Mabudafhasi is at one with the planet

REJOICE Mabudafhasi is an interviewer's dream. I asked the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs two questions - and then we were off on a fascinating two-hour journey through the environment and the world of dirt.

She has all the facts about her ministry on her fingertips and rattles them off without pausing.

Her immediate concern is that Africa must speak with one voice to get polluting countries to pay compensation for climate change.

"People are vulnerable to climate change in Africa and other developing countries. Fishes die or migrate as water (the sea) warms.

"Climate change threatens the whole world. There is an increase of malaria and cholera, floods and drought which wash out the topsoil. Desertification is a threat and there are fears we won't meet the development goals in 2014.

She says the World Bank estimates that R45billion to R100billion is needed as compensation for African states.

The veteran activist is passionate about her subject. She has a sense of wonder about the things ordinary people do to cope with nature.

She does not see waste as dirt but as a source of wealth, a money-spinner if only it could be properly harnessed. She believes people can learn to respect nature if we return to the practices of our ancestors.

"We have a project right now in which we use indigenous knowledge to make a clean fire during a braai or in a mbawula. The fire burns downwards and the smoke is cleansed by the fire. The fire also lasts longer. Basa Njengo Magogo is being taught in settlements and townships," she said.

She wryly notes that South Africans are not clean enough since they throw their waste anywhere and indiscriminately.

"If we learn to recycle our waste, we will create businesses and employment opportunities. Waste is wealth and can grow SMMEs in transport, compactors, collectors and compost.

"This would help the scavengers who live on land fills to create an opportunity to break free of poverty."

The former teacher says the message about climate change and the environment will be taken to children and the youth, who will help change the indifference of their parents.

She has been involved in water and environmental concerns since the early 80s. She was organiser of a rural self-help project that planted food gardens, manufactured home made soap and mud stoves. She wants rural women to be involved in conservation as they gather fire wood, make fires and search for scarce water.

"The indiscriminate cutting down of trees has led to deforestation and a serious threat of desertification.

"Women are now composting waste, using it in food gardens to feed school children. They also supply supermarkets. Women are the custodians of the earth."

Like many of her comrades Mabudafhasi, a former national treasurer of Nehawu, was detained several times during the struggle for democracy. From 1986-9 she was under house arrest and was seriously injured when her house was bombed.

She was secretary of the United Democratic Front, a member of the Detainees Support Committee and an organiser of the Federation of Transvaal Women.

She holds several chairmanships in various international environment and marine affairs and weather and climate institutions.

Mabudafhasi has been deputy minister since 1999.

Currently, her focus is to spread the message of conservation and climate change so that the public internalise it and act on it.

A project close to her heart is the planting of nurseries by traditional healers, which will help save indigenous trees.

"Traditional medicines are harvested by commercial concerns who do not replant. Traditional healers now plant trees for medicinal purposes and teach others to save trees. We won an international award for this. There are projects to extract oils from aloes, avocados and others for profit. These are ways to make nature work for us."