Zimbini Koto: Retaining expertise: Absorption of GEF-5 PA project staff into implementing agency

March 9, 2021

When Zimbini Koto, GIS Land Affairs Specialist at Cape Nature, asked herself if it would be possible to have a job that encompasses both land administration and environmental management, her question was answered when she saw Cape Nature’s advert for a GIS Technician in 2016. 

Zimbini hails from the Eastern Cape. She completed her high school at St John’s College in Mthatha in 2006. She completed a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Fort Hare in 2011. More recently she obtained her Honours degree in Environmental Management from UNISA in 2020.

Initially Zimbini was striving towards a career as a geologist, majoring in Geology and GIS (Geographic Information Science). A practical university project exposed her to how GIS can be used in conservation and environmental management. During an internship at South African National Parks (SANParks) in 2013 her love for nature grew even more. “This was my first real encounter with nature, and I knew it was what I wanted to do for a long time,” she said.


Zimbini Koto at the CapeNature offices (Image: supplied)

When Zimbini joined Cape Nature in 2017 as GIS Technician, her post was funded by the GEF-5 PA project. This served as an important stepping stone for her permanent employment. 

Starting out, Zimbini was assisting with the facilitation of the securing of land for biodiversity purposes, particularly the transfer of forest exit areas. 

Cape Nature cannot own land and thus necessitates the transfer of land from National Government to Provincial Government for assignment to Cape Nature as a management authority. 

After some time she was tasked to do the same for all land that is managed by Cape Nature and as a result, permanently recruited by the conservation agency. 

The facilitation of land transfers exposed underlying issues causing delays. Zimbini’s understanding of how these issues impact the process of transfers and project deadlines helped to prevent such problems and assisted partners who experienced similar problems. She also provided input into the development of the Methodology for State Land Transfer, a guideline compiled by SANParks to assist other project partners in dealing with state land transfers. 

Her role as Cape Nature’s Land Affairs Specialist entails liaison with stakeholders for the transfer of land between national and provincial spheres of government for conservation purposes. “The conversations I hold with stakeholders about ‘getting the land’ for the love of nature is what I like most about my job”, she explained. Her other responsibilities include contributing to building of a comprehensive land register for Cape Nature, attending to land queries and providing mapping support for other projects. 


Land secured for conservation purposes. (Image: CapeNature)

One of the biggest challenge in the process was the lack of understanding in using the correct channels and poor communication by important stakeholders. This was overcome by patiently maintaining consistent communication and working together with partners in finding solutions. The years of hard work have paid off as the transfer process is gaining momentum and there is greater recognition for this important work.  

There are still few women in the GIS and land use space. Although Zimbini’s experience of working mostly with men has been positive, she feels, “we need more representation and I am confident that as women we have a lot to offer. Women should stay courageous, focused, hold each other’s hands and do this together. Most importantly, they should enjoy their work.”

There is a future for this work as many conservation agencies require security of tenure of the land they are either managing or looking to acquire but are met with difficulties transferring the land. Considering that biodiversity supports livelihoods in a sustainable way and in turn people contribute to the management and protection of biodiversity, obtaining land for this purpose should not be difficult.

Zimbini’s vision is to have a government – conservation agency system in place for obtaining land in the province and the country as a whole. There is no doubt that she will further grow in her role as part of this journey. “I am grateful of the opportunities I have been exposed to, the lessons learnt, the challenges and the wonderful experiences. I am not the same person I was before joining Cape Nature as part of the GEF-5 PA Project,” she said. 


Zimbini Koto – envisioning a conservation agency system that allows for obtaining land for conservation purposes. (Image supplied)