Swim for Rivers athletes conquer the Eastern Cape rivers

Five intrepid open water swimmers have conquered seven of the estuaries in the Eastern Cape to raise awareness around the poor state of our country’s rivers and to highlight the urgent need to restore them.  The athletes set off from the mouth of the Kromme Rivier in St Francis Bay on Saturday 14 October and completed their final 2017 swim at the mouth of the Nahoon River in East London on Saturday 21 October. During the course of the week the swimmers covered daily distances of between 5km and 11km in the Kromme, Gamtoos, Sundays, Kariega,  Kowie, Keiskamma, Kwelera, and Nahoon rivers.

“Swim for Rivers” involves a small group of athletes that is attempting to swim major rivers in each of South Africa’s nine provinces.  The intention of Swim for Rivers Eastern Cape, the fourth event of this extreme swimming challenge, was to focus specifically on estuaries, which are the critical link between our freshwater rivers and the sea, and to convey the message that rivers, estuaries and oceans are interconnected and entwined, meaning that pollution of one implies pollution of all.

The team consisted of five seasoned open water swimmers Andrew Chin, Mandy Uys, Joy Roach, Sean Murray and Nicky van Nierop. While the swimmers have described the experience as “a rather epic week” they returned inspired by the warmth and enthusiasm of the locals; in awe of the wildness and beauty that they encountered on some of the estuaries; and optimistic that broken rivers can be fixed with the appropriate interventions, funding, and time. During their swims, they found silted river mouths and plastic pollution in most of the rivers, with a strong smell of diluted sewage present in a couple of them. They also endured challenging weather conditions throughout the week including very cold temperatures, rain, and a pumping head wind at times.

The swimmers’ programme included visits to local schools – including some participating in the WESSA Eco-Schools programme – where they interacted with around 800 learners over the week. During these visits the swimmers were able to share a message of the vital importance of our rivers, how they function, and the role that everyone needs to play in looking after these precious natural resources. Learners were also shown how they can use citizen science to monitor their own rivers and were given a short lesson in water safety.

The swimmers also met with three groups of WESSA Tourism Blue Flag Beach Stewards along the way, which created a great synergy with these passionate young people, who are promoting coastal environmental education as part of the three-year coastal tourism and youth development project they are participating in, implemented by WESSA in partnership with the National Department of Tourism.

In addition to raising awareness and encouraging individual corrective action, the 2017 Swim for Rivers for Life athletes hope that their initiative will spark debate about what the relevant authorities and public can and should be doing to manage and protect our rivers.

Swim for Rivers for Life was supported by WESSA and a small ground crew, as well as a number of sponsors including Speedo, Caltex Gonubie,  Chatz Connect (cellular), Hippo Rollers, Aqua4Life water-purifying LifeStraws and other equipment, Superspar Vincent & Southernwood East London,  Sanans East London, NSRI Water Wise Academy, NSRI crew St Francis,  Biogen, and Amatola Water.

WESSA strongly supports this ongoing initiative, which is in line with the organisation’s aim to promote public awareness and participation in caring for the earth. One of WESSA’s key objectives is to promote the health of our strategic water catchments and rivers by actively monitoring and reporting their state.




Broadcasters please note that the swimmers are available for interviews. 

Photo links and captions:

Swim for Rivers 01:  The start at St Francis Bay Marina, from L to R:  Vuyo Zondani (NSRI Waterwise Academy), Mandy Uys, Joy Roach, Nicky van Nierop and Andrew Chin – with NSRI Waterwise and NSRI St Francis crew

Swim for Rivers 02:  The swimmers overlooking the Kariega River while preparing for the day’s swim

Swim for Rivers 03:  The swimmers present a talk on river conservation and safety at Nomzamo Secondary School talk in Port Alfred

Swim for Rivers 04:  The end of the swim on the Kwelera River

Swim for Rivers 05:  The start of the Nahoon River swim, from L to R: Sean Murray, Nicky van Nierop, Mandy Uys, Andrew Chin, Joy Roach and Kim Murgatroyd (a local doctor who swam this river with them)

Swim for Rivers 06:  The finish, at the Nahoon River mouth, from L to R: Andrew Chin, Nicky van Nierop, Mandy Uys, the Caltex Rabbit, Joy Roach and Sean Murray with their support team Lynne Reeves and Bruce van Nierop 


About Swim for Rivers for Life:

