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In February, the environmental world turns its attention to wetlands, vital components of a healthy environment. Johannesburg marks World Wetlands Day throughout the month.
SCHOOLCHILDREN leaned over the water, nets in hand, trying to catch small frogs and crabs in the stream running through Thokoza Park.


The Regina Mundi Park is now openThe Regina Mundi Park is now openThey were in the Soweto park to learn more about the importance of wetlands on an educational day out organised by City Parks to coincide with World Wetlands Day.

Squealing with excitement, one youngster showed her friends what she had netted – a wriggling, writhing worm.

City Parks, with the Rand Water Foundation, organised the special day on Wednesday, 23 February. They took learners from four primary schools to three different parks for three very different events.

At Thokoza Park the young learners experienced nature first-hand: checking out the animals in the water and learning about maintaining the quality of the water.

They were divided into groups of four to perform a water testing task to determine the pH level (the acidity) in the water and to compile a list of animals that could survive in the area based on their findings. They discovered that frogs, fish and crabs would survive, as the pH of the water was low.

Led by environment and education specialist Nicole Ferguson, the children’s findings were discussed. “It is vital that we instil environmental education in these children, so they can grow to become responsible citizens of this country,” said Ferguson.

A wetland is an area of land with saturated moisture in the soil, either permanently or seasonally. It may be covered partially or completely by shallow pools of water. Wetlands include swamps, marshes and bogs. The water can be saltwater, freshwater or brackish.

Also at the event were the mayoral committee member for environment, Matshidiso Mfikoe; the acting manager of City Parks, Geoffrey Cooke; the chairperson of the board of the Rand Water Foundation, Fred Otieno; the manager of Rand Water’s environmental programmes, Angie Phaliso; the Soweto regional director, Pat Lephunya, and the ward 33 councillor, Zanele Lutja. Thokoza Park is in the ward.


Cleaning a wetland at Thokoza ParkCleaning a wetland at Thokoza Park“This day is aimed at reinforcing and celebrating the value of our wetlands. As you know, World Wetlands Day is observed internationally on 2 February; however, we have decided to adopt the whole month,” Mfikoe said.

She also officially re-opened Regina Mundi Park adjacent to Thokoza Park. It was closed in 2006 to make way for the construction of a Rea Vaya station.

Meanwhile, at Dhlamini Eco-Park, 50 indigenous trees were planted. Mfikoe, Cook and Otieno turned the first sod in the ceremony. Since City Park’s began its Greening Soweto campaign, more than 200 000 trees have been planted around the township.

“We live in one of the fastest growing metropolitan cities in world,” said Mfikoe, “and we are faced with the demands of growing urbanisation, increasing water [use] and refuse, the need for additional infrastructure and limited funding.”

Education is a vital part of what City Parks does. The municipal-owned entity runs environmental educational programmes throughout the year, regularly visiting communities, schools and public spaces. It also runs environmental centres around the city.

There are four environmental centres: in Joburg Botanical Gardens in Emmarentia, Dorothy Nyembe Environmental Centre in Thokoza Park, Rietfontein Nature Reserve, and a satellite centre at The Wilds in Houghton.

City Parks is also responsible for monitoring the wetlands around Johannesburg. There are two main catchment areas that flow into Hartbeespoort Dam – the Klip River catchment in the south and the Jukskei River in the north.

A task team keeps a close eye on the wetlands, and submits quarterly reports to the Office of the mayoral committee member on the state of these areas. Often community organisations and individuals help in this task.


MMC Matshidiso Mfikoe plants a tree at Dhlamini Eco-ParkMMC Matshidiso Mfikoe plants a tree at Dhlamini Eco-ParkIn ward 33, for example, Friends of the Park, made up of members of the community, ensured that wetlands and parks are clean at all times, Lutja said. “These are people who voluntarily work at our local parks, together with municipal workers.”

Rehabilitation programmes include cleaning rivers, developing new parks next to water, stabilising the river banks, and tree planting – increasing natural bio-diversity.

Wetlands in Joburg include Bez Valley, Bailey Spruit, Mapetla, Kaalspruit, Diepsloot, Freedom Park, and the upper Jukskei and Klip rivers.

“It is the responsibility of every person to ensure that the environment remains clean, by not littering and not vandalising facilities. By so doing, we will have a better Soweto and ultimately a cleaner Johannesburg,” said Ferguson.

World Wetlands Day is held on 2 February each year. It marks the date of the signing of the Convention on Wetlands on 2 February 1971, in the Iranian city of Ramsar. The day was celebrated for the first time in 1997 and made an encouraging beginning. Each year, government agencies, non-governmental organisations and groups of citizens have taken advantage of the opportunity to undertake actions aimed at raising public awareness of wetland values and benefits in general and the Ramsar Convention in particular.

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