August was National Women’s Month. The theme for this year’s Women’s Month was ‘Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights for an Equal Future’. We celebrate the three women in the Kruger to Canyons Restoration team, Mildred Machate, Angel Maphelile and Pontsho Phale who have fought misconceptions within their communities because of their gender and the type of work they are doing.

The clearing of alien Invasive Plant (AIP) species is a challenging job but having to climb mountains and walk long distances makes the job even more difficult and that requires dedication and endurance. The Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Restoration Champions team has 8 members who have been clearing alien invasive pine and eucalyptus trees in the mountains around Mariepskop adjacent to the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve since October 2018.

The Restoration Champions Team is known as an intermediate team and they are differentiated from normal clearing teams and High-Altitude Teams that clear in easily accessible and inaccessible areas respectively. A day for the Restoration Champions team starts by travelling via 4×4 along dangerous roads for up to an hour to get to the nearest point and then hiking for an hour up steep mountain slopes to reach clearing areas.

As one of the ladies points out “The nature of our job is quite challenging itself because of the level of fitness required and we have to walk long distances and also hike up the mountains. We stick together as ladies and nothing will stop us because we can do the same jobs or have the same responsibilities as men in the team, that on its own makes us very proud to say we are here and doing this together”.

Clearing efforts are focused in the Mariepskop area because it forms part of the Mpumalanga Strategic Water Source Area. These areas have also been claimed by four communities who have made the decision to incorporate the Mariepskop Area into the Blyde River Canyon Nature Reserve in order to conserve these areas for future generations. The Restoration Champions team is made up of members of these claimant communities and job creation through clearing AIPs are an important part of the beneficiation process, contributing to skills development and supporting career pathing for youth in these areas.

“Our organization believes in capacity building and we are incredibly grateful because we learn and acquire more skills that would really help us to be employable or even start our own businesses one day. We make it possible by participating in training and we are always ready to assist one another where one might struggle”. The project also focusses on building environmental awareness and a sense of stewardship, not only for areas that may one day form part of the reserve but also within their own communities that rely on the rivers that flow off the mountain.

“When we are clearing alien invasive plants we feel that we are giving back to the community and though it will take time for the results to show we know that it is because of us that there will be a positive change in our rivers. It gives us so much joy and pride to know that we are helping preserve our biodiversity for generations to come”.

When asked what message they would like to convey to other women in their communities they responded “Never give up, every goal is bigger than you and it will have challenges, but you have the means to make it because you are strong. Try things that interests you even if they are outside your comfort zone and don’t be afraid to reach out to people with careers you aspire to”.

Mildred Machate, Angel Maphelile and Pontsho Phale are perfect examples of the 2020 Women’s Month – #IamGenerationEquality. This project is implemented by the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Region with funding from the USAID Resilient Waters Programme and the SANBI Biodiversity and Land Use Project funded by the Global Environmental Facility through the United Nations Development Programme.

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