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2011 National Wetlands Indaba: “Act today – for a better tomorrow”


The appropriate management of South Africa’s wetlands is critical in contributing to the sustainability of its water resources.


Nonhlanhla Mkize (left) with the Chair of the KZN Wetlands Forum, Dr Peter Goodman.


Learning together on the field trips.


Mondi Wetlands Programme intern, Linda Luvuno presents her MSc studies on wetlands and fire. Her project is registered with, and co-sponsored by SAEON.


Bonani Madikizela, Research Manager of the Water Research Commission presents the Wetlands Stewardship Award to David Kleyn.


Gavin Cowden, Chair of the Mpumalanga Wetland Forum, receives the Wetland Education and Skills Development Award.


Bonani Madikizela presents the Wetland Science and Research Award to Dr Donovan Kotze.

- Sue van Rensburg, Coordinator, SAEON Node for Grasslands, Forests and Wetlands

The 2011 National Wetlands Indaba took place in October at the Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife Didima Resort and Conference Centre in KwaZulu-Natal.

Due to venue constraints the number of participants was limited to 120. These spaces were rapidly filled up and final attendance was pinned at 122.

What was encouraging was the broad representation from various sectors including corporates, academics, private environmental consultants, conservation authorities, water boards, government departments from all the provinces, non-government organisations, students from different universities and private citizens.

Back to the future 2020

The overall theme for the 2011 National Wetlands Indaba was “Wetlands: Back to the future 2020. Act today - for a better tomorrow”. This theme was selected to promote a focus on immediate action to secure wetland health, highlighting the ecological and economic benefits of sound management now for future benefit and sustainability. Sub-themes within the sessions included wetland surveillance and monitoring; securing aquatic biodiversity; learning together for better wetland practice, and wetland ecosystem services.

Opening address

The 2011 National Wetlands Indaba was opened by Nonhlanhla Mkize on behalf of the MEC for the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Agriculture and Environment. In her opening address, Ms Mkize emphasised that government is sensitive to and understands the value of the wise use and conservation of wetlands. She noted the role wetlands can play in achieving some of the 12 outcomes government is working towards.

Ms Mkize reminded delegates that COP10 explicitly recognised the importance of the conservation and wise use of wetlands and peat lands in climate change mitigation. However, she highlighted the need to ensure that relevant science and best practice is communicated effectively to government by “packaging” the information in a manner that provides government with simple but tangible and relevant concepts that can then derive support for implementation.

The newly established SAEON Grasslands, Forests, Wetlands Node ran a workshop at the Indaba inviting input from participants in guiding the development of the Node’s wetlands monitoring programme.

Providing a co-learning platform to promote action

The Indaba was specifically structured to ensure ample opportunity for discussions, sharing and co-learning opportunities. This was highlighted at previous Indabas as a key need and function of the meeting.

Workshops and discussion groups around wetlands and mining, research, monitoring, rehabilitation, education and capacity building proved productive and outcomes will hopefully be taken forward into solid actions. Young scientists were given space to present and discuss their work and obtain input from the broader community. The quality of their presentations as well as the relevance of issues tackled by the research being conducted was very encouraging.

Not to be outshone by the students, the quality of all presentations at the Indaba was notably high and addressed a range of relevant topics that focused on bridging the gap from theory to practical action. Facilitated field trips within the UKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site provided an additional learning opportunity across various topics and enabled hands-on exposure to what wetlands are, their ecology, plant diversity, how they work and how man-made impacts affect them.

Finally, the delegates came together in a final participatory session to discuss and agree on key resolutions from the Indaba that could leverage action in best practice for wetlands. A number of additional detailed and specific resolutions were document as well as some overarching resolutions, including agreement that the wetland community should work with (not against) government, corporates and communities to ensure: 

  1. there is no net loss of wetlands in South Africa, as this would be to the detriment of the health of the country and its water resources;
  2. support for rehabilitation work where the Wetlands Forum programme is strongly supported;
  3. research priorities identified are appropriately profiled in all relevant sectors and academic institutions;
  4. the promotion of a green economy/ green jobs/ green engineer/ ecological infrastructure/ natural capital;
  5. that Ramsar sites are correctly monitored and managed by government.


SAEON at the Indaba

The newly established SAEON Grasslands, Forests, Wetlands Node played an active role in the Indaba as a member of the organising committee, securing sponsorship through SAEON, profiling the SAEON brand in banners and on conference packs as well as exposing SAEON’s role and activities during one of the presentation sessions.

The Node also ran a workshop inviting input from participants in guiding the development of the Node’s wetlands monitoring programme. The workshop attracted a number of experts in the field and contributions and discussion provided a solid basis for the development of a SAEON wetlands monitoring programme. Most importantly, the critical need for long-term monitoring of wetlands in the face of global change was strongly indorsed by the participants.

SAEON would like to thank all participants who generously contributed to this process. SAEON looks forward to the multiple collaborations that will hopefully emerge from this initiative.

National Wetland Awards

The 2011 Indaba also saw the inaugural National Wetland Awards sponsored by Mondi. The awards are given to individuals or institutions nominated by the wetland community, who have a proven record of achievements and have contributed significantly to the long-term conservation and sustainable use of wetlands.

The Award Categories are:

  • Wetland Stewardship – acknowledges the contribution to effective and sustainable management of wetland areas through either the expansion of these areas or agreements and collaboration with land users and owners.
  • Wetland Education and Skills Development – acknowledges the contribution to institutional and professional capacity building, training, collaboration, stakeholder engagement or educational tools, outreach and awareness.
  • Wetland Science and Research – acknowledges the contribution of wetland scientific research providing a sound basis for informed management action strengthening water security.


David Kleyn from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) won the Wetland Stewardship award for his 15 years of active contribution to the wetland community. The Wetland Education and Skills Development award was won by Gavin Cowden, Chair of the Mpumalanga Wetland Forum (MWF) in recognition of the value that the MWF has added to wetland conservation and management within the province through active involvement and participation (30-40 people) in various wetland related activities.

The Wetland Science and Research Award went to Dr Donovan Charles Kotze, who could be considered as the “grandfather of wetland delineation in South Africa”. The country has probably the most active and strongest wetland community of practice in Africa, and much credit can be attributed to Donovan for his tireless and unselfish work to initiate and support this wetland community.

In conclusion

Members of the 2011 National Wetlands Indaba organising committee, the KZN Wetlands Forum, would like to thank the co-sponsors of the Indaba: Mondi, Bytes Document Solutions, SAEON, Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife, South African Sugar Association, and the Department of Water Affairs.

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