Deputy Minister Rejoice Mabudafhasi addresses 2014 World Wetlands Day celebration

Mbongolwane Wetlands, KwaZulu-Natal
31 January 2014


Program Director
MEC for Agriculture and Environmental Affairs, Dr Meshack Radebe
Your Worship the Mayor of Umlalazi Local Municpality; Cllr Thelumoya Zulu
Inkosi Thembiso Ntuli
CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, Dr Bandile Mkhize
Members of the community
Members of the media
Ladies and Gentlemen

Each year on this day, people around the world, take advantage of the opportunity to come together to celebrate and raise public awareness on the value of wetlands and their vital link to human well-being. This day marks the 17th anniversary of the commemoration of World Wetlands Day since the inaugural celebration in 1997 and most importantly the 43rd anniversary of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands since it’s signing in 1971.

Our celebration this year also coincides with our celebration of the Twenty Years of Democracy and Freedom in our country with our programme in the area of wetlands rehabilitation aimed at creating jobs and protecting the environment.

Since 2002, our programme, Working for Wetlands has invested R725 million in the rehabilitation of 1,011 wetlands countrywide. This has improved or secured the health of more than 80,000 hectares of wetland area.

In the process, the programme has provided 17,575 employment opportunities, with 2.3 million person days worked to date. This tells us that the work we continue to do as a country in rehabilitating our wetlands benefits the environment and our people.

This day is celebrated worldwide through a variety of activities aligned to Ramsar Convention’s theme: Wetlands and Agricultureand the slogan “Partners for Growth” which reflects the interdependence between wetlands and agriculture and the key role that wetlands play.

The key objective of World Wetlands Day 2014 is to raise people’s awareness of the interdependence between wetlands and agriculture, to highlight ways to ensure sustainable utilization of wetlands and to understand that wetlands create an opportunity for small-scale farming if appropriate farming methods are used.

We have chosen the Mbongolwane wetland to obtain first-hand information on the importance of conservation and sustainable of the wetlands.

In support of the UN International Year of Family Farming, Ramsar’s theme for World Wetlands Day 2014 provides an ideal opportunity to highlight the importance of wetlands in supporting agriculture, especially since many family farming operations rely on the soils, water, plants and animals found in wetlands to provide food security and improve their livelihoods.

Given their importance for water supply and food production, wetlands are a key element of achieving the goals of poverty eradication worldwide. They can literally be lifesavers - for example springs, particularly in arid regions that support dry season food production, water and grazing for livestock.

This global trend is also reflected in South Africa, where drainage and conversion of wetlands for commercial agriculture in the last hundred years was the main driver responsible for large-scale wetland loss. The legacy we have inherited is that our 2011 National Biodiversity Assessment identified wetlands as the most threatened of all South Africa’s ecosystems.

This is despite wetlands making up only 2.4% of the country’s area and representing high-value ecological infrastructure that provides critical services to people.

Today, roughly 2.5 billion rural people around the world depend directly on agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting or some combination of these for their livelihoods.

Wetlands provide food and other agricultural products such as fuel and fibre directly through agricultural production activities that take place within wetlands.  Wetlands also support agriculture indirectly, for example by providing fertile soils and reliable supplies of good quality water.

Intensive agriculture activities often lead to increased loads of pollutants such as pesticides, fertilizers, antibiotics and disinfectants. Not only do these affect the ecological character of both inland and coastal wetlands, they also have impacts on human health and the quality of drinking water supplied from wetlands.

Wetlands constitute a resource of great socio-economic, cultural and scientific value, and their loss would be irreparable. Wetlands deliver essential ecosystem services, or benefits people obtain form nature, including acting as regulator and providers of water. Thus water management and the “wise use of wetlands” are inextricably linked.

In the agricultural context, the wise use of wetlands thus means managing agriculture-wetland interactions in ways that maintain essential wetland ecosystem services. The wise use of wetlands and their ecosystem services is central to the purpose of the Ramsar Convention.