Pioneered by Cape Town-based swimmer Andrew Chin, the Swim for Rivers for Life initiative involves open water swimmers taking on South Africa’s rivers one province at a time to highlight the degraded state of our waters, while creating awareness in youngsters of their own power to restore river health and to be waterwise.  In 2015, when Chin and Toks Viviers swam 200km in the Wilge River in the Free State over a period of 10 days. In October 2015, Chin and fellow swimmer Henko Roukema took to the rivers again, however high water pollution levels and exceptionally low flows forced them to abandon their quest to swim the length of the Berg River. Their goal had been to swim the Berg from source to sea, but the polluted water caused such illness in the team that they were forced to call off the swim after completing 135km of the river’s 294km length. In 2016 Chin partnered with Mandy Uys to swim a 70km section of the Orange River in the Northern Cape and to interact with over 1,000 school pupils along the way. The Eastern Cape swim is the fourth event of this extreme swimming challenge and plans are underway for a 2018 event in KZN.


WESSA wins Environmental Sustainability Award at 2017 Eduweek Awards

WESSA is proud to have received the award for Environmental Sustainability at the 2017 Education Week Awards held in Cape Town on Wednesday evening.

The awards, which recognise excellence across the African Education Ecosystem, formed part of the Cape Town EduWeek exhibition and conference held in partnership with the Western Cape Education Department at the Cape Town International Conference Centre this week.

The award reconfirms WESSA’s position as a national leader in environmental education that is investing in youth and facilitating transformation in schools through innovative programmes that offer project-based learning.

The organisation works with schools and teachers throughout South Africa to support and improve school curricula regarding environmental learning, equipping children to live sustainably in the future.  WESSA is the national operator for the international Eco-Schools, Learning About Forests (LEAF) and Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) programmes. WESSA also implements a national Water and Energy Programme incorporating the Water Explorer Project, and the Entrepreneurial and Environmental Empowerment for South African Youth (EEESAY) Project, in partnership with Teach A Man To Fish.  All WESSA’s schools programmes are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity.





Image with caption:

Hyperlink to image

Caption:  Lorraine McGibbon from the WESSA Schools Programme (centre), with Provincial Minister (MEC) for Education Western Cape Ms Debbie Schäfer and Brian Schreuder, Superintendent General (Head of Department), Western Cape Education Department.


About WESSA:

WESSA implements effective environmental, ecotourism, education and youth development programmes throughout South Africa.  The organisation improves the school curriculum through education for sustainable development and provide critical work skills training, which creates job opportunities and sustainable livelihoods in local communities. WESSA’s environmental initiatives contribute towards the restoration of ecosystems, while their Blue Flag, Green Key and Green Coast ecolabels support tourism growth and development by encouraging responsible tourism practices and the improved management of our coastline.  For more information visit www.wessa.org.za


About WESSA’s schools programme:

The Eco-Schools Programme is an international programme of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) that was developed to support environmental learning in the classroom, with the aim to create awareness and action around environmental sustainability in schools and their surrounding communities as well as supporting Education for Sustainable Development in the national curriculum.


EEESAY (Entrepreneurial and Environmental Empowerment for South African Youth) is a WESSA partnership with Teach A Man To Fish.  This intensely practical project provides step-by-step experiential learning on how to identify business opportunities, apply sound business planning and then implement robust business plans to generate a profit.


LEAF (Learning About Forests) encourages environmental education through awareness raising among learners, teachers and communities to increase knowledge about the key role forests play for a sustainable life on our planet. Linked to our South African heritage, LEAF collaborates with schools to reconnect with, learn about, be inspired by and take ownership of our natural woodlands and man-made forests.


YRE (Young Reporters for the Environment) aims to enable our youth to take a stand for their local social and environmental issues through the media of writing, photography or video. It creates a productive space for South African youth to reimagine and craft a sustainable and environmentally just future, while developing skills to make a positive contribution to redress environmental injustices. YRE is a creative, participatory, multidisciplinary, nurturing, action and solution-oriented, and fun space for young like-minded individuals and groups.


The Water & Energy Programme includes the Water Explorer Project which encourages learners between the ages of 8 and 14 to take positive and powerful action to save water through fun, interactive water saving ‘Missions’.



