Greening our cities

2012-07-10 00:00

“YOU have bitten off a huge chunk by coming here today,” Jonathon Wigley, the Wildlife and Environment Society of Southern Africa (Wessa) programme development manager, told a group of managers and supervisors drawn from municipalities around the country attending a two-day course, titled Understanding Sustainable Development, at the Wessa national office in Howick.

The course, part of an environmental-practices skills programme, represents the first module in a National Certificate (NQF level five) pilot course being run following Wessa’s appointment last year, as an Institute of Sectoral or Occupational Excellence (ISOE) for the Local Government Sector Education and Training Authority (LGSETA). This saw Wessa win a million-rand contract to create courses to train managers and workers in municipalities around the country, with regards to water, waste, sanitation and biodiversity issues.

In an interview with The Witness at the time, Wigley said the training courses were a response to environmental legislation. “Given all the environmental legislation, especially the National Environment al Management Act (Nema), which deals with waste, water and air, there is a great need to implant skills. There is also a wide range of challenges facing local government, regarding the implementation of national legislation.”

In 2005, Wessa was accredited as an education and training provider under the Education, Training and Development Practices — Sector Education and Training Authority (ETDP Seta). Earlier research undertaken by the department of environmental affairs, in conjunction with Rhodes University, produced an environmental-sector skills plan for South Africa. “This identified priorities for education in different sectors,” said Wigley, “including municipalities where the environment was identified as a scarce and critical skills area where education was required.”

Wessa now offers two environmental-practices courses, NQF level five (aimed at managers) and level two (aimed at workers, in municipal waste, parks and gardens’ departments). The courses provide grounding in ecology and environment-management practices relevant to their jobs.

Attending the course were managers and supervisors drawn from waste, parks, sewerage, sanitation and electricity departments around the country, even the Johannesburg zoo. Introducing themselves at the beginning of the first day, they all expressed a common expectation to learn more about environmental issues related to their work.

Being a pilot course, the trainers were also finding themselves in new territory. “It’s a learning curve for us to learn from you,” explained Londi Msomi, Wessa co-ordinator for Enviro Practices, to the around 30 participants. “Because you are the people who deal with these issues hands on.”

The participants came from the Msunduzi, Ethekweni and Johannesburg municipalities, as well as the Umgungundlovu District Municipality, and while this particular course was being run in Howick, it is also being given at other centres around the country.

Some elements of the course are compulsory and some elective. “There are three elective components — biophysical enforcement, integrated waste management and integrated water-resources management,” Wigley told the participants. “You do research assignments when you get back to the workplace.”

“The course is about how to bring together your knowledge and experience with the knowledge that Wessa has. It’s about how to foster sustainable development within municipalities.”

“History shows that there has not been sustainable development,” said Wigley. “Humans have impacted negatively on the world, it’s not a new thing. It’s been happening for hundreds of years.”

Wigley outlined the effects of globalisation and its effects on the environment. “There are complex interactions between social economic and political forces — it’s not just about nature alone. Global warming and climate change are complex issues, with lots of local causes and effects.”

“First, we will come to an understanding of human sustainability, followed by integrated environment management, and then apply a systems approach to decision making. Out of this comes your elective component.”

As well as input from Wigley and Msomi, along with Wessa’s project manager Wayne Peddie, and logistics administrator of Enviro Practices, Sabine Clinckemaillie, participants were provided with a learner workbook for written exercises and an information-filled learner manual. Various activities — from games to mini-dramas they created themselves — were utilised to facilitate and assess the participants’ understanding of the subject material.

“For many, it’s a long time since they have been in a learning situation,” says Msomi. “But the moment comes when they realise that what they are learning here supports their work. Then they can take it home and relate it to the work they do.”

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