Andrew continued “He often spoke of his mentors, Alan Marlin, Johan Gerber, and Trevor Scheepers. Remembering what they did for him, he shared his knowledge and wisdom freely with others. He was a mentor and advisor to me, with wise insights and sound counsel. He had many a good story about almost every place in iSimangaliso and was good company – imparting his knowledge with passion.”
“Among his big achievements with iSimangaliso was brokering an agreement to fence the wilderness area for the first time in conservation history (100 +years); overseeing the reintroduction of historically occurring big and rare game including lions into iSimangaliso; and the negotiation, conclusion and ongoing implementation of co-management agreements with land claimant communities around the Park – working to uplift our communities and ensure the effective conservation and enhancement of iSimangaliso’s world heritage values. This work was cited as ground-breaking by UNESCO.” When a researcher asked Herbert why he joined iSimangaliso, he said “it’s not business as usual. We are starting something new and when we achieve it I can say – I was part and parcel of this project, of this development. We came with this idea and we managed to get people to agree on this idea. When I retire, when I go, I can say I am the one who started this – look, now it is working.”
“Mvelase, or ‘Bra H’ as he was more fondly called by our younger staff – you were a man; you are gone but not forgotten.”
Thembi Buthelezi grew up near iSimangaliso in Madwaleni, matriculating in 1997 from the Madwaleni High School. In 1999 she wrote an exam qualifying her for the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Science Foundation Programme and headed for the Pietermaritzburg campus where her interest in agriculture led her to obtain a B.Sc. degree in Plant Pathology. Thembi joined iSimangaliso as an intern in 2004 where she was mentored by University of KZN’s Professor Di Scott who spent a few years working with iSimangaliso. At the end of 2005, Thembi was appointed as a Research Administrator. In her memorial address, Thembi’s close colleague Bronwyn James, Senior Manager Development and Planning, said “She learnt quickly and was keen to get out of the office and into the Park. In October 2006 she joined the land care unit as Assistant Contract Manager, and was promoted to Contract Manager a year later. In 2010 Thembi was promoted to the position of the Environmental Management Officer at iSimangaliso. Here, she worked in iSimangaliso and its buffer zone, making sure that environmental legislation was followed and that development did not have a negative impact on the world heritage site. Thembi was a role model to women in the area and the organisation, capable of doing conservation work and demonstrating that women were as capable as men in the conservation sector. Thembi was one of the first iSimangaliso staff members to qualify as an Environmental Management Inspector (EMI), and she shared her knowledge and assisted others to do the same. Her understanding of environmental law was very good, especially with regard to Environmental Impact Assessment.”
Bronwyn continued “She was able to remain calm and smile under difficult circumstances. Sometimes compliance work is confrontational, and it can be frightening, but she never allowed her fear to stop her from doing her job. This was a big part of Thembi’s character – she never said no, and she was always willing to try her best. Many of Thembi’s colleagues and friends remember how determined she was, once she had made up her mind. Although Thembi trained to be a plant pathologist her experience at iSimangaliso turned her into a conservationist.”
Bronwyn summed up Thembi’s gentle, diplomatic nature by saying that “Thembi was kind, courteous and always willing to help others. Most of all we will remember Thembi because of her smile, and the way her whole body showed what she was feeling. She had a great sense of humour and loved to laugh – with her whole body. Thembi wore her heart on her sleeve and she could never really hide her emotions. She was always saying ‘Yes’ to life – this was a gift she gave to us all.”
The iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority staff offers its most sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of Herbert and Thembi, who were laid to rest on the weekend at their respective homesteads near Mkuze and Madwaleni. They will be sorely missed.
Hama kahle, Herbert and Thembi; Go well.