Chatting to environmental activist

2017-07-19 06:01
PHOTO: SuppliedSamson Phakathi

PHOTO: SuppliedSamson Phakathi

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ENVIRONMENTAL activist Samson Phakathi, who played a key role in forming the Mpophomeni Angling Club in order to deter poaching, spoke to Echo about his passion.

Phakathi believes environmental conservation and addressing poaching are issues that communities, activists and stakeholders can work together on to find solutions to these issues.

Growing up near a Mpumalanga wetland made him interested in environmental issues.

In 1998, while at school, he worked as a volunteer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust for two years, where he is currently employed.

He said he realised at a young age that he had a role to play in raising awareness in his community about environmental issues.

“But the most important thing I had to remind myself is that indigenous knowledge of the environment exists because communities live and interact with the environment, so I had to remind myself that in awareness campaigns I should not come across as a know it all but the most important thing is to engage with communities and engage with their indigenous knowledge as well.”

He has worked in environmental education and community engagement facilitation on sensitive environmental issues for 17 years accumulating a plethora of accolades for his work which has seen him travelling to different parts of the country and abroad.

One of the various projects he is involved in includes engaging and educating communities about fracking and the impact it might have on their immediate environment, their livestock and livelihoods.

“I’m also involved in campaigns that raise awareness on poaching and teaching communities about provincial and, or, national laws around poaching because I saw a need for communities to know about this because once you are in the court of law, facing a charge of poaching the excuse that you did not know about this or that law does not work,”

However, his approach in addressing poaching is to do with the understanding that communities are not only part of the problem, but part of the solution as well, and therefore for him creating discussion platforms where communities can actively engage is crucial.

“People grew up hunting, we are aware of that, and they have their own rules, regulations and laws governing that, so when we bring our campaigns to them it is important for us to know those rules, regulations and laws, some which may have been laid down by traditional leaders and see how these could possibly adhere to judicial laws,”

Phakathi does not believe in fencing off communities to conserve the environment because communities are part of, interact with and depend on the environment for survival.“But the most important thing is that there has to be sustainability and management of natural resources,”

He said poaching with dogs is spread across the Midlands, from Pietermaritzburg, Bulwer, Mpendle, Howick, Harding, and
Ladysmith.

During his crusades to fight poaching he has come across several issues and sometimes conflicts between poachers and those affected by the practice.

“So as an environmental activist I found myself in a situation where I had to bring together all those involved and affected by poaching so that we could collectively seek solutions to this problem,”

He said this meant he had to involve the police and this he did with user-friendly educational material to engage police officials at stations where poaching is rife. He said he has visited 92 police stations throughout the province.

“I wanted to alert them on what the law says about hunting with dogs but most importantly I wanted to stress to them that it is important for them to be aware that though they enforce the law, there is a need for them to go to communities and educate them about what is against the law and what is permissible,”

Other projects include working with teachers to help them develop lessons, which would integrate environmental conservation.

Phakathi is involved in a number of projects with some still in the pipeline.

The most important thing is
that there has to be sustainability and
management of natural
resources

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