Caring for nature one seedling at a time

Ntombikazi Rwayi, 60, fondly known as Ma Agnes, is passionate about growing fynbos plants.

Ms Rwayi is the restoration facility team leader at the City’s Westlake Conservation Centre. She takes care of plants and trains Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP) staff.

Ms Rwayi, of Khayelitsha, has no formal environmental education, but she learnt about plants from her father who loved gardening. He taught her and her siblings how to look after plants such as spinach.

She has previously worked for the Khayelitsha-based non-profit micro-farming organisation, Abalimi Bezekhaya. From there, she moved to a private nursery in Westlake. She also worked at Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden and some schools in Khayelitsha.

She started working for the City in 2014. Managing about 12 restoration facility staff is one of her responsibilities. “This is through various EPWP programmes. Each time the programme gets new staff, I train them up from scratch,” she says.

But it is propagation that she loves. Walking through rows of vegetation, she enters one of the greenhouses. “We propagate about 200 000 plants each year. Many are unique and highly threatened fynbos plants that require specialised knowledge to be able to propagate them.”

She explains that the team cares for the plants for up to three seasons before they are planted at the receptor sites. They also need to clean and prepare seeds for re-seeding programmes and also host school groups.

“I’m keen to see young people learning about caring for nature from a young age. Nurturing the youth is one thing, seeing them flourish and making a career out of it is so rewarding.”

Ms Rwayi hopes to see more people understanding the importance of nature because lives depend on it, she says.

As for Women’s Month, she says: “I would like to encourage women, in particular, to consider a career in this field. That way we can preserve nature for the next generations. Also, love for nature should be about motivation and not money.”

Ntombikazi Rwayi with some of the 200 000 plants they propagate at the Westlake Conservation Centre each year.
Ntombikazi Rwayi is the restoration facility team leader at the City’s Westlake Conservation Centre.