The Table Mountain Fund: Granting Better Futures

Two years into its Capacity Building Program, the Table Mountain Fund is seeing the emergence of an inspiring leadership base of black men and women conservation role models who are forging the way for a different type of conservation management in the Cape Floristic Region.

“There are so many candidates who are so good,” said Rodney February, the program's new manager.

As an example, he mentions Lewine Walters, who recently completed her Bachelor of Technology in Nature Conservation with the program's support.

Walters now manages Macassar Dunes, a nature reserve on the False Bay Coast, as part of a one-year work placement with the National Botanical Institute arranged and funded by the Capacity Building Program.

“The reserve itself is bordered by some of the poorest communities in the greater Cape Town metropole and is notoriously dangerous for people working on their own, let alone women,” February said. “But she is totally committed to urban conservation and the context into which the reserve falls.”

The Capacity Building Program is a small grants program that CEPF has helped create to implement the initiative's strategic objectives in the Cape Floristic Region biodiversity hotspot.

CEPF investments in the hotspot focus on implementing the highest priorities for conservation identified by Cape Action for People and the Environment (C.A.P.E.), which aims to conserve the region’s biodiversity while delivering significant benefits to people.

With virtually no black South Africans and few women in conservation management positions in the hotspot, the success of the Capacity Building Program and others that aim to build civil society capacity are crucial to C.A.P.E.'s long-term success.

The Capacity Building Program is geared specifically toward building capacity among previously disadvantaged persons by providing academic bursaries and placements in the workplace.

Funds are also being granted to build technical capacity through on-the-job training of staff working in C.A.P.E implementation agencies, such as South African National Parks and Western Cape Nature Conservation Board as well as a variety of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

Some management trainees will work together with community-based organizations such as Khayeltisha Education and Resource Information Centre, Kouga Environmental and Tourism Association and the environmental management departments of metropolitan and small town local authorities.

Like Walters, Mzwandile Peter (see photo above) is also committed to his local community and to succeeding in the conservation job sector. He recently completed a one-year management certificate program at the University of Cape Town's business school with support from the Capacity Building Program.

Now employed as communication manager with Cape Flats Nature at Edith Stephens Wetland Park in eastern Cape Town, he talks about how the park's creation from abandoned and gang-ridden farmland into an urban oasis with active community support is making a dramatic difference.

"The change in mindset that we’ve seen in both local people and traditional conservationists is unbelievable," he said.

He is also already planning to use his experience in the program as a springboard for future education and career advancement.

“I’m hoping to go for an MBA,” he said. “It’s big shoes to fill but I am hoping to get there because my primary aim is to play a role in the biodiversity management in the Cape Floral Kingdom, especially the element of bridging the gap between biodiversity conservation and social development—it’s the only way to get sustainable management of our rich ecosystem.” (see Mzwandile Peter: A Capacity Building Program Success)

The Table Mountain Fund, a Capital Trust Fund designed to provide long-term funding to support biodiversity conservation in the Cape, was launched in 1998 by WWF South Africa with funds donated by the public and later support from the Global Environment Facility. Its partners include South African National Parks and a range of other governmental agencies and NGOs across the region.

Managing the Capacity Building Program is a natural extension of the Fund's primary focus, helping to create effective managers for landscapes and natural resources it seeks to conserve and who can act as role models within communities where public support and involvement are key to successful conservation.

In 2003, the Capacity Building Program enabled five people to participate in one-year management courses. These same management trainees are receiving support again this year for work placement in various conservation agencies. The program is also supporting a number of people undertaking longer term studies.

February expects the program to be supporting some 90 management trainees in the coming months, including placements for short training courses.

“The problem we’re having now is that it’s difficult just to find people that fit the criteria—black and/or women at a management level—and who are interested in doing conservation,” February said.

“To be effective this project needs to extend across the Cape Floristic Region,” he said. “But since we’re based in Cape Town we get a lot of local interest, so I’m going on the road more now, reaching out to other communities one-on-one.”

- July 2004