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Groen Sebenza - green jobs for the future
19th September 2013




Groen Sebenza - green jobs for the future

What is Groen Sebenza?

Groen Sebenza is a Job’s Fund partnership project led by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and is funded by Treasury. It is aimed at developing priority skills in the biodiversity sector and has created job opportunities for 800 unemployed graduates and matriculants throughout the country. Partnering with 33 organizations from all tiers of government, non-governmental organizations and the private sector, Groen Sebenza empowers young South Africans from historically disadvantaged backgrounds by means of a mentorship programme with experienced professionals towards developing “green jobs”.

Six Groen Sebenza interns from Cacadu and Amathole district municipalities

Rhodes University’s Inkcubeko Nendalo project and SANBI’s CREW (Custodian of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers) project are partners in this pioneering initiative in the Eastern Cape.  As well as raising awareness around the link between cultural diversity and biodiversity, Groen Sebenza has employed six young and enthusiastic matriculants, two from Cacadu and four from Amathole district municipalities, for two and a half years. These youngsters, called para-ecologists, will be equipped with necessary skills required in this sector through a mentorship programme. The project leader, Vathiswa Zikishe (SANBI) together with Dr Michelle Cocks (Institute for Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University) and Tony Dold (Selmar Schonland Herbarium, Rhodes University/Albany Museum) are the para-ecologist mentors.

How the two villages were selected

The Eastern Cape is well known for its rich and diverse biodiversity but according to SANBI’s Threatened Species Programme it remains poorly documented. Groen Sebenza has thus focused on two priority areas, Pirie Mission village near King William’s Town and Ngqinisa village on the East London coast. Data collected by the para-ecologists from these areas will enable a better understanding and allow for more accurate assessments of the flora and fauna. Interaction with village residents and schools will allow a cross-pollination of information benefiting not only science but communities as well. An important aspect of the para-ecologists work will be visiting schools to explain the project and value of their work. An additional component will be recording traditional narratives of plants and animals, showing that local knowledge is valued by scientists as well.



The Groen Sebenza team: back, Mzukisi Beja, Someleze Mgcuwa, Tony Dold, Michelle Cocks, Vathiswa Zikishe; front, Khululwa Gxekwa, Landiso Mila and Siphosethu Moshani


Training and mentorship

In July this year the first 4-day training workshop was held to teach the para-ecologists to collect and prepare scientific plant specimens for accurate identification in the herbarium. On the first day interns were given an introduction to Custodians of Rare and Endangered Wildflowers (CREW) and Inkcubeko Nendalo as well as an overview of SANBI and the Groen Sebenza project. 

As the focus of the training was plant specimen collecting, orientation to the herbarium was essential.  This included an overview of what a herbarium is, why it is important and how it is catalogued. This background information helped show the para-ecologists what is required to make good quality archival specimens with good specimen data. This was followed by practical specimen collecting in the field. Participants were tasked to collect and press a number of specimens and to describe and draw them. Each specimen was later critiqued and feedback was given towards improving the specimens and notes. A self evaluation exercise showed that four days of hard work had resulted in a thorough knowledge of the task to be carried out over the next two years.  It is clear that the para-ecologists not only enjoyed the training but have a new way of seeing plants and bio-diversity in general. Finally a tour of the Albany Museum, a first-time experience for all the para-ecologists, showed the value of natural history specimens how they are cared for.



                                               Siphosethu Moshani, Someleze Mgcuwa and Khululwa Gxekwa collecting plant specimens


The para-ecologists will spend the rest of the year collecting plant specimens in their respective environments. The mentors will visit them monthly to collect the specimens and evaluate progress. At the same time they will be taught to use necessary equipment, cameras, computers and GPS for accurate data collection. In 2014 they will be trained in social science methodology towards interviewing community members. It is envisaged that they will also be trained in other fields such as entomology and ichthyology. An important aspect of the programme is sharing knowledge and experiences with Groen Sebenza projects in other parts of the country who will be visited during the course of the next two years.

For more information please contact Vathiswa Zikishe: V.Zikishe@sanbi.org.za


                                                 Mzukisi Beja and Landiso Mila pressing specimens


See also SANBI website; Wildlands Conservation Trust; Environmental Affairs; GreenMatter for more information