For more information contact:

Catherine Ritchie, WESSA Marketing & Communications Manager

Tel 021 701 1397   Cell 082 321 2794   Email communications@wessa.co.za


Donavan Fullard, Head: WESSA Schools Programme
Tel 011 462 5663   Cell 076 790 4989   Email Donavan.Fullard@wessa.co.za


2017/18 Blue Flag status awarded to 62 of SA’s top beaches, sustainable tourism boats and marinas

Sixty-two Blue Flags will be proudly flown at 44 beaches, seven marinas and by eleven sustainable tourism boats around South Africa over the forthcoming 2017/18 South African Blue Flag season, which opens officially on 1 November this year. This was announced at the prestigious national Blue Flag launch hosted by the Kouga Municipality at Dolphin Beach, Jeffreys Bay, in the Eastern Cape earlier today.

Earlier this year all applications for the Blue Flag eco-label were reviewed through a rigorous multi-stage approval process involving both national and international assessments, by a South African and International Jury Panel.

The Western Cape has achieved the highest number of Blue Flag sites, with 28 of the beaches, all eleven boats and six of the seven Blue Flag marinas falling in the province. This shows an increase of three Blue Flag boats from the previous season, and one additional marina.

KZN again has nine Blue Flag beaches for the 2017/18 season. Seven beaches and one marina have been awarded the eco-label in the Eastern Cape, which is on par with the previous season.

An additional 22 beaches across the three provinces will participate on the Pilot Programme. This is an important developmental stage for potential Blue Flag sites, during which WESSA works with beach managers and Tourism Blue Flag Beach Stewards towards the longer-term goal of achieving full Blue Flag status. Internationally, over 4,400 beaches, boats and marinas currently hold Blue Flag status in 46 countries.

Speaking at the event, Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa thanked WESSA for the work the organisation is doing through the Blue Flag programme. She said that the department is looking to attract five million tourists to South Africa over the next five years, and Blue Flag must be used as a selling tool to bring these visitors to our shores, and to ensure that visitors have a positive experience in our country. She added that by entering into a partnership with WESSA in 2016 to implement the Tourism Blue Flag project the department is utilising the Expanded Public Works Programme to ensure that jobs are created for young people in the tourism industry.

The annual Blue Flag Awards also celebrate the sustained partnerships that WESSA has built with key municipalities around the country, who have recognised the value of Blue Flag not just to environmental management and education, but also to tourism, economic development and job creation. Their commitment to the programme is evident in the fact that 25 beaches have been on the programme for five or more consecutive years, while eleven beaches have achieved Blue Flag status for more than 10 consecutive years. Dolphin Beach, which provided the backdrop for the season launch, celebrates a remarkable 16 consecutive years on the programme this year. Humewood Beach in Port Elizabeth along with Grotto Beach in Hermanus has participated for all seventeen years that the Blue Flag programme has been running locally.

Says Vincent Shacks, WESSA Ecotourism Manager: “Blue Flag is an excellent example of what is achievable when government, both local and national, partner with civil society. Not only does the programme encourage adherence to very high, international standards for beaches, boats and marinas but it has also created an excellent platform from which to develop young and enthusiastic, sustainable tourism ambassadors. Through the Tourism Blue Flag project, the National Department of Tourism has partnered with WESSA to demonstrate its commitment to the development of South Africa’s youth. Over the past year these Blue Flag “Beach Stewards” have played a critical role in the maintenance of the Blue Flag standards at our beaches as well as conducting valuable environmental education activities and campaigns all along our beautiful coastline.”

Since its launch in 1987, the Blue Flag programme has continued to grow, not only regarding the number of member countries and sites involved, but also in its range of expertise within marine and freshwater environments. WESSA is proud to have been the national implementing partner for Blue Flag in South Africa since 2001.

Dolphin Beach in Jeffreys Bay provided the ideal setting for the 2017/18 Blue Flag launch. The wide, sandy beach makes it popular with families, while its legendary surfing spot “Supertubes” has given the beach international fame. The Executive Mayor, Cllr Elza van Lingen, who delivered the opening address at the event spoke about the value which Blue Flag adds to tourism, adding that while Kouga Municipality only has one beach on the programme their approach is to raise the standard of all Kouga beaches to that of Dolphin Blue Flag Beach.

View the full list of 2017/18 Blue Flag Beaches, Boats and Marinas




WESSA CEO, Ecotourism Manager and Blue Flag Programme senior staff are available for interviews.


