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On Thursday, 18 November 2021, the University of Venda (UNIVEN) and Vhembe Biosphere Reserve (VBR) hosted an event to celebrate UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme (MAB) 50 years anniversary under the theme ‘It’s about life’. This hybrid event took place on Microsoft Teams at the University’s Research Conference Centre. 

Dr Bernard Nthambeleni, UNIVEN Vice-Chancellor and Principal

Dr Bernard Nthambeleni, UNIVEN Vice-Chancellor and Principal prefaced his keynote address by acknowledging the wonderful work being done by Phathutshedzo Mudau through his recycling company, Dziphathutshedzo Green Surfacing. He said UNIVEN will assist his company to grow, starting from patenting his products and he went on to urge the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research and Postgraduate Studies to engage Phathutshedzo in order to explore the possibility of providing him the necessary support. 

Dr Nthambeleni highlighted that the UNESCO MAB Programme is a landscape-based management of areas using local efforts and practical conservation solutions to resolve the current environmental challenges and promote sustainable development. He said South Africa already has established 10 Biosphere Reserves across various provinces. “This is a multi-sectoral programme geared towards implementing local solutions to the environmental challenges through inclusive approach.” 

He highlighted that UNIVEN is the only university, which is located within a Biosphere Reserve in Africa. “We are right in the middle of the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, designated in 2009. Our unique location has influenced the vision, mission, and the strategic plan of the university, which places engagement – at the very centre of our existence. It has also informed our UNIVEN Integrated Innovation, Entrepreneurship and Biodiversity Plan, which is an overarching institutional plan to operationalise our strategic objectives. 

The University also leveraged its location within the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve to be awarded its first and only AST/NRF SARChI Research Chair, in Biodiversity Value and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. 

He said the Chair is a key driver of quality research and postgraduate training at our institution. The University is proud of the role it has played as a key stakeholder of the VBR, from the instigation of the VBR, and the compilation of the original Biosphere proposal that was submitted to UNESCO by the University, to its current representation on the Board of the VBR. 

“The Vhembe Biosphere Reserve endeavours to integrate people and nature to live in harmony. As we continue with the celebration, as you all know, we are currently in the implementation phase of Agenda 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and at the same time we have the Lima Action Plan on Biosphere Reserves. “ 

He concluded his talk by mentioning that already the University has signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. “There are opportunities to work on the following areas, which are a strong focus of the university” 

In her opening and welcome message, Prof Vhonani Netshandama mentioned that celebrations offer us opportunities not only for the dancing but also for the reflections and feedback and milestones on how we have done so far. She said UNIVEN is privileged because it is positioned in the middle of the biosphere. Prof Netshandama said that opportunities such as this offers a platform to interact meaningfully with stakeholders who respect and honour humanity. “Biosphere reserves are about engagement especially nowadays when there is so much threat in our environment.” She advised attendees to contribute towards saving nature and environment. 

Prof Stan Foord, Chair of UNIVEN SARChi on Biodiversity Value and Change in the Vhembe Biosphere said UNESCO has left a very good legacy in the Vhembe Biosphere. He spoke about sustainability and the need to conserve biodiversity. Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is a very important strategic partner and there are only few if there are any universities located in the biosphere area. He went on to highlight the role that UNIVEN’s SARCHI Chair has played in the various programmes of the VBR especially when it comes to conservation planning and the submission of the Ten-Year Periodic Review. 

VBR Coordinator, Mr Tonderai Makoni said no amount of teaching would exceed the experience that he was given at VBR. Mr Makoni said that he is grateful for the opportunity that he was given at VBR. When we celebrate, we need to be clear on what we have achieved so far. “We exist to showcase the role of VBR in promoting innovative approaches to economic development that are culturally appropriate and environmentally sustainable.” Some of the key milestones that Mr Makoni spoke about include VBR ten-year review, strategic environmental management plan, Limpopo conservation plan, Ndima community services heritage database, Vhembe District environmental management plan forum and UNDP GEF Small Grants Programme. Over the year, the VBR has also been trying to identify and support some “demonstration project” for example bridge site cleaners, Nombhela gardens, Basani recycling and PWK Waste Management, Baobab guardians and Tshumisano Women’s Cooperative. He said that the VBR is a vehicle for conservation and sustainable development, it is a meeting place for like-minded stakeholders to come together and tackle the many challenges affecting their communities. 

“We want to bring more youth to be part of these achievements. Young people want to work, and we are providing them with opportunities and a platform to be part of the solution”. The VBR has so much potential, and we believe that with this relationship that we have with UNIVEN, we can continue to shape the discussions, change the lives of our stakeholders and use research to find solutions to the many challenges that we are facing in the landscape. Mr Makoni concluded by saying that the UNESCO MAB Programme is about people living in harmony with nature and he thanked UNIVEN for their support and offering to host the MAB 50th anniversary celebrations. 

