The appropriate management of South Africa's wetlands is critical in contributing to the sustainability of its water resources for the benefit of its people and its economy. Achieving this requires a coordinated sectoral approach, using the best available science. The National Wetlands Indaba (NWI) is an annual event that has been held since 1996. It started when a small group of wetland practitioners recognized the importance of bringing together all people involved in wetland related matters, the aim being to discuss issues, share experiences and explore solutions, with the vision of ensuring a more secure water resource in South Africa through appropriate wetlands management.

This first gathering consisted of no more than 15 people. It is from the initiative of this first meeting that national programmes such as the Working for Wetlands programme, currently being managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), came in to existence. It is also through the activities of these and other people that the current state of wetland awareness came to be. This humble and small beginning has since developed into a major event that is now attended by more than 200 delegates.

The National Wetlands Indaba caters for multiple disciplines and its attendees include academics and researchers, private environmental consultants, provincial and national conservation authorities, Water Boards, representatives from three spheres of government, non-government organizations, students, private citizens, business and industry.

The objective of the National Wetlands Indaba is to provide an open platform for reporting and discussion of various topics that will guide the future approach towards wetland management in South Africa. Interactions are in the form of presentations, formal discussions during break away groups and also informal discussions amongst the participants. There is a strong focus on skills and capacity development of young scientists through interactive workshops, training sessions and field trips.

Decision-makers who direct various wetland management programmes and projects also attend the National Wetlands Indaba, and where appropriate, the outcomes of these discussions are incorporated into their activities. The Indaba aims to facilitate a coordinated approach to wetland management, sustainable use and skills development with engagement between the governmental, private, academic and NGO sectors.

Keynote speaker at the 2018 Indaba, Prof Brian Timms, University of NSW, Australia

I am supposedly retired, but am being recycled as a visiting professorial fellow at the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW. Fifty three years ago I commenced on zooplankton, morphed into a benthologist and a salty limnologist, all the while with an eye on the influence of geomorphology on lake ecology. In fact, I have written my only book on Lake Geomorphology. For the last 30 years I have concentrated my research efforts on temporary waters in semiarid and arid Australia, particularly the Paroo catchment north-west of New South Wales. There I stumbled upon a highly diverse array of water bodies, ranging from salt lakes of various salinities, episodic freshwater lakes and clay pans, to various types of vegetated swamps and gnammas (rock holes). I am fascinated by medium term changes in these water bodies, such as differences between wet (La Nina) years and dry (El Nino) years and the effect of non-seasonal rains. As a side issue, and more encompassing right across inland Australia, I became interested in the large branchiopods and have described about 50 new species and written keys of most groups.

Session speakers

Maitland Seaman studied zoology and entomology at Rhodes University and the Rand Afrikaans University (the present University of Johannesburg). His first job was as parasitologist at the Onderstepoort Veterinary Research Institute. He then worked as a limnologist at the National Institute for Water Research (CSIR), moved to the Department of Zoology and Entomology at the UFS and finally to the Centre for Environmental Management at the UFS as Director in 1997. In 2009 he was also appointed Director of the Strategic Academic Cluster “Water management in water scarce areas”. Since retirement, he has been a Research Fellow in the Centre for Environmental Management, University of the Free State. He has about 100 scientific publications, book chapters and specialist reports to his credit.
His interests are wide, and he has served in various capacities on the national boards or councils of the Zoological Society of South Africa; the South African Institute of Ecologists and Environmental Scientists; the Southern African Society of Aquatic Sciences, and Chair of the Interim Certification Board for Environmental Assessment Practitioners.

Jenny Day worked for many years in the Zoology Department at the University of Cape Town. She acted as Deputy Dean of the Science Faculty and directed the Freshwater Research Unit for some years before retiring. She is currently Extraordinary Professor in the Institute for Water Studies at the University of the Western Cape, where she assists in the running of the Non-Perennial Rivers Research Project (a topic of one of the sessions in this Indaba). She was senior editor of a series of volumes produced by the South African Water Research Commission on the identification of freshwater invertebrates and has co-authored the well-known Vanishing Waters (with the late Bryan Davies), and Freshwater Life (with Mike Picker and Charles Griffiths). She and her students have also written lots of papers in the scientific literature and management-related reports in the grey literature. Her main scientific interests are the management of water quality and the conservation of invertebrates in our wetlands and rivers.

Guy Preston is Deputy Director-General: Environmental Programmes, Department of Environmental Affairs,South Africa. He is responsible for the Environmental Programmes within the Department of Environmental Affairs, leading  fourteen “Working for” programmes with high environmental and economic returns on investment, aligned to the Expanded Public Works Programme. Together these programmes provide work opportunities for more than 70,000 previously unemployed workers. The Working for Water programme (management of invasive alien species) is one of the key programmes, as well as the Working on Fire, Eco-Furniture Programme, Working for Energy, Working for Ecosystems, Working for Forests, Working for Wildlife and Working for Wetlands (wetland repair and conservation for the benefit of water quality, quantity, flood attenuation, biological diversity, food security and disease management, among other attributes) programmes. Guy’s passion is ensuring a sustainable environment and water safety for future generations, and he spends his free time hiking and inspecting river catchments. 

Mphadeni Nthangeni comes from Thohoyandou in the Limpopo Province. His career in conservation started when he was admitted to study for a diploma in Nature Conservation at Mangosuthu Technikon, where he obtained a B-Tech in Nature Conservation, majoring in fresh water management. He also holds managerial certificates from Wits University, University of Pretoria and other institutions. Mphadeni was a project manager for the Wetlands and Working for Water projects from 2006 until 2011. He was then appointed Conservation Manager for Marakele National Park, overseeing different projects within the Park, which varied from land rehabilitation, law enforcement, specific rhino management and other conservation related projects.He has held the post of Park Manager of Marakele National Park since 2016, and his duties includes the management of the ecosystem within the Marakele National Park in relation to the Waterberg region, ensuring that conservation strategic developments are implemented according to legislation within the region. Mphadeni is also a cohort 15 of LEAD South Africa and has participated in the Waterberg Biosphere Reserve as interim deputy chairperson in reviving the Waterberg Biospheres Reserve board structure.