2 November, 2017
A man of the forests
When SAFCOL's acting
Chief Operating Officer, Klaas Mokobane, was a child growing up near the Uitsoek
plantation in Mpumalanga, he would run away from foresters. He was terrified of
these stern men in uniforms, literally from another world.
great distance between forestry companies and communities," he recalls. "In my
mind, it was inconceivable that I could be a forester. And you never saw black
But he had a
deep connection with forests. "My dad worked in that plantation for 40 years. I
visited him often ... I was fascinated by the trees of all sizes and ages."
As he became a
teenager, he started to dream: perhaps it was possible to make a life in
forestry. And then it happened. Klaas was "one of the lucky ones" who
benefitted from the shift towards people that FSC certification brought: with a
bursary from KLF, he studied forestry. "Many can tell
similar stories of how KLF has transformed their lives," he says.
He started as a
field forester at KLF in 2001. He recalls being nervous about his first FSC
audit. But when the second came, "I could not wait to show the auditors what we
had done, for example, how we had converted areas infested with weeds back to
Klaas is deeply
satisfied when he walks through the forests today. "Where there was once a
jungle of overgrowth in riparian zones, there is now natural vegetation
supporting all kinds of life - one way that plantation forestry co-exists with
natural areas. The few patches of indigenous forestry would have been destroyed
by now if plantations had not provided an alternate source of timber."
And where there
were once padlocks to keep communities out, there are now strong relationships
Now he knows
about the great economic value of the forests he fell in love with as a child.
"And you start to appreciate the role of the forester, impacting lives around
plantations of mostly poor, rural people."
Our people, our partners
rural areas around plantations in South Africa and Africa are marked by high
unemployment and low income levels, usually from subsistence farming and social grants like pensions. KLF is no exception, and it supports around 20,000 people, including through direct
jobs and use of contractors,
small business support interventions, and building schools and clinics.
KLF has signed
13 social compacts with neighbours
so far, setting up joint community forums. Three
communities participate in the Berlin plantation forum cluster. And ward councillor Phillip Nkhoma, a
former teacher who serves on the forum, says the community meets regularly with
KLF via the forum. "Komatiland is looking after its people, its communities,"
you empower people, they become job creators, not job seekers," he adds, referring
to KLF's learnership programme, which trains local people in skills like
carpentry and garden services, and has started co-ops for young entrepreneurs.
Senior Manager: Transformation, Hazel Banda, explains that communities and
staff decide together what can be done to meet identified needs. "It's not
about donations. It's about sustainable projects that will improve the
livelihoods of communities," she says.
Woman at work
Berlin Plantation Manager, Nondumiso Kheswa, crouches to check labels on a pile
of freshly harvested pine - every log has been tagged for tracing and
Then she chats with the team, who are halfway through
the harvest in Berlin's K13 compartment. According to the plan that Harvesting
Supervisor Meshack Mathebula pulls from a folder, it will take 27 days to
harvest this 22.6ha area.
that all is flowing well, she stops to chat near the "parliament", a demarcated
area that includes a water supply and first-aid provisions. Forestry, it is
clear, has earned her passion, although she is quick to tell you that she entered
it "by default".
came from a not-so-privileged family in KwaZulu-Natal, and they could not
afford to pay for me to study," she says. "My grades were good, and I was going
to settle for studying in whatever field I could. Fortunately, I landed up with
a learnership at Komatiland in 2004 and was able to study forestry."
2008, Nondumiso started working as a forester for KLF in the Sabie area. She
rose steadily through the ranks, working as a senior forester and then as plantation
manager for the 6,000ha Ngome plantation in KwaZulu-Natal in 2014. In January
2017, she took over the helm at the 13,500ha Berlin plantation.
uses FSC systems every day: "Every time I make a decision, it is holistic: about
the environment, the people and the income. We do have a national legal
framework, but FSC gives it much more focus."
feels that being a woman in this traditionally man's job "drives me to do
better and better ... I want there to be more women in this field. And I want to
be part of empowering them to do it." She advocates for advancement of women in
SAFCOL, but dreams of "doing it on a bigger scale". As a first step, she
intends organizing a national conference for women to share experiences.