DVC Research and Postgraduate Studies, Prof Nosisi Feza presented about research contribution in the VBR. In her presentation, Prof Feza said the VBR should not be separated from who we are because we live in it. She further said that celebration is about the journey of lot of achievements. “Human beings are part of the biosphere reserves, and we need to live harmoniously with our environment. Do not destroy nature. We need to think about animals before we destroy nature. We live to create a legacy.” Prof Feza mentioned that she believes that, at UNIVEN, we are forced to come out of comfort zone to become interdisciplinary. “We started as early as 2008 to come to contribute into the biosphere. We were tasked to find solutions for the VBR and the surrounding communities through research. We are also on our way to commercialisation. In 2012 and 2013, we had an opportunity to clean people’s mind and show them the need to save our environment. This is done because we are supreme to what and how the mind thinks,” she said. 

Prof Feza presented about the organic growth of initiatives, research projects and innovation. She presented the journey from 2008 until 2021. “This is how we have grown as UNIVEN on the role that the University has played since working together with VBR,” she concluded. 

Director Institute for Rural Development, Prof Joseph Francis

Director Institute for Rural Development, Prof Joseph Francis said the biosphere is about people. He presented about strategic intent of IRD core business, operationalisation of IRD strategic intent, inherent strengths or expertise and next areas of IRD investment. In his presentation, Prof Francis highlighted that UNIVEN is a leading University based in an engaged scholarship in combating rural underdevelopment. He said that his Institute always strives to take the University to its rightful owners. “Our approach is also about working with local traditional leaders. Over the past years, our drive was about working with the surrounding communities. Honours, masters and PhD students are the ones conducting research within the surrounding communities to rescue unemployed graduates. We know that if we want to develop our communities, we need to work closely with traditional leaders,” said Prof Francis. 

Mr Broucke Guy from UNESCO

Mr Broucke Guy from UNESCO who addressed the attendees through Microsoft Teams said Biosphere Reserves are about connecting people. Mr Guy further presented the history and milestone of MAB Programme. In his presentation, he advised attendees to educate everyone about preservation of environment. “Everyone should be sensitised to save what we have. Some areas must be protected.” Amongst other things Mr Guy presented about guiding principles of MAB Programme where he mentioned that MAB Programme has many partners globally and have many scientific programmes in various countries. He further said that, in every ten years, they sit for a new action plan to the next ten years. We strategize and plan on what to achieve in the next ten years. “Of course, reflecting on the past ten years whether the goals were achieved or not.” Mr Guy concluded his talk by indicating that UNESCO now has sixteen (16) biosphere reserves that are in different countries in the SADC region. 

VBR Youth Network Chairperson, Mr Ntakuseni Godzwana

The first VBR Youth Network Chairperson, Mr Ntakuseni Godzwana, said this celebration is very important for VBR Youth Network because this means the VBR is growing and has achieved a lot. He mentioned that Vhembe Biosphere Reserve is the only biosphere in the globe with an active youth network. Mr Godzwana is in his final year doing Bachelor of Environmental Sciences at UNIVEN. 

“Although Africa is rich in biodiversity, there is still lack of youth participation when it comes to the various discussion on biodiversity loss. We saw it fit to be part of the VBR by setting up the youth Chapter because there won’t be sustainability without youth participation. We are the champions of tomorrow. VBR concept is only known by students and staff members, we need youth to participate in saving our environment. The VBR Youth Network has been engaged in several activities including hosting cleaning campaigns, career expos and participating in the post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework review. He concluded by saying that young people are not just the future but also the present, so the time is now to act, he called on other young people to join the Youth Network 

Mr Phathutshedzo Mudau founder of Dziphathutshedzo

In Creating space for young people in the VBR, Mr Phathutshedzo Mudau founder of Dziphathutshedzo Green Surfacing said his organisation use plastic waste (plastic bags and bottles) to produce useful paving bricks, valuable building and construction products and tombstone and road surfacing technologies. This company do not use sand and cement to make bricks, instead, they use plastic waste materials. Their bricks don’t take time to be dry for use, they could be made and be used on the same day. The 29-year-old from Tshikuwi in Nzhelele area said these Biotechnology products are more affordable than the sand and cement bricks. “There are lot of problems worth solving through this plastic made products.” 

His company also produces charcoal briquettes and organic fertilisers from 100% organic waste including sawdust and agricultural waste. He concluded by urging other young people to be the change and not wait for a degree only. Mr Mudau is an active member of the VBR Youth Network 

VBR Board, Dr Lutendo Mugwedi

Chairperson of VBR Board, Dr Lutendo Mugwedi said he brought Phathutshedzo to the event because he knew that the University creates future leaders and will nurture Phathutshedzo through his business to do even well in his business. Dr Mugwedi highlighted that all research conducted in the VBR should be part of the VBR performance review. He advised more researchers to contribute in the VBR through research. “VBR is here to take us to the direction where we will be making impact in communities.” 

Director Marketing, Branding and Communication, Dr Takalani Dzaga who was the Programme Director of this 50th Anniversary celebration, highlighted that UNIVEN is committed to working closely with Vhembe Biosphere Reserve. 

DVC Teaching and Learning, Prof Jan Crafford gave a vote of thanks. In his vote of thanks message, Prof Crafford said Phathutshedzo now belongs to UNIVEN and the University will assist him to reach greater heights because he has the potential of becoming one of the University’s future leader. 

UNIVEN Choir entertaining the guests during the 50th Anniversary Celebration 

A group photo of speakers and the programme director

Issued by: 

Department of Marketing, Branding & Communication 

University of Venda 
Tel: (015) 962 8525 /8710 
Date: 23 November 2021 

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