Soundbite for radio:
Statement from Robert Slater, WESSA’s National Coordinator Blue Flag Programme


Links to images and captions:
Image 1 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, John Prins from Bitou Municipality and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 2 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Ted Knott from the City of Cape Town and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 3 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Cllr Geoff Pullen from Ethekwini Municipality and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 4 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Godfrey Louw, Director of Social Services Dadamasi (Kouga Municipality), Cllr Danny Benson Dadamasi (Kouga Municipality), Greg Miller from Cape St Francis Canals (Blue Flag Marina), Gcobisa Dadamasi (Kouga Municipality) and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 5 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Lauren Rainbird, Lindile Ntsabo and Andrew Komani from Overstrand Municipality, with the and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 6 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Elize Nel from Mossel Bay Municipality and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 8 Godfrey Louw (Kouga Municipality), WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Mayor Elza van Lingen (Kouga Municipality), Cllr Danny Benson (Kouga Municipality) and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 9 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Anya Ponton from The Water Club (Blue Flag Marina) in Cape Town and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 10 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Evelyn Pepler from Ocean Odyssey (Blue Flag sustainable tourism boat) and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 11 WESSA CEO Drhttp://wessa.org.za/site17/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/BS2017_12.jpg Thommie Burger, Gina Oosthuysen and Elfrieda Loubser from Thesen Islands (Blue Flag Marina) in Knysna and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa
Image 12 WESSA CEO Dr Thommie Burger, Mariette Hopley from White Shark Ventures and Minister of Tourism, the Honourable Ms Tokozile Xasa


About Blue Flag:

The Blue Flag Programme, now in its 30th year, is focused on the conservation of marine and coastal habitats, and is designed to raise environmental education and awareness, and increase sound environmental practices among tourists, local populations and beach management.

To achieve Blue Flag status, as many as 33 different criteria spanning over four aspects of coastal management must be met and maintained: water quality, environmental education and information, environmental management, and safety and services. Each Blue Flag site is compelled to conduct several environmental education activities during the year, and to practise effective and efficient conservation management.

In South Africa, the Blue Flag programme is managed by WESSA and participating coastal municipalities. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Blue Flag season runs from 1 November to 31 October each year. Beaches are required to apply for Blue Flag status each year and the Blue Flag standards are only enforced at the beaches over the participating beach’s stated season, which varies from just two months of the year to the full 12 months.

The Blue Flag programme is operated under the auspices of the Foundation for Environmental Education and is headquartered in Copenhagen, Denmark. The criteria are set by the international coordinators of the Blue Flag campaign in Europe, the FEE (Foundation for Environmental Education). Through close collaboration with their members on all issues, the Foundation for Environmental Education works to ensure the programme’s expansion, and that the unrivalled standards of the Blue Flag are maintained internationally. The detailed criteria and award process is available on Blue Flag’s international website www.blueflag.global


About WESSA:

WESSA implements effective environmental, ecotourism, education and youth development programmes throughout South Africa. The organisation improves the school curriculum through education for sustainable development and provide critical work skills training, which creates job opportunities and sustainable livelihoods in local communities. WESSA’s environmental initiatives contribute towards the restoration of ecosystems, while their Blue Flag, Green Key and Green Coast ecolabels – and associated Tourism Blue Flag and Tourism Green Coast projects in partnership with the National Department of Tourism – support tourism growth and development by encouraging responsible tourism practices and the improved management of our coastline. For more information visit www.wessa.org.za


For more information contact:

Catherine Ritchie, WESSA Marketing & Communications Manager
Tel 021 701 1397 Cell 082 321 2794 Email communications@wessa.co.za


Learning successful business and entrepreneurship skills at school

WESSA  and Teach A Man To Fish, with funding of EUR600,000 received from EuropeAid, are providing 6,000 learners from forty schools KwaZulu-Natal and Eastern Cape provinces with an opportunity to gain practical business skills by setting up and running an educational and environmentally sustainable enterprise at their school.  Over a period of three years, learners and educators from forty schools will attend training and receive support in topics that will build learners’ knowledge, skills and confidence towards either becoming entrepreneurs or becoming better prepared for future studies. A further fifty out-of-school youth in KwaZulu-Natal will gain entrepreneurial skills by undergoing a training programme with Business World Development Trust (BWDT) based on a Level 2 New Venture Creation qualification on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF).

The EEESAY project (Entrepreneurial and Environmental Empowerment for South African Youth) is based on the successful School Enterprise Challenge programme run by Teach A Man To Fish, and it is intensely practical in nature. This international awards programme has already led to 25 profitable student-led businesses schools in South Africa; improved exam marks in participating schools in KZN; and enabled learners to start their own profitable businesses out of school.

