He's no Pawn in alien clearing
Invasive alien clearing on the Agulhas Plain is not only benefiting the region’s biodiversity. For contractors like Peter (Pawn) Thomas (second from the right in the top photo), it has provided a decent livelihood, and the opportunity to learn new skills. Pawn – so named by his grandfather, a prolific chess player – is one of the 21 contractors and 241 beneficiaries of the ABI Alien Clearing Project.
The project has provided employment for jobless people living across the Cape Agulhas- and Overstrand Municipality areas. Statistics from 2010 found the Overstrand’s poverty rate to stand at over 25 percent. Latest figures put the Cape Agulhas Municipality’s unemployment rate at around 14 percent, and the Overstrand’s jobless rate at over 23 percent.
This was also the reality for Pawn, before joining the ABI Alien Clearing Project in August 2013. A building contractor by trade, his team had previously taken on the task of building sections of the Agulhas National Park boardwalk (a walkway linking the most southerly tip of Africa with the Agulhas Lighthouse). However, the work came to an end earlier in 2013, and for a number of months, Pawn and members of his team were without work.
Getting involved in the ABI Alien Clearing Project, however, changed that for the father of three girls. He says, “The project has allowed me to put food on the table again. We’ve also learned so many things, through the courses we’ve had. We didn’t know much about invasive alien plants, and had never worked in this field before.”
The teams have received training in invasive alien clearing methodologies, herbicide application, First Aid and Health and Safety. They’ve also received a basic understanding of the fynbos in which they work. So much so that Pawn and his team noticed a flowering fynbos plant that they had not seen before, and did not recognise, on the Nuwejaars Wetland Special Management Area – a plant that turned out to be the rare Lobostemon sanguineus. He says, “If you are interested in nature, then you remember the things you learn during the courses.”
Pawn and his 10 team members live in Bredasdorp, including the informal dwelling on the outskirts of the town. He has been married for 27 years, with one daughter currently completing her Matric, and a second daughter in Boland College. The third daughter also works as an alien clearer. He travels through to the clearing areas daily, usually about a 20-minute drive for him. Through the project, Pawn has now been able to have his own vehicle fixed, ensuring the vehicle is roadworthy. Transport costs are covered in part by the ABI Alien Clearing Project, and in part by the Department of Environmental Affairs, through their Land User Incentive Scheme, and in part by co-funding commitments of the partners.
For Pawn, the joy of being out in the veld has made his job as an invasive alien clearing contractor an attractive one. “I enjoy being in the veld. Here I have a clear mind. It has also meant taking on a new challenge and adapting to the new circumstances.” And if he could choose where to go at the end of the three-year project? “If the project can continue after the three years, we will definitely stay here.”