Khula’s green entrepreneurs

15 July 2005

DaimlerChrysler South Africa has awarded a group of young KwaZulu-Natal entrepreneurs R100 000 for their environment-friendly business.

The Khula Village Environmental Group – locally known as the “Green Team” – are based in a small rural settlement next to the Dukuduku Forest on the fringes of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park in Zululand. Their example may be just the thing for unemployed youngsters looking for gaps in the job market.

Not long ago the group’s five men and women, aged between 22 and 28, had no jobs and little chance of finding work.

But Siphiwe Mjadu, Sizakele Mngomezulu, Balindile Ndlovu, Bongumusa Dube and Sibusiso Bukhosini have one thing in common: they realise the environment has economic value.

So they set up a small business to plant trees, recycle refuse and clear alien vegetation. Their client list soon grew to include landscaping contracts.

“Someone, somewhere made an impression on them that the environment is important,” says Charmaine Veldman, project manager of the Wildlands Conservation Trust, an organisationi that promotes conservation-based community development in KwaZulu-Natal.

“Entirely of their own volition they started an environmental group. With little knowledge of conservation but much enthusiasm, they approached me and offered their services.”

The group wrote a constitution and formalised their setup.

“We taught them about alien plants and the damage they do to the ecology, and they began removing the aliens and replanting indigenous vegetation,” Veldman says.

“The remarkable thing about this group is that they are not only doing this to make money. They are really passionate about the environment. Everything they have achieved has been from their own efforts.”

Support from DaimlerChrysler
The Greem Team’s work so impressed DaimlerChrysler South Africa that the company awarded them R100 000.

“They’re a great example for unemployed youngsters who want to make money while also contributing to their surroundings,” says Tina Buys, the company’s head of corporate social responsibility.

“DaimlerChrysler first got involved with the Khula community last year by sponsoring the construction cost of the Simunye Community Tourism Association Office at the entrance to Khula Village.”

The tourism office is the first in South Africa to be entirely owned and operated by members of the local community.

“With the community’s enthusiasm and entrepreneurial spirit, already half a dozen small businesses are being run in and around the centre. These include an authentic Zulu cultural village and a restaurant, which have become successful standalone businesses.

“When DaimlerChrysler heard about the Green Team they leapt at the chance to provide funding.”

Slowing the tourists down
Litter and the invasive alien plant chromalena almost took over the area before the Green Team started cleaning up both waste and vegetation.

“The community knew it had to find ways to bring tourists into Khula Village,” says Dr Andrew Venter, CEO of the Wildlands Conservation Trust. “The aim is that visitors slow down, not speed up, when driving past the village.”

Caiphas Mkhwanazi, Khula Village community leader, is grateful for the help the village has received.

“We would like to thank DaimlerChrysler for the support they have given us, and for helping the community achieve their vision of making Khula Village a prosperous as well as a beautiful place,” he says.

Treepreneurs
Another initiative in the area is the Wildlands Conservation Trust’s “Treepreneur” project, which encourages local communities to grow and sell indigenous trees.

Income from the trees is used to pay for school fees, education material and basic needs.

“Families have adopted the scheme with great pride, using any materials at hand to provide shelter and protection for the young plants,” says Buys.

“The trees are also used to barter for vegetables, bicycles, stationery, household goods and more. With the success of the various initiatives, DaimlerChrysler is investigating a third phase of community upliftment in 2006.”

But for now, the five Green Team youngsters are hard at work.

“If a group wants to work for the environment there are many organisations they can approach,” says Veldman. “They can offer their services as a voluntary group until they have the necessary skills to make money from their work. Persistence always pays off.”

SouthAfrica.info reporter

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