Our first 4C Hero of Conservation: Gunhild Voights

For the last 2 years, Windhoek has seen a conservation hero, Gunhild Voigts, attend to an ecological invasion of cacti in the central and southern areas of the city. What starts as seemingly harmless sprouting of small cacti, quickly becomes a hardy bed of impenetrable cactus growth. The cactus is said to have come from distant lands such as the Americas, by ship. Having found themselves in our land as decorative plants – imminent population movement and the expansion of the city led to it being abandoned and allowed it to flourish unnoticed in sandy and rocky terrain around the city.

With the help of volunteers and charitable organisations, Gunhild has started a cactus clean up campaign that is both ambitious and incredibly tough work. With our spring and summer midday temperatures able to soar well into the high 30’s, it’s difficult to imagine who would be willing to do this work. Yet, there are those who make the sacrifice for only a NAD 150 a day.

Supported by the Lions International Club (Alte Feste) and the Botanical Society of Namibia, Gunhild has managed to raise funds to keep her project alive. Gunhild found the answer- in supporting unemployed workers, whom she pays from the generous donations provided over time by companies, local individuals and guests to our country and of course, from her own pocket, she has managed to keep a community project afloat.

However, the expenses far outweigh the income she has been receiving and sadly, the project runs the risk of coming to a standstill as she is no longer able to afford the NAD 150 per worker for those who help her with the labour intensive task of removing the cactus, transporting them to skips and removing any small re-growth. Any small trace of green cactus left on the ground can sprout roots, lodge itself into soil quite easily and grow again, in a matter of days.

With the rainy season soon upon us, the cactus removal project will suffer a lot of down time, but Gunhild believes that this isn’t a set back. In the last six months, they have cleared and filled ±200 skips from rugged terrain and residential land of the invasive Harrisia, several species of Cylindropuntia, devils rope and rosea cactus with the main culprit being a number of Opuntia’s. It is quick to colonise hot, open environments with sandy soils. Residents who may have this problem in their neighbourhoods can also request workers with the know-how to come and obtain paid work to remove the cactus safely and dispose of it in the best way possible. Disposing of cacti is a crucial part of the process; as cactus carelessly disposed of simply regrow, essentially spreading the problem to new areas. The City of Windhoek disposes the cactus at the landfill site.

The Wolwedans Foundation has pledged its support of Gunhild and the project by sponsoring 1 worker for 1 month in daily rate contributions. We believe that if it were not for the efforts of individuals like Gunhild Voigts, things simply would not happen. We are proud of the activities she has pioneered and support her as our Conservation Hero for the spring month of September. This contribution is a drop in the ocean for Gunhild’s team that should consist of at least 14 semi-permanent employees on a minimum wage salary. She is now down to just 4. We took our cameras to visit with Gunhild and the team at the top of Von Eckenbrecher Street in Klein Windhoek to get a first hand glimpse of exactly what is going on there. It was shocking to see just how much cactus can spread. Taking over popular hiking routes and play areas for the neighbourhood children, they seem to be taking over the city.

The Wolwedans Foundation urges other companies to match this pledge by donating their time and funds to a solid community project that remembers our landscapes and aims to bring them back to their natural beauty, decorated with aloe plants and acacia trees where children can play, ride their bicycles and walk their dogs.

Support Gunhild Voigts and the Cactus cleanup project

For more information contact:

Gunhild Voigts: Gunhild.voigts@gmail.com and email your pledge of funding or time to hille.schwartting@gmail.com. Contact the project on 0811280742

Direct deposits can be made to: CACTUS CLEAN UP, Bank Windhoek, Kudu Branch (482172), Account number: 8005224758 – E-mail proof of payment to the e-mail addresses above.