The year is speeding to an end. Hard to believe that merely a month ago many of us gathered at Swadini, Mpumalanga, to have healthy discourse at yet another successful National Wetlands Indaba. And soon we will be hearing from the KwaZulu-Natal Wetland Forum early in the new year as to what they are planning for Indaba 2017.
I must apologise upfront that we as a Board communicated so little in the past year to you. As chair it was my responsibility and with me joining the Dept. Environmental Affairs (DEA) in March, it became near impossible to give due attention to the communication matters of the Society. However, it does not mean that as a Board we have not striven towards meeting our objectives in serving the Society and the broader wetland community.
In summary, the following activities were attended to during the past year:
We had 2 meetings this year with the CEO of SACNASP in terms of registering Wetland Science as a Field of Practice. During these discussions it was decided that the best way forward would be to do a submission to the SACNASP Board through the DEA. This is in essence to demonstrate that there is adequate institutional support for allowing Wetlands Science as a separate Field of Practice.
We had also engaged with SACNASP in the process of registering wetland courses for the proposed CPD training and we plan to have various courses in place by mid-2017. The University of the Free State is keen to engage with the Society in this process. Lastly, various feedbacks and surveys were completed and submitted to SACNASP of the Society’s role as a Voluntary Association.
The Society has engaged with DEA and has received a commitment through the NRM: Wetlands Program that its Provincial Coordinators will take the Provincial Wetland Forums under their wings. We are grateful to Umesh Bahadur and his team for this commitment to the wetland community in building capacity within the provinces to serve the wetland field of practice. The Wetland Task Group of Dept. Water & Sanitation has also expressed their interest to liaise closely with the Society and Provincial Forums, especially regarding training and delineation.
INTERACTIONS WITH OTHER SOCIETIES
The Society has cooperated in the past year with both The Land Rehabilitation Society of Southern Africa (LARSSA) and Institute for Landscape Architecture in South Africa (ILASA) in hosting wetland training and workshops at their annual/regional conferences. This has been exceptionally well received and we are looking at hosting wetland sessions at these events in future. We were also approached by the Society of Wetland Scientists (SWS) to work closer together in the future and discussions have followed after this year’s INTECOL meeting in China to host the event in South Africa, possibly in 2020.
Training events, other than those mentioned above, focused on Back-to-Basics training events at various wetland forums and two UFS-CEM training sessions with staff and implementers of the Working for Wetlands Programme. Training however, is a key component of the Society as many direct requests have been received over the year requesting more information on wetland training and where wetland training is being held.
NATIONAL WETLAND AWARDS
The Society hosted this year’s National Wetland Awards at Indaba 2016 together with the Mpumalanga Wetland Forum and Mondi and the event at the Gala Dinner was a wonderful occasion. A measure of the success of this year’s awards was that the Society had to do very little canvassing behind the scenes as adequate nominations of a high standard were received and contributed to making the evening a huge success.
So members, rest assured that the Society is therefore still playing a pivotal role in the wetland community in South Africa. Our membership has grown this year by 8% to 166. Most of our members (88%) are from the private sector with limited representation from government organisations and academic institutions (including students). Clearly, opportunity exists to expand our membership base in these sectors and we should plan our future actions accordingly.
Nonetheless, I am the first to admit that these successes could have been developed so much more. Fact is that the Society, and especially our Board, are facing various challenges.
Some of these are:
- Board members are mostly executive members of private companies or in middle management of government institutions and are therefore over committed. They do not always have time to contribute to required Board responsibilities.
- Not many of our members are involved in initiatives such as Provincial Forums or the Indaba for that matter.
- Inactive participation at all levels is being experienced. Is this due to the nature of our membership and economic hard times? Are we not able to meet the needs of our members?
The danger therefore is that we are failing to build capacity in the community of practice (both within and outside the Society) and we are running the risk of isolating ourselves from the larger wetland, natural resource and scientific community.
Our inability to engage effectively with one another in the Society (Board and members alike – it is a two way process after all) has resulted in the Society not receiving enough nominations this year to elect a new board. This is really a pity as we need new blood and we can’t afford to retain the Status Quo. We need fresh legs, new minds and different ideas. However, the Society needs to continue and the current Board has volunteered to remain in office for another 12 months until a new Board has been elected. Be this as it may, the Board will strive to do better in future
At the heart of the Society is a highly effective Secretariat with Marc de Fontaine and Judith Taylor looking after our administrative and financial matters. We are grateful for their commitment. The Board is bidding goodbye to Garth Barnes as work pressure at DEA is not affording him the time to make a larger contribution to the Society and we are thankful for his contributions behind the scenes. Filling his gumboots will be Denise Schael from NMMU, a researcher sharing our passion for wetlands.
Unfortunately we can’t function effectively on passion alone. How do we remain vibrant and relevant? A question I believe each Society member needs to ponder upon. So please do ask yourself: What difference am I making?
In this regard, I have decided to step down as Chairperson of the Society so that we can start to have some fresh ideas and vigour in the Board. I will however, remain as a Trustee for this one year period as well.
I would like to thank all the active members for your support. You have contributed to making the Society a success and I know you will rally behind the Society to carry it through times when the going is not so easy. May I therefore ask you to join me in pledging your support and well wishes to our new Chairperson Kate Snaddon.
In closing, please find attached the minutes and attendance register of the last AGM held this year for your reference.
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Senior Water Quality Advisor Vaal Barrage Catchment, Rand Water
Secretary, South African Wetland Society
Secretary, South African Wetland Society