For this mid-year update, I was hoping to address you as our stakeholders on a more positive note. However, the COVID-19 global pandemic has indeed changed the world as we know it, turning our lifestyles upside down and disrupting our ‘normal’. The pandemic is impacting on how we work, live, and engage with one another in fundamental ways. It has presented itself not only as a serious health issue, but also a societal one which has revealed deep social chasms across the world. In South Africa, it has brought our vulnerabilities into stark light, especially inequality and food (in)security as our leaders attempt to do their best to balance the economic impacts with the ongoing health risks the pandemic poses.
Although the pandemic can be viewed as a significant disrupter to our social-ecological systems, it can also be seen as an opportunity. There are several scenarios, all dependent on how leaders, governments and society respond to the virus and its economic aftermath. The pandemic provides us with a window of opportunity to reflect on our world and to refocus our attention on what we value. We can choose to use this crisis to reimagine our futures and create a more humane and better world. So, in our rush to return to ‘normal’, we should be considering what it is we wish to rush back to. Will we take the chance to change how and what we do?
The Garden Route Biosphere Reserve and its activities have naturally been severely impacted. We were in the midst of a participatory collaborative strategy development process when the country went into a national lockdown. The many workshops scheduled during the months of May and June as part of this process have been halted as the methods of engagement are inappropriate for our current times. Furthermore, the landscape is changing in light of the pandemic and what we were planning for may no longer be the world we find post-COVID.
We considered taking the Garden Route Biosphere Reserve (GRBR) collaborative strategy development process online, as so many engagements have done, but we fear this approach would further marginalise those we so desperately seek to involve. It seemingly perpetuates the inequalities in our country, favouring those with the ability and access to online engagements and leave the silent voices out of the planning for the future. With this in mind, the GRBR has chosen to put our collaborative strategy development process on hold until such time we can fully engage better reassess what a post COVID-19 world looks like.
Despite the setbacks to our collaborative strategy development process, we nonetheless choose to seize the window of opportunity to reflect, reprioritise and focus on being responsive to the immediate needs of our stakeholders during these tumultuous times. We are therefore investing our efforts into fundraising for urban food and water security, sanitation and other relevant job creation projects.
We believe our temporary deviation in focus responds to some of the pressing needs in the landscape and works toward making the GRBR more adaptive and resilient going forward.
Dr Bianca Currie
Chair, Garden Route Biosphere Reserve