The need to find this balance as well as recognize the importance of wetlands to agriculture can be achieved through collaborations and initiatives aimed at ensuring  integrated water resources planning, reducing the impacts of agriculture on water quality, managing land and water for multifunctional agro-ecosystems and restoring wetlands in Agricultural landscapes

Ladies and gentlemen as you are aware, many rural communities depend strongly on wetlands and the abundant resources that they provide, with the Mbongolwane wetland being one such wetland. It is approximately 395 hectares in extent and 12 kilometres long.

Owing to the reasonably intact state of the wetland and the high level of human and agricultural activity in the catchment, the wetland is likely to have an important function in trapping sediment and improving water quality. The remaining native vegetation areas, such as most of the wetland have high biodiversity conservation value.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me acknowledge the following organisations and initiatives for their efforts geared towards balancing agriculture, wetlands conservation and sustainable livelihoods.

Tongaat Hulett partnership with the Ntuli Traditional Leadership Council and Umlalazi Local Municipality (Mbongolwane area)

It is always encouraging to see private sector organizations such as Tongaat Hulett working in partnership with communities to promote sustainable rural development.

Tongaat Hulett has invested to date 31 million Rands towards the development of 1 182 hectares under the Manyazini, Thathunyawo and Sakhindlela Co-operatives. The investment has enabled 120 community members to find employment as seasonal workers.  During times of high activities, ladies and gentlemen, the number of seasonal workers increases to some 400 employees. 

In addition, 11 people have been employed permanently to ensure the day-to-day management of the sugarcane development initiatives. Tongaat Hulett’s investment in the sugarcane development programme will improve the quality of life of some 589 members participating in the 3 Co-operatives.

Tongaat Hulett has allocated R400 000 to promote education and training in rural communities. 

Two students under the Ntuli Traditional Leadership Council have been allocated bursaries to study Plant Production at the Owen Sitole College of Agriculture.  A total of 10 primary schools have been selected through Tongaat Hulett to participate in the Rally to Read Programme. 

The Rally is a 3 year programme focused on improving the culture of learning and teaching in rural schools through the provision of books and other learning materials.

University of KwaZulu-Natal and Water Research Commission

For the past 16 years the University of KwaZulu-Natal, together with numerous partners including the Water Research Commission (WRC), provincial and national government, and donor agencies has been providing rural development support to communities at Eshowe and Mbongolwane.

The support in the area of craft business development has resulted in the establishment of the Inina Craft Agency, a primary trading cooperative with about 150 members. It is an entirely independent and unsubsidised women owned business that supplies both local and international markets. In 2009 it had sales of R1.4 million. The primary challenge has been the down-turn in the global economy which has limited craft sales both locally and for export.

A research project completed in 2002 focused on natural resource use at Mbongolwane Wetland. Results showed that over 80% of local households were deriving benefits from wetland-based ecosystem services.

These benefits included water for bathing, washing and drinking; agricultural production (livestock and cultivation); medicinal plants; clay and fibre for craft and construction; hunting and fishing; and spiritual fulfilment. Parts of this research were repeated in 2013. The results were similar but showed a general decline in use.

This has been ascribed partly to fewer farmers in production and the delivery of municipal services such as piped water.

The primary reason why rural development support in the area has been fairly successful is the overall social and political stability that is encountered. Agencies are able to engage safely and participants are able to engage actively and freely.

Masibambisane rural development initiative

This initiative, chaired by President Jacob Zuma, prioritizes food security and as a result focuses on ploughing maize, dry beans and vegetables. It encourages communities in the areas of Amakhosi to group themselves forming and registering cooperatives.

They assist in registering processes, training of cooperative and formulating business plans for all cooperatives in endeavour to source funding from government departments and other sources.

Working for wetlands

The Working for Wetlands Programme together with the Mondi Wetlands Project identified two large head-cuts in the Mbongolwane wetland: one in the wetland at the site called Amatigulu and the second on a stream that enters the wetland called Uvova.

