Teamwork is essential for the new director of nature reserves Waters Meeting and Thomas Baines. Talk of the Town meets Siphelele Hlazo.
Born and raised in the countryside of Bizana in the former Transkei, the new Director of Waters Meeting and Thomas Baines Nature Reserves, Siphelele Hlazo, has always been passionate about nature.
It was in 7th grade and in preparation for high school when her teacher asked her about her interests.
“I said I wanted to be a biologist because I loved nature and the physical aspects of the environment,” Hlazo said.
Growing up in a village, herding the family’s livestock was one of her chores and it sparked her love for nature. “When I was a herder, I took longer routes in the bush than the other boys did – just to enjoy nature, so it was not difficult to see me taking care of nature,” said he declared.
In 2016, during her studies, Hlazo volunteered at Mkambati Nature Reserve for six months while studying for a degree in nature conservation at the University of South Africa. He completed his continuing education in the same reserve, from September 2016 to March 2017. It was thanks to the diligence he showed during his training that he was offered a permanent position as senior ranger the next month.
In March 2019, he was promoted to Section Ranger for Tsolwana and Commando Drift Nature Reserves. Three years later, he was appointed director of Thomas Baines and Waters Meeting.
The concept of the two reserves — Waters Meeting focusing more on tourism and Thomas Baines more focused on environmental education — prompted Hlazo to take the job.
Hlazo says he doesn’t see himself as a manager, but as a team worker.
“My main responsibility is to oversee the processes of the reserve. I don’t see myself as a manager but as a team worker who provides support and guidance,” he said. Hlazo’s responsibilities include engaging with stakeholders, ensuring there are sufficient resources for effective security operations, administrative duties and ensuring staff morale is high.
“I’m more driven to motivate people and want them to showcase their skills and abilities,” he said. “When you have a team, it’s very important to know their strengths and weaknesses so that you can bridge the gap between the two.”
Hlazo says he was once asked to describe himself with the characteristics of an animal. He chose an ant because they work as a unit, which represents his management style.
“In good seasons they collect food and bring it to their nest, then in dry seasons they eat from this store because they know their seasons.
“Ants don’t work alone,” says Hlazo. “They work collectively as a team and stick together whether it’s collection season or feeding season.
“I’m a person who doesn’t want to shine alone for professional achievements – the whole team has to shine together,” he said.
Hlazo starts the week by calling the admin officers to plan for the week ahead, then checks in with the section guards and environmental officers to make sure he’s giving them the support they need. His weekly plan is guided by the activities that take place on the reserves.
All in one working day!
He chose to work in the conservation sector so he could protect and conserve natural heritage and be a voice for conservation.
“There is no human being without nature,” says Hlazo. “We all depend on each other. It’s sad to live in the age of climate change and global warming. I want to be a biodiversity ambassador to speak on behalf of non-living species that cannot speak for themselves,” he said.
Hlazo recommends members of the public visit Waters Meeting to see the estuary connection point where fresh water meets salt water from the mouth of the Kowie River. Other activities in the reserve include bird watching, hiking trails and a picnic site with breathtaking scenery.
At Thomas Baines, visitors can fish or picnic at the Settlers Dam, go on a game drive to see wildlife (even if they don’t have the big 5). Thomnas Baines has a conference venue with an environmental and educational center and an eco-path that school children can enjoy.
Hlazo is a proud member of Kloof Conservancy, a dynamic volunteer-run organization that promotes environmental awareness and conserves the area’s outstanding natural heritage for present and future generations. Kloof is 30 km from Durban CBD.
Hlazo enjoys the different aspects of her job, including ecological research, wildlife tracking, and stakeholder engagement. Above all, he is passionate about preserving the environment. He says environmental conservation officers like the wildlife army.
“We are the South African Wildlife Defense Force because we are the first and last line of defense when it comes to protecting natural resources,” he said.
When he is away from his busy work schedule, Hlazo enjoys playing soccer and spending time with his family.