The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on the health and economic well-being of the most vulnerable rural households in the Eastern Cape are likely to be deep and long lasting. Their ability to access sufficient clean water and food, as well as to protect their households from the shocks of a COVID-19-affected economy, compound their already stressed state and will be further compromised by the ongoing degradation of the natural environment upon which they depend.  The pandemic threatens to impede actions to protect the Southern Maloti Drakensberg watershed, located at the intersection of the Eastern Cape and Southern KZN Strategic Water Source Areas. Since 2016, the uMzimvubu Catchment Partnership (UCP) has been driving what promises to be ground-breaking conservation work: securing land across six chieftainships in this rural communal tenure landscape into the Maloti Thaba Tsa Metsi Protected Environment.

This proposed 48 500ha protected environment will make significant contributions to the biodiversity targets in six different vulnerable and threatened veld types and enhance water infiltration. The watershed area is prioritized for protected area expansion due to meeting multiple targets in terms of biodiversity, ecological function, intactness, connectivity, and high ecosystem service delivery. Specifically, its value as a Strategic Water Source Area, its condition as pristine mountain grassland vegetation with high altitude seeps and wetlands providing over 80% of the basal flow recharge for the area, and its ecosystem services’ value to over 1 million rural downstream users. It is also strategically located in the Transfrontier zone between South Africa and Lesotho, which both form part of the water source area. Its rangelands and natural resources directly support over 250 000 people in the Matatiele Local Municipality. Almost two thirds of these residents own livestock, with thousands of small farmers currently engaged in securing rangeland areas along the buffer of the proposed PA through improved grazing management, linked with mobile auctions which feed into the national red meat value chain. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, negotiations for the Protected Area were proceeding well, and all six Chiefdoms were moving towards community resolution and declaration. Many catchment residents do not have direct access to potable water for consumption, household and productive purposes despite living on of South Africa’s strategic water source areas.

An implementing team in Matatiele have taken it upon themselves to tackle this issue, in part, by securing the natural infrastructure that people currently rely on to secure water supply to many catchment communities with the financial assistance of the WWF Nedbank Green Trust. They plan to do this by using simple and cost-effective technologies to protect springs that residents use for water supply, whilst educating users on safe water handling practices and providing the support that these people need to meet their daily water needs. Once complete the WWF Nedbank Green Trust project will benefit:

  • A minimum of 450 immediate household beneficiaries with increased access to clean water, decreased vulnerability to disease, and improved food security through enhanced home-garden production capacity. These households will be selected, as the most vulnerable, from a spectrum of 18 villages, which consist of up to 3 000 people, and will receive training and awareness for improved hygiene practice.
  • Traditional Authorities and local government who will benefit due to enhanced welfare for their constituents, and a network of facilitators to continue the support with minimal outside assistance and with increased credibility of leadership in addressing the most urgent livelihood needs.
  • The formal conservation sector in South Africa with the proposed 48 500ha watershed park undergoing declaration, with strong community support, contributing to the national protected area estate and South Africa’s international commitments.

This WWF Nedbank Green Trust project will be implemented by Lima in partnership with Conservation South Africa (CSA) and Environmental and Rural Solutions (ERS). The three partner organizations are based in Matatiele, and work within the current functional network of support agencies who provide strategic wisdom, financial links and innovative guidance and encouragement.

For further information visit