Category: <span>Environmental Management</span>

29 September 2020 Media Release: Resource management is key to Eastern Cape survival

Media Release: Resource management is key to Eastern Cape survival

For Immediate Release
29 September 2020

“The inevitable advent of Day Zero, combined with renewed load shedding, COVID-19 impacts and political and policy uncertainty, will no doubt impact upon regional socio-economic prospects. An urgent effort is required to collectively plan around resource management and water security, in particular, for the Gamtoos Valley and the Eastern Cape as a whole,” says Rienette Colesky, Chief Executive Officer of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB) in an interview with Cobus Meiring of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

The interview is part of an ongoing climate change debate and interview series, facilitated by the Forum to examine the correlation between some of the nett-effects experienced during COVID-19 and those enforced by climate change. In the interview,  Meiring asked Colesky about the relevance and sustainability of resource management in the Eastern Cape.

Farming activities in the Gamtoos Valley: Gamtoos farmers are adapting to the “new normal” exerted by a changing climate. (Photo: Cobus Meiring)

Says Meiring: “The geographical borders of the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) extend close to where the regional footprint of the GIB and the Sarah Baartman District Municipality starts. There are many shared similarities that the respective regions have in common in terms of environmental management, including climate change, in particular, drought and changes in rainfall patterns.”

Meiring wanted to know from Colesky what the GIB’s main concerns about climate change and resource management are in going forward.

Says Colesky: “The Gamtoos River community and its socio-economic survival is almost exclusively agro-centric and dependent on what the natural environment gives us. Resource management – water resource management in particular – is vital, not only for the Gamtoos and Kouga region, but it is essential for the Eastern Cape economy and the communities it supports. Water (management) is also a forex generator – it is a critical component of the entire agricultural produce export value chain and forex markets and therefore contributes to the South African economy as a whole.”

Asks Meiring: “The Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality has now reached Day Zero. Given the extremely vulnerable status of the Kouga dam level, what are your sentiments on the immediate future of the regional water security situation, and the prospects for the farming community that is almost exclusively dependent on water from the Kouga dam, catchment and supply system?”

Says Colesky: “We are basically in uncharted waters with regards to water security and the impact thereof will have a harsh and tangible influence on both the short, medium and long-term prospects of agricultural productivity in the Gamtoos Valley.”

“Compounding the socio-economic situation, over the past few decades we have seen a significant influx of people from destitute Eastern Cape communities into the Gamtoos region in search of work. The influx generates ever-increasing demands on sparse resources, and, as COVID-19 highlighted, poses new economic and social challenges, impacting both directly and indirectly on our mandate and management resources.”

“Over and above our mandated environmental management issues, GIB has taken on a significant number of state-subsidised relief efforts aimed at poverty relief, mostly centralised around environmental rehabilitation work in wetland systems, invasive alien plant management and infrastructure maintenance and improvement.”

Continues Colesky: “We know that the interior and western parts of the GRDM also suffer from almost perpetual drought, and the Gamtoos farming community most certainly is feeling the same pressure, having to resort to adaptive measures to reduce water use, whilst maintaining as high as possible quality production levels.”

“Despite the restrictions imposed on us by nature in the form of a changing climate, especially in terms of severely reduced rainfall in our vital catchments, our farmers’ ability to adapt to the new normal in order to survive has been remarkable thus far.”

Concludes Colesky: “We are deeply concerned about the water security situation in the region as well as what is happening in the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, as we are socially and economically closely interlinked and co-dependent on the same resources.”

“An urgent and  collective effort in terms of planning around resource management, and water security in particular, from regional, provincial and national levels are required, without which a prosperous future for the Eastern Cape, as a whole, will not be sustainable.”

Caption: Cover image – A noticeable influx of people from destitute Eastern Cape communities is contributing to socio-economic sustainability concerns in the Gamtoos Valley. (Photo: Cobus Meiring)


1. Rienette Colesky, CEO of the Gamtoos Irrigation Board (GIB)
Tel: 042 007 0382; Cell: 083 703 0428

2. Cobus Meiring: Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum Secretariat
Cell: 083 626 7619

26 August 2020 Media Release: Garden Route District Municipality and stakeholders bump up efforts to extinguish peat-wetland fires

Media Release: Garden Route District Municipality and stakeholders bump up efforts to extinguish peat-wetland fires

For immediate release
26 August 2020

On 26 June 2020, the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Fire & Rescue Services commenced with efforts to finally extinguish peat fires in the Garden Route district. One at the Kamma River in Bonniedale, Mossel Bay and the other at Weyers River in Bergfontein, Albertinia. Peat-wetland fires pose a threat to ecosystems by releasing smoke and heat through soil and vegetation, compromise wetlands.

