Over a hundred invited guests representing communities, civil society organisations, government officials, academics, researchers and scientists from various institutions stepped out in style and attended the celebratory uMngeni Resilience Project Gala Dinner, with the venue overlooking a dam and a live band playing calming jazz tunes in the background.

A number of distinguished guests were in attendance including the honorable Mayor and Acting Municipal Manager of uMgungundlovu District Municipality as well as Mayors from a number of Local Municipalities, Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal, DFFE Director General, SANBI Board representative and SANBI Chief Executive Officer, to mention a few.

The purpose of the Gala Dinner was to celebrate the successful implementation of one of South Africa’s climate change adaptation flagship projects, namely, the “Building Resilience in the Greater uMngeni Catchment” project, also known as the uMngeni Resilience Project (URP) which was funded through the Adaptation Fund. The dinner was an opportunity for high-level delegates to celebrate the achievements of the project, hear from local beneficiaries on how the project has supported them to become more resilient to the impacts of climate change, and recognise the range of project partners who have worked tirelessly to ensure the URP has been a success, and has provided an evidence base to build on in attracting further donor funding for adaptation through the Direct Access modality that SANBI has been championing on a global stage since 2011, when it was accredited with the Adaptation Fund. The Gala Dinner also included an award ceremony to acknowledge the contributions of key institutions and individuals to the success of the project.

DFFE is the National Designated Authority to the Adaptation Fund, responsible for strategic guidance on the project, while SANBI is the National Implementing Entity responsible for oversight of implementation. The URP has been implemented over the past 7 years by the uMgungundlovu District Municipality (uMDM) as Executing Entity, in partnership with the University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) as Sub-Executing Entity and several implementation partners. The project has been implemented in four project sites in the uMgungundlovu District Municipality, and has focused on supporting communities and small-scale farmers to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The Celebratory Gala Dinner was held on the evening of the 7th of June, and was part of the URP Climate Change Indaba that took place from 7 to 9 June 2023. The proceedings for the evening started with the Mayor of the uMgungundlovu District Municipality Honorable Mayor Mzi Zuma, warmly welcoming guests to the district. The Honorable Mayor also highlighted the achievements of the project to date and shared the need for project interventions to be upscaled to other parts of the district.

SANBI Chief Executive Officer, Mr Shonisani Munzhedzi set the scene by highlighting the important role that DFFE plays as  South Africa’s National Designated Authority  to the Adaptation Fund, and the role of SANBI as the National Implementing Entity. Mr Munzhedzi also highlighted the unique role that SANBI plays in accessing international climate finance through the institution’s accreditation with the Adaptation Fund as well as the Green Climate Fund, and noted the upcoming projects that are in the pipeline through the aforementioned that will provide further opportunities for engagement and partnership building.

Adaptation Fund Manager Mr Mikko Ollikainen sent a virtual message of support and appreciation, thanking all partners involved for their contributions to the successful implementation of the URP. While the DFFE Director General, Ms Nomfundo Tshabalala provided the address and reminded guests who were in attendance of the realities of climate change highlighting the floods and droughts in various parts of the country; and how the most vulnerable in our communities are greatly impacted and struggle to re-build. The URP is one of the projects whose interventions were much needed to help communities and small scale farmers adapt to and increase the communities ability respond to the impacts of climate-related events.

The second purpose of the evening was the awarding of certificates. DFFE represented by DG Ms Tshabalala, and SANBI, represented by SANBI Board member, Dr Luthuli, awarded the uMDM as the Executing Entity and UKZN as the Sub-Executing Entity in recognition of their leadership in the successful implementation of the URP.  The uMDM award was received by Acting Municipal Manager, Dr Xolani Muthwa, on behalf of the district as a token of appreciation to uMDM’s unwavering support to the URP , for always seeing the strategic importance of the project, and for their leadership through many administrative challenges and changes. The UKZN award was accepted by Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, Fhatuwani Mudau, on behalf of UKZN and the UKZN Foundation, in appreciation of their exceptional support, flexibility and commitment.

Special awards were also given to individuals that made exceptional contributions during the implementation of the URP. The award recipients were:

  • Mrs Magwaza of Swayimane, for going over and above the requirements of the URP and taking initiative in her community).
  • A posthumous award for Bab’ Joseph Ncube of Swayimane who helped establish and launch the URP in Swayimane.
  • Professor Cathy Sutherland of UKZN and the Durban Local Environmental Governance Team, for her exceptional contribution to the work in the Palmiet Catchment and the community-based early warning system in eThekwini.  The community based EWS is credited with saving many lives during the April 2022 floods. Ms Sutherland has been and continues to be a strong campaigner and practitioner of community-based and transformative approaches, working with peri-urban and informal communities in and around eThekwini.
  • Mr Mlu Ntuli of Liberty NPO, for being a young person taking initiative; he is well-known in the uMngeni catchment for the work he does with communities in valorising and caring for the environment).
  • Ms Sibongile Mtungwa of the Women’s Leadership and Training Programme, for her work with farmers in the Harry Gwala District Municipality, promoting  leadership and focusing on issues of water security and agro-ecology.
  • Mrs Lungi Ndlovu of SANBI, as the founding manager of the URP she championed the project in a challenging environment and put effective and innovative systems in place to ensure its success as it formed and changed based on what was achievable. Mrs Ndlovu has also continued to be active in climate change work and championing it at a community level.

Dr Luthuli thanked all the speakers and noted the hard work that the award recipients had undertaken to ensure the success of the URP. He also thanked the SANBI team for their oversight role during the implementation of the project.

The Celebratory Gala Dinner was indeed a much needed moment for the key project leads and stakeholders to be celebrated and thanked for their respective roles in the successes achieved in the URP. The DFFE and SANBI are committed to accessing international financing to resource communities through key interventions, to support communities to adapt to and build resilience in the face of climate related event.

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