The Limpopo Province recently captured the imagination of our nation in three instances: The Ndlovu Youth Choir’s performance in ‘America’s Got Talent’, the crowning of Shudufhadzo Musida as the new Miss South Africa and the Jerusalema dance challenge.
Another such a gem is the Director for Protected Areas in the Limpopo Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET): Shoni Mphaphuli. Shoni was born at Mbilwi Village about four kilometres from Thohoyandou. “People in my village care about the environment and those impressions lasted and inform my work today,” she said.
Her career started when she completed her teacher’s diploma at Venda College of Education in 1985. “I started teaching at Phaswana Secondary school at Sibasa, where I worked as a teacher for 5 years. I then proceeded to do my honours degree at University of Cape Town (UCT) and subsequently a master’s degree at Rhodes University,” Shoni explained. It was at Rhodes University where she became interested in Environmental Education. “My Environmental Education interest also grew due to my religious convictions and I felt I needed to do something that will help to protect God’s inheritance,” she said.
Currently, Shoni is appointed as the Director of Protected Areas in the Province, a position she has held since 2004. The mandate of this position is to provide protected area planning for the entire Limpopo Province. Protected area planning involves the development of planning frameworks, like the Limpopo Protected Area Strategy (LPAES) for the province, which she championed. It also involves development of other planning instruments such as policies, guidelines, norms and standards, which guide and assist in the effective management of protected areas.
LEDET’s Protected Areas Directorate organogram has 11 team members deployed throughout the province. However, the number of personnel is inadequate considering the geographical spread of the entire province. For any new uptake of a stewardship site, at least one dedicated liaison official is needed. “Given this challenge of staff shortage, I have always survived by the principle of doing more with less resources which I inculcate in my staff,” Shoni said.
The Protected Areas Directorate is responsible for Protected Area Expansion, Protected Areas Regularisation, implementing the Management Effectiveness Tracking Tool (METT) and the implementation of the People and Park’s Programme (P&PP).
In the past five years LEDET’s Protected Area Directorate achieved all its ambitious targets despite very difficult conditions of critical budget cuts, staff shortages and underfunding. They achieved:
- Declaration of 117 657 hectares of land as protected areas and protected environments as per National Protected Areas Act of 2003, section 23 and 28 respectively.
- 18 co-management agreements, which have been developed, workshopped and signed with traditional councils and community property association (CPA’s).
“This has not been a one man’s show but the effort of the whole Protected Areas Directorate. I am very proud of the work my team is doing”, Shoni said.
LEDET’s Protected Areas Directorate has established partnerships that are beneficial to all involved. These partnerships are supported by the GEF-5 PA Project. The directorate submits all the documents required by partners, offers explanations regarding any issues that need clarification and solicits funding for co-financing the project.
The vision for Shoni’s team is to continue meeting the targets of adding more hectares to Limpopo’s conservation estate and supporting new streams of wildlife economy and bioprospecting. “The directorate would like to work with people in co-management as per section 42 of the National Environmental Management Protected Areas Act (NEMPAA), assisting them by transferring relevant skills that will enable them to manage their conservation heritage effectively,” Shoni concluded.
It is indeed Shoni’s and her team’s vision, her work ethics and commitment that make the people of the Limpopo Province proud.