From 2002/3 they constructed weirs to reduce the concentration of water flow and therefore stop further degradation and erosion of the wetland, and through the Expanded Public Works Programme created green jobs and provided skills development for about 40 community members.

Ezemvelo KZN wildlife

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife is one of the leading conservation authorities in South Africa. Community development has been high on Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife’s agenda as conservation must create tangible benefits to people, especially to those who reside in the buffer zones.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife assists the community of Mbongolwane by running awareness campaigns on the importance of wetlands. It is important that the community knows what a wetland is, how can they benefit as a community and more importantly what should they do to preserve the wetlands.  Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife also assists with monitoring the wetlands on a regular basis as well as law enforcement when a need arises.

Department of Agriculture

The Department of Agriculture has a long history of involvement in the area.  Extension staff has been active from at least the 1970s. They assisted in establishing and supporting community gardens and together with the South African Sugar Extension Services and Entumeni Mill Cane Committee; provide technical support to the many small-scale sugar growers in the area. 


Ignoring protection of the wetlands can only result in disasters of food insecurity, wiped out biodiversity that would negatively impact on subsistence farming which in turn would result in deepened poverty levels, drastically reduced water supply leading to substantial rise in prices and removed vegetation that would fuel destructive nature of global warming.

Let’s work together to secure our Wetlands for the sake of biodiversity and sustainable agriculture.

Handover of Certificate of Wetlands of International Importance

We are also here today to celebrate South Africa’s Wetland of International Importance or Ramsar sites. South Africa designated uMgeni Vlei Nature Nature Reserve on the 19th of March 2013 bringing the total number of Wetland of International Importance to 21, eight of which are in KwaZulu-Natal province.

Ladies and gentlemen, uMgeni Vlei Nature Reserve is an Important Bird Area in KwaZulu-Natal province. It is described as permanent freshwater marshes and pools consisting mainly of grasslands and a few small areas of scrubby woodland. Located at about 1,840m above sea level in the Drakensberg Alpine Centre biodiversity hotspot, the site contains endemic and nationally threatened plant species.

It is a key representative remnant of the natural wetlands in the Highland Sourveld bioregion and noted to be an important breeding ground for several waterbirds including the IUCN Red-Listed Blue Crane, Crowned Crane, and Wattled Crane.

The timing of the designation of uMngeni Vlei is particularly significant, because of the attention currently being focused on ecological infrastructure in the uMngeni catchment. This catchment provides water to millions of people, including the cities of Durban and Pietermaritzburg.

Water security is a critical issue for the cities and towns in this region, as well as for many rural people who often rely directly on rivers and springs for their water supply.

As a result, a partnership of more than 35 organisations, including government, civil society, academia and the private sector, is exploring how restoration and maintenance of strategic ecological infrastructure in the uMngeni catchment can contribute to long-term water security for those people who rely on it for their water supply.

Led by eThekwini Metro, Department of Water Affairs, SANBI and Umgeni Water, this partnership is still young, but if successful will serve as a model for the entire country in highlighting the vital role that well-managed ecological infrastructure can play in supporting built infrastructure, reducing disaster risk, adapting to climate change and creating employment.

Mapping recently conducted in the uMngeni catchment by World Wide Fund identified uMngeni Vlei and its associated wetland systems as key ecological infrastructure that is still in good condition. The Ramsar designation highlights that it is not only a biodiversity asset, but also a vital component in supporting the well-being of people living in the uMngeni catchment.

Ladies and gentlemen I would like reiterate that last time I hand over the certificate for Ntsikeni Vlei Nature Reserve, I did it to Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife and again I would like to congratulate Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife for the good work done in putting proposal for the designation of this unique wetlands and I would like to do it by handing over to them the Ramsar certificate.  I would like to invite the MEC and the CEO of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife to come to the forth and receive the certificate.

Thank you.