Going the Extra Mile to preserve our heritage
One day before International Rhino Day and three before National Heritage Day, over 200 runners and some 500 supporters descended onto the dusty veld of Huntington village to run a unique race, The Extra Mile. The aim? To raise awareness of the acute poverty in the area, and to raise funds to uplift it. The Bushbuckridge community are one of the poorest in SA, yet they live on the border of one of our most prized and valuable natural assets, the Kruger National Park.
Receive Focus insights straight to your inbox
Source: Latest figures from Dept. of Environmental Affairs
A recent report from UCT’s Global Risk Governance Programme argues, efforts to save the rhino will be forever constrained if the millions spent are invested in paramilitary-style operations without a budget and strategy for how to develop the impoverished communities living on the edges of our national parks. There will always be a need to invest in protection measures: maintaining fencing, arming anti-poaching units, training canine units etc, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of investing in upliftment and community-wildlife integration. “Often the only pathway out of poverty available to people in rural areas is through participation in illegal wildlife economies,” says senior researcher Dr Annette Hübschle.
The need to build an inclusive wildlife economy, particularly in strategically important geographies, is something that Investec’s head of Group Sustainability, Tanya dos Santos, appreciates.
“The people of Bushbuckridge, who live on the border of our largest reserve, the Kruger National Park are some of the poorest in the country. Youth unemployment is as high as 35%. Land, nature, animals- are really their only assets. It’s imperative that they become beneficiaries and custodians of the riches on their doorstep.”
She goes on to say that rhino poaching is symptomatic of a much larger problem and as long as the communities around our natural heritage, feel excluded from ecotourism and the wildlife economy, they will always be vulnerable to being drawn into the so-called “poaching economy”.
Is the cost to protect rhino sustainable?
The argument for these communities to become benefactors and custodians of rhino, and other natural resources, is strengthened when the latest report from Southern African Biodiversity Institute is considered. Released by government exactly a month before International Rhino Day, the report states that SA can’t keep up the cost of protecting rhinos, as the economic incentive to keep rhino is declining. The report controversially advocates for lifting the ban on rhino horn sales to aid both the private sector and government to continue funding the current investment in rhino protection. It says that failing to keep up the protection could be very costly for the country’s GDP. Sanbi estimates that if 6% of rhino are poached every year, the asset cost to South Africa will be R6 billion over the next 10 years. With so much for us lose, the need to uplift the communities around game reserves, making them less exploitable by organised crime groups is critical and urgent.
Creating an inclusive wildlife economy in Bushbuckridge
Investec and Investec Rhino Lifeline have created a number of strategic partnerships with credible non-profit organisations, many of whom were integral partners in getting The Extra Mile off the ground, namely: The organisation who started the run, More Community Trust; Sabi Sands Pfunani Trust; Innovation Africa; Good Work Foundation and the Endangered Wildlife Trust.
Investec’s partnership with Innovation Africa through the Entrepreneurship Development Trust, provides thousands of litres of fresh water to water scarce communities. Furthermore, in education sector, Investec Rhino Lifeline support digital education, digital learning and skills development through the Good Work Foundation.
In an attempt to close the gap between education, experience and employment, Investec, in partnership with the Youth Employment Service programme (YES), has committed to employing about 1200 youth each year. In the past year more than 300 of these youth have been employed in conservation activities in Mpumalanga through Investec Rhino Lifeline's partnership with Care for Wild rhino sanctuary and Sabi Sands Pfunanani Trust. Listen to the impact these initiatives are having here.
One such beneficiary is Lindiwe Sibuyi, a 31-year-old orphan who dropped out of school in Grade 10. She heard about the YES programme bursary and applied to study hospitality. She now has a Certificate in Catering and Hospitality, Health and Safety and a driver’s licence. With these qualifications, she is currently employed at Sabi Sands Reserve. Her twin sister Thandy Sibuyi explains the far-reaching impact Lindiwe’s YES qualification and subsequent employment has had.
Even though Lindiwe dropped out of school, she is now the sole breadwinner for our family of six adults and three children. Even if she leaves Sabi Sands one day to seek another job, she has education and a certificate behind her.
Everyone pulls together to go The Extra Mile
Despite the impactful work being done by NPOs in the Bushbuckridge community, the rural environment and restricted communications and marketing budgets mean that many potential benefactors are unaware that these programmes exist. An event like Extra Mile trail race increases on-the-ground awareness of what’s on offer and puts a spotlight on the need for donors to get involved so that the reach of these initiatives can be increased. “It’s seldom you find an opportunity to come on board and sponsor a project that integrates so seamlessly with our business’s sustainability strategy. Investec Rhino Lifeline recognises that rhino protection is not possible without the buy-in of surrounding communities. As the Extra Mile trail run raises funds for the exact people whom we already partner to uplift and includes NPOs with whom we already work, the decision to sponsor the event was an easy one," says dos Santos.
This year because Investec covered all the costs associated with the organization of the trail run, funds raised through the sale of race tickets will go directly to the three NPO’s identified to benefit. More than R220,000 will be received by The Rural Water Project, Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT) and Good Work Foundation (GWF).
With the financial assistance of Investec, all three of the NPOs were able to put forward runners to participate in either the 10km or the 21km run. This meant they got to run through the villages and meet those who benefit from all their hard work. One such runner was Lindy Thompson, of Endangered Wildlife Trust (EWT), another benefactor of Investec's through their sponsorship of the wild dog programme since 2013.
“I’ve never run anything like this before. Running through communities, past rural houses. Little kids joining in, holding your hand and wanting to give high fives. This event is so important because it helps us access these communities- create relationships and build trust.”
Michelle Scott, More Community Trust MD and founder of the race, says the event has come leaps and bounds from its inaugural year. “We implemented a lot of lessons from our first year, like increasing the marshals along the route so runners didn’t get lost. With Investec on board, the branding and running of the whole event was taken up a notch. There were more watering points, the route was more exciting and challenging."
What we achieved here today is just unbelievable. We want the community to know we are vested in them, and I genuinely think they felt that in this unique trail run.
At the end of the race dos Santos commented that she was pleased with the team effort and the progress being made on the ground. "The consolidated efforts of all our projects are gaining momentum, giving these neglected societies not only an income without having to move to the city, but also hope for a better future."
About the author
Caroline Edey-van Wyk
Colloquially known as Investec’s “storyteller,” Caroline curates and produces all the content that underpins Investec's Out of the Ordinary brand promise. She works across the business but specialises in the areas of Sustainability, CSI, Sponsorships and HR. Caroline holds a Bachelor of Journalism degree in Political Science and Broadcasting - cum laude. Before she joined Investec she was a broadcast journalist at Sky News and eNCA.