Mr Deon Stoffels, Station Officer: Fire Safety and Training from GRDM at the peat fire in Bonniedale.

The response from the GRDM Fire & Rescue Service officials was first to assess and demarcate the exact extent of the peat fires. According to Mr Deon Stoffels, GRDM Fire Station Officer for Fire Safety and Training, smoke was evident on arrival – in small pockets appearing from underground”. This necessitated follow-up site visits on 29 June and 02 July 2020 whereby thermal images were captured with the municipality’s Thermal Imaging Drone to map and confirm the underground fire activity.

The immediate role-players involved in the response and planning were GRDM Fire & Rescue Services, Department Environmental Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Working for Wetlands, Cape Nature and the respective landowners.

Mr Johan Brand, Station Officer from GRDM Fire and Rescue Services holding one of the tools utilised in the testing and assessment of the sub-surface layers.

The above-mentioned site visits were followed up in middle July for the purpose to capture more thermal imagery to estimate the extent of the spread after two periods of moderate to heavy rainfall. Following the assessment, it was confirmed that the spread of the fire continued.

On the 28 and 29 July 2020, all role-players engaged in on-site visits and the peatland specialist from DEFF, with the assistance of representatives of GRDM Fire & Rescue and Cape Nature, performed assessments and tests. “These were done to determine the full extent of the peat fires, e.g. depth of underground fire activity, condition of the wetland, as well as the environmental and ecological impact of the fire and if continues, the fire activity,” Mr Stoffels, said.  After assessments and tests were completed it was jointly agreed that an Offensive Strategy would be the most practicable approach to deal with the underground and/or peat fires which include;

  • preventing the spread of fire;
  • fighting and extinguishing the fire; and
  • protection of life and property against the fire or other threatening danger:
  • In this case also, the protection of the environment against the fire and other threats.

The strategy will assist in mitigating adverse impacts on the environment, as well as aid in protecting and sustaining the biodiversity of wetlands. Role-players such as GRDM Fire & Rescue, the landowners, Cape Nature, Working for Wetlands, Southern Cape Fire Protection Association and Working on Fire were involved from beginning of the process, however the GRDM Fire and Rescue Services and the landowners started with their operations on 19 August 2020 and Cape Nature on 21 August 2020.

According to Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager for Environmental Management as GRDM, peatlands are present in a third of wetlands worldwide, which contribute a range of ecosystem services. The most pronounced services are biodiversity conservation, water quality and climate regulation. The addition of peat to a wetland allows these wetlands to have additional ecosystem services. She added: “The unique properties of peat allow for a variation in the dynamics of the ecosystem services provided.  This makes peatlands a major contributor to wetlands’ increased capacity for climate, water quality and quantity regulation, biodiversity conservation and waste assimilation”.

Areas in the Garden Route district affected by the wildfire. Thermal images captured with the Thermal Imaging Drone of Garden Route District Municipality.

Dr Viljoen further explained: “The destruction of peatlands by means of fires causes a visible and immediate degradation in the integrity of the aquatic ecosystems downstream of peatlands. This causes major changes to change the hydrology of the peatland system, as well as rivers and associated ecosystem health. Compared to global abundance, she said: “Peatlands are an extremely scarce ecosystem type in South Africa, with only 1% of total wetland area being peatlands. It provides water quality (water purification and waste assimilation) function which causes peatlands to demonstrate a very significant ecosystem services value”.

What is peat?

Peat, also known as turf is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. Peat forms in wetland conditions, where flooding or stagnant water obstructs the flow of oxygen from the atmosphere, slowing the rate of decomposition.

Peatlands cover approximately 3% of the earth’s surface. The global carbon stored in peat is estimated to be about 500 billion tonnes, which is approximately 30% of the world’s soil carbon. Furthermore, peat stores 10% of the world’s fresh water”.

Peatlands are more valuable than normal wetlands due to the presence of peat stocks within them. Based on the services evaluated and the available data, the value of the cumulative services provided by South African peatlands was estimated to be as high as R174 billion, expressed as an ecological infrastructure value. It is therefore of the utmost importance to protect these type of wetlands against destruction, and to assess the causes of these two identified peat fires in the Garden Route district.

How do peat fires occur?

Peat fires can occur sporadically in smaller peatland systems due to system dehydration and desiccation brought on by either drought (the presence of a heat source), localised draining or flow interruption by roads – it smoulders. These smouldering fires can burn undetected for very long periods of time (months, years, and even centuries) propagating in a creeping fashion through the underground peat layer.

The current drought in the region and associated peat fires bear testimony to the vulnerability of these ecosystems to the variability in our climate patterns which can result in drought-induced peat fires in the Western Cape.


5 June 2020 MEDIA RELEASE/ARTICLE: Recovery of indigenous vegetation following the 2017 wildfire disaster remarkable, but regrowth of invasive alien plants on a large scale a reason for concern

5 June 2020

On the eve of the commemoration of the 2017 wildfire disaster which ripped through Knysna and Plettenberg Bay like a blow torch, Cobus Meiring, on behalf of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) and the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), asked Knysna Municipality’s Environmental Manager, Pam Booth, about her thoughts on the environmental recovery of the natural environment of the surrounding towns.

Says Booth, “The natural surrounds of both Knysna and Plettenberg Bay reflect what is true of most of the Southern Cape landscape, and that is the sad fact that it is severely affected by invasive alien plants.”

“It is common knowledge that the prevalence of impressive densities of invasive alien plants provided the biofuel that turned the wildfire into the inferno it became, generating heat so incomprehensible that everything in the path of the fires was obliterated.”

Continues Booth, “At the time, there were justified fears that, given the intense heat which the wildfire exerted on the landscape, that the indigenous seed bank in the ground, which would allow Fynbos species such as Proteas and Ericas to recover, was so badly affected that they will never recover, allowing even more of the beautiful landscape to become infested with invasive alien plants over time.”

“One such example was the invaluable terrain that is harbouring the unique set of plants sustaining the world-famous and endemic Brenton Blue butterfly. As confirmed now, the Brenton Blue is safe and sound, and much is being done by Brenton locals to ensure that invasive alien plants do not encroach on the town, giving indigenous vegetation a chance to recover, whilst reducing fire risk and creating jobs at the same time.”

“Fortunately, the plant species counted in the Southern Cape and Garden Route Fynbos Biome is a hardy species, which by nature are dependent on fire for survival and rejuvenation. Even as conservationists feared for the worst, the Fynbos came back, and after two seasons of favourable rainfall, the hills around Knysna and Brenton are alive with wildflowers of all kinds already standing two meters tall in places,” says Booth.

Regrowth of invasive alien plants poses a threat

According to Booth, the regrowth of invasive alien plants is a matter of great concern.

“It is true that in a great many places where invasive alien plants were present in numbers before the fire, they also grew back with a vengeance. This is a matter of great concern to all, as that may well set the scene for a repeat of the 2017 disaster in the coming years. Government is coming down hard on landowners who defies the laws governing the prevalence of invasive alien plants on their land, and already a number of landowners have received pre-directives and directives to either clear their land or face the court and the penalties associated.”

“Efforts by entities such as the Table Mountain Fund, WWF SA and the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) to empower and assist landowners to deal with the regrowth of invasive alien plants did make an impact, and private land bordering river systems such as the Knysna and Goukamma today is in a better state of invasive alien plant infestation than before the wildfire disaster.”

The Garden Route, including Knysna and Plettenberg Bay, is a jewel in South Africa’s crown of scenic tourist destinations. Thousands of jobs and the socio-economic survival of the area are dependent on its natural surrounds.

“Not only is it based on this premise that we implore landowners to manage invasive plants on their land, but also for the sake of biodiversity conservation which is also facing the impact of a changing climate and an ever-increasing human and development footprint,” says Booth.

*Sunday 7 June marks the commemoration of the 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster.

Photo: Fynbos in Brenton

Despite fears that the intensity of the 2017 wildfire disaster destroyed the underground seed bank of indigenous vegetation, Fynbos has made a remarkable recovery in the Garden Route. (Photo: SCLI)

** The Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) is a public platform and think tank for landowners and land managers with an interest in invasive alien plant management, water stewardship and land management. SCLI is supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), a subsidiary of WWF SA. SCLI also manages the Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.


