We reached our target!! Thanks to your generous support we raised £5000 in 50 days to cover the cost of planting 2,500 indigenous trees in Venda’s sacred forests. 

The custodians – known as the Makhadzi and ‘Rainmakers’ – of Venda’s sacred sites are now able to plant the indigenous trees in the degraded areas of their forests. The saplings have been grown at a local tree nursery and are ready to go. We will let you know when planting begins and share photos along the way.

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Read on to find out more about the Makhadzhi and the communities of Venda…

A Race to Protect the Sacred Forests

The forests of Venda (Vhembe district), in Limpopo, the most northern and most rural province of South Africa, help to maintain the climate of the region. They are the source of springs that feed into the local river system and provide water for the surrounding land and communities. The local VhaVenda people revere the forests as sacred – the places where the ancestors are present.

Venda forms part of the Soutpansberg mountain range and is well-known for its richness in flora variety and the cultural heritage of its people. But only 0.45% (less than 10,000 hectares) of Venda’s indigenous forests remain, and the region is threatened by the mining company, CoAL of Africa (Limpopo “boasts” 50% of South Africa’s coal deposits) and the expansion of commercial plantations. There is huge pressure on the precious water and forests.

It is the Makhadzi of Venda’s local clans who are the traditional custodians of the sacred forests. Makhadzi is the name given to women who are recognised as leaders in their community. This respected role includes safeguarding the sacred sites, among other tasks. They have also come to be known as “rainmakers” for their traditions and rituals which assure rain for the region.

Tree planting & food security

In 2009, a group of Makhadzi established Dzomo la Mupo, a community association “to protect Nature in all her forms, and especially indigenous forests”. With support and training from The Mupo Foundation, a small South African NGO, they have shared ways to improve their soils, water harvesting, seed saving and have set up their own tree nurseries.

“The home based nurseries have recorded over 2500 indigenous trees propagated and taken care of. These trees could green up an area of about 125,000m2, the size of about 20 soccer fields, being quite a contribution to Venda”. John Nzira, Community facilitator and permaculture specialist, 2011.

The results and the enthusiasm have been remarkable – increased soil fertility and food production, the revival of millet and other nutritious crops which had been forgotten, household seed banks, and family tree nurseries. These tree nurseries have a dual purpose: income generation, and to reforest the riverbanks and restore the sacred forests.

Right now, the rains have come and the Makhadzi are calling urgently for support to plant the 2,500 seedlings they have been raising in their family tree nurseries. They need transport and some assistance with tools.

“There comes a time every year when the rain comes and we come together as a community to plant trees to support ourselves for the New Year. Our forests, cultural heritage, precious water and our very livelihoods are now under a new threat from a massive coke coal-mining project. It is important for our community to come together, stronger than ever in restoring our heritage and claiming our land. Tree planting does this”. Mphatheleni Makaulule, community leader and Mupo project officer, October 2011.

If you’d like to learn more about the Makhadzi, their community association Dzomo la Mupo, or our partner organisation The Mupo Foundation, these links may be of interest: