Restoration Custodians: Breaking down Gender Stereotypes while Combating Water Scarcity

April 9, 2021

Angel Maphelile (31), Mildred Machate (31) and Pontsho Phale (31) all reside in the Acornhoek area in Mpumalanga and work for the Kruger to Canyons Biosphere Reserve (K2C), a non-profit company.  

The women are part of the K2C restoration team funded by the Resilient Water Project. They work in the Mariepskop forest, a protected area that falls under the GEF-5 PA Project. Angel, Mildred and Pontsho were recruited in 2018. Their work takes place in a high elevation area. Prior to their job interviews they had to undergo an extensive physical training to prove their fitness. 


View from Marieskop Mountain (1,945 m above sea level) over indigenous forest in the northern Drakensberg. (Image: K2C) 

The women are proud of their work because they address the problem of water scarcity their communities are facing. Clearing alien invasive plants is giving back to the community even though it will take time for the results to show. They know that once there is change in the rivers and more room for the indigenous species to grow again, offsetting carbon footprints, it is because of their work. They will have played their part in protecting and conserving biodiversity for the generations to come.

Their restoration work is about putting more meaning behind the slogan of ‘every drop counts’. Communities need to better understand issues around integrated water resource management and water waste system and processes. K2C believes in capacity building and the women continue to learn and acquire more skills. This way they pass their knowledge on to their community. At the same time it helps them to be more employable or even start their own businesses one day. 

The women admit that their job can be quite challenging because of the level of fitness required. They have to walk long distances and hike up the mountains. But they say: “Nothing will stop us because we can do the same jobs or have the same responsibilities as men in the team.” 

The three want to see more women to be empowered in this sector. They explain that at family level women are in charge of the collection, storage and provision of water. They believe women should be involved in decision making processes to ensure that everyone can have equal rights to access these crucial resources. 

These three water warriors reduce the stigma that women cannot do certain jobs. Their advice to other women is to never give up: “Every goal is bigger than you and it will have challenges, but you have the means to make it because you are strong. Try things that interest you even if they do not feel safe and don’t be afraid to reach out to people with careers you idolise,” they said.


These three women prove they can do the same job as the men in the K2C restoration team. (Image: K2C)