  1. Pam Booth:Manager, Environmental Manager, Knysna Municipality

Cell: 082 875 0342 / 079 208 7855


  1. Cobus Meiring:Chairperson of the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) and Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum

Cell: 083 626 7619 / Email:

26 May 2020 Media Release: Ecological grief sets in as the lockdown highlights the looming plight of greater humanity – the destruction of our environment

Media Release: Ecological grief sets in as the lockdown highlights the looming plight of greater humanity – the destruction of our environment

For Immediate Release
26 May 2020

“In an ongoing series of debates with experts in various fields, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) seeks to highlight aspects related to COVID-19 demands on humanity, and that which is unfolding as climate change steadily brings about corresponding and irreversible changes with daunting challenges,” says Cobus Meiring of the GREF Secretariat.

The matter of the fairly new concept of ecological grief and human behaviour, which was instigated by COVID-19, highlights the looming plight of greater humanity: the destruction of our environment.

According to Hanna Kotze, an organisational culture consultant and clinical social worker, climate change brings an unknown threat to normality in terms of how humans will experience the environment, and it will do so in many respects that are more often than not difficult to comprehend or even believe. In as much as the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is invisible, but the threat is very real and present, so is climate change, and humanity sense the danger, which in turn brings about a constant anxiety.

Says Kotze, “Ecological grief is a relatively new term for the subconscious but the concept embraces the collective grief humanity experiences when witnessing and experiencing loss of biodiversity and the destruction of the natural environment.”

“Natural disasters with their roots in climate change, such as the recent Knysna wildfire disaster, catastrophic drought in South Africa, Hurricane Katrina in the USA, wildfires in Australia and Europe, and the Idai tropical cyclone in Mozambique are all examples where humanity suffers from ecological grief, which no doubt impacts on the emotional well-being of nations affected,” explains Kotze.

“Many of us may feel paralysed by panic over climate change and overwhelmed by the pace and scale of ecological losses. Mourning nature does a great service by giving a name to this grief, setting us all within a community of others who mourn alongside us, and by guiding us to respond not with despair but with hope and courage”.

“Hopefully, the advent of COVID-19 will have the right kind of response in how we ensure a more sustainable future in South Africa and the world, and planning for what is to come will go a long way in ensuring just that,” concludes Kotze.

Humanity feels overwhelmed by the sheer destruction of our environment brought about by increasingly devastating natural disasters with their roots in a changing climate. (Photo: SCLI)

The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a public platform for environmental management entities in the Southern Cape, and a regional think tank on climate change mitigation and adaption.


Cobus Meiring: Chair of the Garden Route Environmental Forum Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619



Hanna Kotze: Organisational Culture Consultant, Clinical Social Worker and Trauma Counselling

Mobile Number: 084 341 0059

Email Address:

Annual Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) hosted in George

The annual Garden Route Environmental Forum’s (GREF) key stakeholder event took place in George on 11 December 2019 under the theme: “Reflecting on regional environmental initiatives and planning ahead for 2020”. Mandated by the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), the GREF is the premier environmental platform in the Garden Route during which stakeholders collaborate about topics for conservation, environmental adaption and community interaction.

GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen, during the welcoming address during which he urged attendees to take hands, ‘speak one language’ and determine the way forward

At the Forum, GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen officially welcomed  stakeholders and guest from around the Western Cape and reminded them of the four major challenges the district faced, namely, “Invasive alien plants, water scarcity, electrical shortages, and unemployment’’.  Cllr Booysen highlighted the importance to link ‘Invasive Alien Plants Eradication to Renewable Energy and Water Security, in an essence to address unemployment in the Garden Route District.

Western Cape Government (WCG) Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Mr Anton Bredell, presented the keynote address and stated that the Garden Route is the crown jewel of the Western Cape, and that stakeholders need to understand the science of planning for the future.  Mr Bredell announced that the Western Cape faced 17 000 wildfires during 2017, including the devastating Knysna and Plettenberg Bay fires the same year. He continued by saying that the current drought situation causes havoc and a major concern for our future sustainability, as it is predicted that by the year 2030, the demand for fresh water will exceed 40% of supply.

Mr Bredell acknowledged and brought it to the attention of Councillors that the correct decisions may not always be the popular ones or the ones communities or councillors would prefer. In conclusion he emphasised that Government cannot address the environmental challenges on its own, “It is our responsibility to take action for our future generations – we have to take hands and be more proactive. As a collective we would have to work with landowners so that they can be held accountable for their legally mandated responsibilities.”

During his speech, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Anton Bredell, captivated attendees with an insightful speech.

Speakers from various specialised fields of environmental management, for example, Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Biodiversity and Coastal Management, SANParks and Agriculture, to name just a few, followed.

Delegates eagerly participated in discussions to find lasting solutions for prevailing regional problems, and a myriad of new challenges were identified and discussed. Discussions also took place on what the agricultural production scenario will reflect in two decades from now, what are the vulnerabilities of our coastline given the slight rise in ocean levels, stronger storm surges and floods, as well as to look at the fire risk to ever-expanding communities and the rural/urban interface.

For decades authorities and private landowners have dealt with the same problems, including non-sustainable land-use and land management best practice, increased fire risks and water security issues, a rapid decrease in natural habitat and biodiversity conservation, and compliance with environmental and agricultural legislation.

FLTR: Mr Cobus Meiring – GREF Secretariat, Cllr Memory Booysen – GRDM Executive Mayor, Mr Gerhard Otto – GRDM Manager: Disaster Manager, Ms Nina Viljoen – GRDM Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner, Mr Clive Africa – GRDM Executive Manager: Community Services, Cllr Rosina Ruiters – GRDM Deputy Executive Mayor and Mr Anton Bredell – Western Cape Government Provincial Minister of Local Government, Environmental Affairs and Development Planning.

An all-out effort to ensure a climate-ready future, and a mind shift in the way we adapt and manage our environment, is urgent and should dominate the social and political narrative if the region aims to develop sustainably. An environment free of invasive alien plants and cleared waterways and catchments, will take the region a leap forward in risk reduction, and all authorities, landowners and land managers must heed the call.

With climate change, the spread of invasive alien plants and the intricate and long-term effects these environmental threats bring to the region, regional and local authorities, land managers and conservationists will have little choice but to plan around what nature will impose upon the region in years to come.

Editor’s Note:

GRDM and partners established the overarching Garden Route Environmental Forum, with the aim to coordinate regional conservation efforts, to serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape, and to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management in the district. The Garden Route Environmental Forum aims to play a leading role in taking on environmental challenges, and to develop partnerships, in order to ensure and encourage a cohesive approach to find sustainable solutions.

Garden Route Environmental Forum Logo

Garden Route Environmental Forum launches extensive landowner assistance programme

Landowners in the Garden Route District, as well as the environment they live in, has over the past three years suffered tremendously, as a result of a series of severe wildfire disasters which basically burnt over 200 000 hectares to a tinder.

In a joint effort to assist landowners, the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF), a collaborative forum established by the Garden Route District Municipality, launched an extensive landowner assistance programme, aimed at assisting landowners in gathering spatial data on the extent of re-growth of invasive alien plants (IAPs) on their land, and provide technical and herbicide assistance to landowners indicating a willingness to eradicate and control invasive alien plants on their land. The programme is spearheaded by the Southern Cape Landowners Initiative (SCLI) which is the implementing agent for the programme.

According to Cobus Meiring, manager of the GREF Secretariat, and chairperson of SCLI, further objectives of the programme include generating opportunities for regional invasive alien plant control and clearing contractor teams, and empowering landowners in complying with Department of Environmental Affairs’ (DEA) regulations pertaining to the management of IAPs on private land.

In many areas of the western and northern parts of the Garden Route, the crippling drought compounded the effects of the wildfire disasters. In places south of Riversdale, which burnt back in early 2017, the environment only now starts showing signs of vegetation cover.

“As if that is not enough, the vegetation type that makes its appearance first is of the wrong kind, and more often than not consists of dense stands of invasive alien plants, including (and there are many more) Rooikrans, Black Wattle, Blackwood, Long-leaved Wattle, pines of all shape and sizes, Stink Bean, Sesbania, Bluegum and a host of less known varieties such as Pampas Grass and Madeira Vine,” said Meiring.

Government is taking a tough stand on land management, especially invasive alien plant control and eradication.

Following the out-of-control wildfires, authorities are clamping down on landowners allowing their land to become overrun by invasive alien trees and biomass which, if not better managed and controlled, will set the scene for a repeat of the intense 2017 fires.

“However, landowners are in a difficult situation as combating invasive alien plants can be a costly exercise, with relentless and fast re-growth patterns, requiring never-ending commitment and resources from landowners. More often than not, land affected by IAPs are on parcels of land that are not viable from a farming perspective, clustered in areas that are difficult to access on either steep slopes or nestled in deep ravines,” explains Meiring.

“As a first step to better land management and compliance with environmental legislation, governmental officials insist that landowners develop Invasive Alien Plant Control Plans. Complicating matters even further, is that all landowners and estate agents have to make mention of the extent of IAPs on a saleable land as an addendum to a sales agreement.”

GREF will assist participating and qualifying landowners with the compilation of standardised Invasive Alien Plant (IAP) Control Plans, and where applicable, issue herbicide volumes in accordance.

Use of herbicide not ideal, but a crucial tool in managing IAPs on a landscape scale.

Landowners in the Garden Route are serious about living in an environment that is as uncontaminated as possible, and many are against the use of herbicides.

Meiring says the safe use and application of herbicide is imperative to the roll-out of the landowner assistance programme, and participating landowners will be expected to abide by health and safety regulations, and apply herbicide strictly as prescribed by the labels, depending on which type is best suited for the plants they have to treat.

Landowners interested in participating in and registering for the landowner assistance programme can write to: or

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.


Cobus Meiring: Manager of the GREF Secretariat and Chairperson of SCLI

Cell: 083 626 7619


Garden Route District Municipality’s Nina Viljoen now “Dr Nina Viljoen”

Nina Viljoen, Disaster Risk Reduction & Climate Change Adaptation Practitioner at the Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM), was on 12 July 2019, conferred a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) qualification at the University of Cape Town’s Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences.

Talking passionately to the Communication and Graphic Design Unit of GRDM regarding the progress of her education over the years, she said: “I progressed from having a Grade 7 (previous standard 5) school qualification at the age of 19, to achieving my Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), with specialisation in Water Resources Management”.

Her thesis is titled: “Participative water demand management as an adaptive response within complex socio-institutional systems: A City of Cape Town case study, South Africa’.  However, she admitted that it could not have been done without will power, commitment and true dedication.

Referring back to her Master of Science (MSc) Degree, she explained: “I also focused on water resources management, more specifically alternative water resources, with my dissertation entitled: “The feasibility of rainwater and stormwater harvesting within a winter rainfall climate context: A Commercial Building Focus,” for which I received a Cum Laude recognition”.

Touching on how she persevered with so much at hand, she said:  “At times I had to isolate myself from family issues and had to work over weekends and on public holidays on my thesis. I also participated in Garden Route Environmental Management related initiatives, and attended forums and workshops that took my mind off the strict routine of the PhD studies”, she added. At times when she felt despondent and felt like giving up, these initiatives helped her to get re-energised and motivated again.

Sharing briefly about her childhood years, she said she grew up in a single-parent household.  “I attended 14 primary schools as my family was mostly homeless and moved around a lot. Sadly, due to the psychological and physical impacts of these hardships we faced, I lost my only sibling to suicide”.

Dr Viljoen is adamant that education saved her life and has given her independence. She would like to be a role model to the youth as an example of the importance of education in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty and hardship. With regard to her immediate future plans, she concluded:  “With my expertise and experience gained through my PhD studies, I will continue to help the Garden Route district with water resource planning and drought awareness initiatives”.

18 June 2019 The Garden Route Annual Fire Commemoration Event, Climate Change & Adaptation Indaba successfully hosted in Wilderness

The Garden Route Annual Fire Commemoration Event, Climate Change & Adaptation Indaba hosted by Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) in collaboration with the South Cape Environmental Forum once again reminded roleplayers about the fire outbreaks of 2017 and 2018 in the Garden Route and the aftermaths and tragic losses as a result of the fires. The Indaba took place on 7 June 2019 at the Wilderness Hotel in Wilderness of which approximately 150 delegates attended.

Garden Route District Municipality was well represented at the event. FLTR are: Dr Nina Viljoen, Cllrs Rowen Spies, Erica Meyer, Thersia van Rensburg, Joslyn Johnson, Mayor Memory Booysen, Daniel Saayman, Mr Gerhard Otto and Deputy Mayor Rosina Ruiters.

Delegates represented organisations and institutions, such as the National Department of Environmental Affairs, the Western Cape Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning, Stellenbosch University and Nelson Mandela University, as well as GRDM and Knysna Municipality were in attendance.

Various role-players from Government Organisations, Training Institutions, Municipalities and members of the media attended the event. Front (fltr) GRDM Manager:  Disaster Management, Mr Gerhard Otto, Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen and Municipal Manager, Mr Monde Stratu.

The main purpose of the event, was not to only host the Annual Fire Commemoration event, but also to build on the momentum and team effort the region has created in their efforts to recover from the fire, but also to host a Climate Change Indaba, according to Municipal Manager of GRDM, Mr Monde Stratu. In his welcoming address to the attendants, Mr Stratu said: “It is our objective to shape a better prepared, climate- ready and resilient Garden Route environment for our community, and we trust that you will be able to assist us in achieving that ambitious goal”.

Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at GRDM during, her presentation at the event.
Dr Jo Barnes, Epidemiologist and Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Community Health at the Stellenbosch University, spoke about the harsh realities of the impact of climate change on public health systems in the Garden Route.

In referring back to losses and the recovery of losses and damages as a result of the fires, Mr Cobus Meiring, Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) said:  “Recent reports released by Santam and others indicate that the damages incurred by the 2017 Knysna wildfire disaster are very close to three billion rand. For the large insurance companies to arrive at accurate calculations took them a full two years to consolidate all pay-outs and peripheral and associated costs. Three billion rand is a staggering amount of money and is indicative of the kind of damage the fury of nature can incur on civilisation and the environment in a matter of hours. However, when taking into account what best could be described as collateral damage, could be a lot harder to calculate. Take for instance the number of retired folk from Knysna and Plettenberg Bay deciding not to rebuild at all, land becoming vacant for extended periods, formerly employed people now struggling to find new employment opportunities, with employers having decided to move on following the disaster, or even leaving the country as some reportedly did, and suddenly the situation looks even worse than expected,” Meiring said.  It is for these reasons that Dr Nina Viljoen, Manager: Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation at GRDM described the event as crucial in the way the region is planning ahead with a challenging environment at play.

The event was facilitated by Mr Cobus Meiring, Secretariat of the Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF).

Most of the presentations made at the event, placed emphasis on water security, high quality water resources, the living conditions of the communities, sanitation facilities, regrowth of alien vegetation, to name a few. All these factors place a high risk on the state of health of the residents of the area and the economic growth of the Garden Route.   These were furthermore and significantly emphasised by Dr Jo Barnes, Epidemiologist and Senior Lecturer Emeritus in Community Health at the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Science, when she spoke about the harsh realities of the impact of climate change on public health systems.

GRDM Executive Mayor, Cllr Memory Booysen, could not ignore the after effects of the fires in his address, when he made an announcement:  “As we pride ourselves as a District Municipality striving to improve the way we manage our environment, the GRDM and our Environmental Forum has secured substantial funding and support from the Fund for the Rebuild of Knysna to assist landowners who were severely affected by the Knysna, and more recent fires, to deal with the scourge of invasive alien plant re-growth”.  In coming to a point where resolutions had to be taken and the way forward was discussed, Mr Gerhard Otto, GRDM Manager for Disaster Management said, “The establishment of the Garden Route Environmental Forum, mandated by the District Municipality and incorporating non-governmental conservation bodies and public platforms, was a first in the Western Cape, and allows for greater cooperation between private landowners and regional and national authorities.”

In conclusion, Otto added that floods and fire in the immediate and foreseeable future can be reduced, but only if those tasked with planning and management understand the issues at play and implement mitigation measures in accordance,” Otto added. “The announcement of a regional public/ private programme to assist landowners who were affected by recent fires and a scourge of invasive alien plant re-growth is a first of its kind in RSA, and further announcements will follow as the initiative reaches implementation stage,” he added.


The safe transport, handling, use and disposal of hazardous chemicals and receptacles, are of crucial importance to the general health and well-being of members of the public, and the environment as a whole.

Different legislation covers the subject of hazardous substances in South Africa and the aim of this  article is  to focus broadly on the HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES ACT of 1973 (ACT 15 OF 1973).

The HAZARDOUS SUBSTANCES ACT, 1973 (ACT 15 OF 1973) deals specifically with the following issues namely:

  1. Licensing;
  2. Conditions of sale;
  3. Keeping of records;
  4. Labelling; and
  5. Disposal of empty containers.

1. Licensing

All manufacturers, importers, wholesale distributors, registered pharmacists and general dealers of Group 1 hazardous substances, must be in possession of a valid license which is renewable annually. Group 1 hazardous substance, which are listed in the act, are extremely toxic and / or corrosive substances with mostly rapid chemical reactions and shall be locked separately from articles of food and drink in an enclosed space reserved solely for the hazardous substance.

The departments of Agriculture as well as National and Provincial Health, are responsible for the issuing of licenses.  The Municipal Environmental Practitioners are responsible to ensure that all cases of poisoning are investigated, as soon as they are notified of any incident.

2. Conditions of sale

All sales must take place at the address mentioned in the license and under control of the person mentioned therein.

All containers must be securely closed, free from leaks and of sufficient strength to withstand rough handling and preclude any loss of content.

  1. Keeping of records

Stock records should reflect the name and quantity of the substance, date of importation or acquisition, name of the supplier and whether the substance will be used for mining, or industrial purposes or to a wholesale distributor, a bona fide laboratory, research institution, teaching institution, government department, agricultural company or any other user. Records and invoices of sales must be kept for a period of 3 years.

  1. Labelling

Information that should reflect on a label must show the chemical name of the product or substances contained therein, the name and address of the supplier, a skull and crossbones symbol with the words “poison” and “keep out of reach of children”. The label and lettering is prescribed in the legislation, as well as directives regarding the disposal of empty containers. Risks involved using the substance, precautions and first aid treatment must be conspicuously labeled.

  1. Disposal of empty containers

Certain categories of hazardous substances empty containers must be returned to the manufacturer under very specific conditions. Other low risk containers can be perforated, flattened and buried at a hazardous land fill site. Empty containers that contained foodstuffs, cosmetics or disinfectants can never be used as containers for hazardous substances. Municipal Environmental Practitioners play a critical role in ensuring that all hazardous and medical waste are stored and disposed of in a safe and effective manner according to international norms and standards.

Hazardous substances can and should be handled as prescribed by legislation. This will ensure that our environment and loved ones are not negatively affected by the use of such substances. It is thus imperative, that we also make use of the above mentioned principles in our homes and workplace.

For more information, please contact the GRDM Municipal Health Section at 044 803 1550.

Annual Fire Commemoration event to look at climate change 

The Annual Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) event, to be hosted on 7 June to mark the devastating wildfire that ravaged the town and surrounds of Knysna in 2017, will broaden its scope in order to also look at the effects of climate change in the region,” says Garden Route District Municipality (GRDM) Municipal Manager, Mr Monde Stratu.

Continues Stratu, “Not only the Knysna wildfire disaster, but also regional wildfire disasters before and after the dramatic 7 June 2017 event, hint at a vulnerable environment grappling to deal with a change in climate, and  a region exposed to risks associated with drought, wildfire and a constant loss of biodiversity and natural habitat”.

“What we want to achieve is to support and promote efforts for a better prepared, more resilient and climate-ready Southern Cape and Garden Route,” concludes Stratu.

Burnt landscape 2 Natural Disasters indicate that the effects of climate change are real and likely to increase.

Says Cobus Meiring on behalf of the GREF Secretariat, “Natural disasters on an unprecedented scale, such as the Outeniqua fires and the more recent tropical cyclone Idai, raising havoc in the city of Beira in bordering Mozambique, must serve as a clarion call for communities and authorities alike, that climate change is real and no-one is immune to its effects”.

According to Meiring vulnerable communities, such as those living in the Great and Klein Karoo continue to suffer the long-term knock-on effect of extended periods of drought, with farmers abandoning their operations, leaving reliant communities destitute.

More detail on the commemoration event will be made available in due course on the GREF website:

Photo caption: Natural disasters such as the 2017 Knysna fires, perpetual drought in the Klein and Great Karoo, and the more recent cyclone Idai in bordering Mozambique are indicators that the effects of climate change are real and likely to increase, and the Garden Route must plan for survival.

* The intense tropical cyclone Idai was one of the worst tropical cyclones on record to affect Africa and the Southern Hemisphere. The long-lived storm caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi, leaving more than 1000 people dead and thousands more missing. Idai is the second-deadliest tropical cyclone recorded in the South-West Indian Ocean basin, behind only the 1892 Mauritius cyclone. In the Southern Hemisphere, it currently ranks as the third-deadliest tropical cyclone on record, behind the aforementioned 1892 Mauritius cyclone and the 1973 Flores cyclone. (Wikipedia –

** The Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) is a regional forum for collaboration in conservation, environmental adaptation and community interaction. The forum aims to coordinate regional conservation efforts, serve as a catalyst to drive climate adaption practices in the Southern Cape and strive to establish a better-coordinated approach to environmental management.




Cobus Meiring: Cobus Meiring: Garden Route Environmental Forum (GREF) Secretariat

Cell: 083 626 7619