The project will take place in the Chris Hani and Amathole districts of the Eastern Cape and Utukhela and Amajuba districts of KwaZulu-Natal.  Ten schools from each district have been selected to participate and they will attend various workshops, receive support visits, and an annual market place event where they will share their learning with other schools.  This support will deepen learners’ understanding of and skills for the business world and in how to plan and implement a successful business. On completing the project learners will have the skills and experience to either set up their own business, go on to further education or succeed in the workplace.

The project provides step-by-step experiential learning on how to identify business opportunities, apply sound business planning and then implement robust business plans to generate a profit.  Schools can invest the profits to develop both the school and school business. At the same time it is a great opportunity for teachers to continue their own professional development.




Sue Spies, WESSA Schools Programme Project Manager
Email sue.spies@wessa.co.za or cell 082 663 6692


Susannah Morcowitz, Teach A Man to Fish Programmes and Monitoring and Evaluation Manager
Email susannah@teachamantofish.org.uk or cell 079 859 6870

Rural learners connect the Big Five and Little Five

Filmed Series to air each Saturday on Disney Channel

WESSA, in partnership with Africa Foundation and andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve, launched a new environmental education project in the Mduku area of Umkhanyakude district, Northern KwaZulu-Natal in 2016, and is now able to appraise the many successes it achieved.

Funded by Disney through the Africa Foundation (USA), the project targeted 210 learners from five rural schools in the communities surrounding Phinda. Over a period of nine months, the project developed the learners’ appreciation for nature and increased their ecological knowledge.

Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303) has begun airing a special series of live-action shorts entitled “Eco Club”, which follows the learners as they participated in the programme. The series will air every Saturday at 06:50AM (CAT), culminating in a programming block on Earth Day, April 22nd, from 12:20.

The project was delivered through in-school learning and active participation in a range of nature and biodiversity-focused activities. WESSA’s implementation of the Eco-Schools programme at the participating schools also contributed to whole-school development by providing the structure for environmental considerations to be included in all school management decisions.

The cornerstones of the project were that learners and teachers had the opportunity to encounter the “big five” species of animals at Phinda and learn about the lesser known “little five” whilst in the camp. Both the “big five” species – elephant, rhino, buffalo, lion and leopard – and the “little five” – elephant shrew, rhinoceros beetle, buffalo weaver, ant lion and leopard tortoise – are found at Phinda. On return to their schools the learners were able to create their school’s own wilderness area by planting an indigenous garden. Learners then monitored the habitats they had created to see when any of the “little five” took up residence in the school grounds.

The excursions to Phinda – characterised by much excitement and enthusiasm – were undoubtedly a highlight for all the learners. Forty learners and six teachers from each school spent a night in the reserve where they experienced Phinda’s diversity of habitats and abundant wildlife. During their excursions, learners had their first game drive and participated in a specially-developed environmental learning programme around the connections between the “big five” and “little five.” The game drives helped to develop awareness among learners, of the need for conservation and an understanding of the role we all play in promoting nature and biodiversity. Reflecting back on the experience with the learners proved that each excursion had left an indelible mark in the life of each child.

A further successful program of the andBeyond Phinda Private Game Reserve and Africa Foundation Eco-Schools Project was to develop the capacity of teachers at the participating schools. Over the course of the year, a series of four workshops was held for the teachers to equip them with the skills required to deliver effective environmental learning in the classroom. The first workshop took place at Bayete Camp in Phinda, where the teachers experienced first-hand the rich natural heritage located close to their schools. The next three workshops focused on developing teachers’ understanding of the aims of the Eco-Schools programme and looked specifically at the programme’s unique “Seven Steps” approach to whole school development, which complements the school curricula while at the same time stimulating active community participation.

At the conclusion of the project in early December, an event was held in the Mduku community to recognise and celebrate the work done throughout the year by the learners, educators and other project partners. A special award was presented to Nkomo Full Service School for achieving highest success with their newly planted trees. Both Nkomo and Mdudla Primary Schools will be featured in “Eco Club” as it airs on Disney Channel (DStv, Channel 303).

The project has created a special relationship between the Mduku learners and the natural environment. Should they return to their school 20 years from now they will be able to take pride in seeing the grove of trees they planted and fully appreciate the importance of conserving our natural resources for current and future generations.

The overall enthusiasm for the project was evident in the words of a teacher from Qomukuphila Primary School who said, “We will adopt the forest adjacent to the school. The local Chief had given the land to the schools to build a hall, but that will become our forest and the hall can be built within the current school yard. No single tree will be removed from that forest. That’s a promise.”