N3TC Hero Bonginkosi Ndaba
“ummuthi uzalwanyone” – “the tree is given birth to by the bird.”
Bonginkosi Ndaba grew up in paradise – literally! Emanzimane, in the Lost Valley where four streams meet in the forest, is tucked away in the folds of the green hills below Van Reenen. Today, still, the only way to get there is by foot or horseback.
“I saw a leopard three times when I was a young herd boy” says Bonginkosi. “Once I watched for a long time, sitting still to make sure it didn’t see my shadow. That was very exciting. Another time I spotted it among some cattle and it saw me. That time I ran so fast until I got home!” To ensure that he treated wild animals with the respect they deserve, Bonginkosi’s grandmother had warned him that leopards don’t like boys. She also taught him how to identify and collect medicinal plants sustainably, to live in harmony with nature and told him many stories about the Ndaba clan. “My grandmother is my hero – the major influence in my life. I feel I have a duty to pass on these values of living with Nature to others too.” He remembers childhood days when he’d head into the hills with his dogs to play in the steam, slide on the wet rocks, feast on delicious black Halleria berries, and watch the birds. “My interest in birds began when I saved a red winged starling with a broken wing. I felt so sorry for it. As I held it, something changed in me. My grandmother helped me and we fixed the wing and released it. From then on, I was always looking out for birds and learning their names.”
These early experiences had a big impact on his life and are a major motivation for the enviro-club he runs for youth in Van Reenen now – Nakakele Nature Heroes. “It really bothers me that children nowadays are not in touch with Nature. Living in towns they are removed from real life, they do not know which mushrooms are delicious and some don’t even realise that milk comes from a cow.”
Bonginkosi recalls the day he got a pair of binoculars for the first time and went out to look for birds. “Two little boys followed me. I told them I was watching birds and they asked if they could come along. They went crazy looking through the binos and the next day, the boys invited their friends to come, so I had 10 children following me.” Someone suggested he start a proper birding club. He put the word out and when he got home after work he found many kids gathered in his yard. “I just couldn’t say no.” he smiles, “sometimes there are 45 kids now.”
The group meets on Saturdays to explore, watch birds and clear the litter from the wetlands. Occasionally they also gather after school around the small pan in Enthokozweni where they have seen yellow billed ducks, red cormorants, whiskered terns, little grebes, and African shelducks. Bonginkosi is now a qualified Guide. He takes groups onto Nelsonskop to see his favourite bird – the Bearded Vulture – izingwony zenkosi, down into Scotsfontein to view the Bushman rock art, or through Entokhozweni for a taste of township life.
Bonginkosi, dreams of a world where Nature is normal again. “Before humans were so modernised we used natural resources sustainably.” He has seen the evidence near his home of the incredible ability of Nature to heal when given the chance. Here, the grasslands used to be covered with black wattle. An eradication programme has restored the water flow, with wetlands and grasslands coming back to life – now you can see Bald ibis stalk and Long-tailed Widow birds flap.
Bonginkosi shares a piece of paradise with everyone who is fortunate to cross his path. His values are grounded in the earth, his enthusiasm flows like a bubbling stream and his dreams soar in the sky.