What does conservation mean to you? Does it mean preserving habitats? Does it mean protecting endangered species? Who should ‘do’ conservation? Business? Charities? Government?
‘Conservation’ is a very big word, especially in this part of the world, where it’s so often misappropriated for the sake of tourism dollars – so many safari offerings in South Africa claim to be ‘deeply involved in conservation’ but very few do more than the minimum they need to do to be able to claim some moral credit with their clients. After all, conservation is always controversial (what do you conserve, and at the expense of what, and whose agenda are you following?).
A very interesting (pioneering) version of conservation we came across recently is that of the Mothong African Heritage Trust. Back in 1990, Ephraim Mabena, a resident of Mamelodi, a sprawling shackland outside of Pretoria/Tshwane, was walking near a wasteland near his home and discovered a human body, dumped there by gangsters. Deeply troubled by the experience, and after receiving a calling from his ancestors, he realised that his life’s work would be to cleanse this place and turn it into a ‘house of healing’.
He and his wife, Mabel, and a neighbour, Mamorake Moila, literally started with their bare hands, moving rocks to create a design for a garden. He spent his days scouring building sites in the nearby town for anything that could be used to create shade and planters and slowly through removing the waste and rubble has managed to create a garden and nursery of indigenous plants used in traditional medicine. Small animals and insects have returned to the land and the beginnings of an eco-system are returning.
Mabena continues to work to build the reserve, receiving recognition from the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation as well as local schools and universities who brings students to study what he and his family have achieved. Of his work, he says ‘I do not look at the world as a mirror. I look at it as a glass through which I can learn. This knowledge must be shared’.
We arrange visits to Mothong African Heritage Trust as part of our ‘Teachings from Africa – Johannesburg’ journey. The five-day journey (which can be customised to your preferences) engages you with learning experiences in the mornings and fun-filled activities in the afternoons, all with ethical suppliers. Prices start at US$1,800 including accommodation, guiding, activities and some meals for two for five days.