Phumzile Khoza has a real enthusiasm for conservation and is eager to build a close working relationship with the Friends of Verloren Valei.
Phumzile took over the top job at Verloren Valei in October 2017. She comes to us from Bushbuckridge Nature Reserve, where she was also the reserve manager. Nonhlanhla Mdladla, our previous manager, has relocated to Bushbuckridge.
She sees the move as a chance to broaden her experience.
“I visited Verloren Valei during my student days and was so impressed by the presentation on cranes,” she says. “I am happy about the relocation as it’s a chance to work in an environment that is totally different from the Lowveld.”
Born in Komatipoort, Phumzile was bitten by the conservation bug early on—a standard 8/ grade10 project on the local community reserve, the Mawewe cattle game project, showed her that conservation was an area in which she could build a satisfying career. She started out as a field ranger and was then awarded a bursary to train at the Tshwane University of Technology for a national diploma in conservation. By 2002 she was a project manager at Mawewe, and joined the Mpumalanga Tourism and Parks Agency full-time in 2009 as a chief field ranger based at Mthethomusha Game Reserve. She also furthered her studies with Mangosuthu University of Technology where she graduated with a B Tech in Nature Conservation.
Since then, she has also worked as a section manager at Swadini, near Hoedspruit, and as reserve manager at Bushbuckridge. She thus brings a good mix of practical and management experience to her new position.
Along the way, she also became the mother to two boys, one of 17 and one of 6.
Looking ahead, she says that she will be guided by the Integrated Management Plan’s objectives. These include maintaining and securing the Reserve’s ecology, encouraging research to create a data store that will support proper management, ensuring cost-effective management to achieve the strategic objectives and, of course, marketing the Reserve to the public and all stakeholders. The Reserve also has an important educational role to play, she believes.
Specifically, she says her immediate focus is on three key areas:
- Getting the fencing of the Reserve completed.
- Once this is done, the fence around the game camp can be taken down to allow them to road freely. Overall, she is determined to ensure that the game populations are aligned with the carrying capacity of the Reserve. Research, such as the regular SA Field Trial Club census of game birds), will obviously be helpful here.
- Ensure that the wetland functions optimally. This will mean, inter alia, controlling alien vegetation and pollution.
“It’s very important to maintain our status as an internationally important wetland,” she comments. “For a dry country like South Africa, wetlands like Verloren Valei are an irreplaceable resource which we have to protect.”
She sees Verloren Valei as a very special place because of the numerous special interest groups that use it, and that contribute to understanding its unique flora, fauna and wetland environment better.
It’s also the first time she has had the opportunity to work with a Friends group.
“It’s a privilege to work with people who have such a commitment to the Reserve. Something like this is rare,” she says. “I want to strengthen the relationship with the Friends, and also with the local communities.”