For small business owner, James Mavusa, success is determined by being punctual and by having a good attitude towards your work. These are the lessons James, 48, learnt from his father. He says, “My dad always smiled, even when things were difficult. He always approached work with a positive attitude.” 

James works as an alien clearing contractor in the Nuwejaars Wetlands Special Management Area, with funding provided by the National Lotteries Commission (NLC) to clear endangered wetland and fynbos habitat close to Africa’s southernmost tip of invasive species.

In fact, he was at home for seven months without work prior to the NLC funding becoming available. He now employs three women and two youths in his team, working with them in a relationship built on trust. 

From right to left: James Mavusa, Audrey Mbewe, Kaatjie Ruiters, Carl-Lyle Mavusa,
Daureen Afrika, Calvyn Jacobs

Starting the morning with a prayer

“Every morning we start the day with a prayer. I know my people and we have built up trust between each other.” Like Aunty Audrey Mbewe, who previously worked with James, and who chose to not look for alien clearing opportunities while James was out of work, because she only wanted to work with him.

James has worked as a contractor for the past 16 years, working for SANParks, in the Working for Water programme and in the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative alien clearing programme in the past. “One of my biggest lessons I learnt was that you must work hard from the start in order to make your deadlines, because the deadlines provided, based on density calculations, weren’t always accurate. So planning from the start is vital.”

He also knows the meaning of hard work, and of building up a business over time. While he now owns his vehicle that he uses to transport the team, he at first had to hire a vehicle before he grew his business sufficiently to buy his own bakkie. “By growing my business, I could improve my living standard and the living standard of my team. I could also better care for my children. I wanted them to get a good education.” And that’s exactly what he did – with both his children today succeeding in their own careers, as a staff nurse and as a primary school teacher.

You’re never too old to learn

James also knows the importance of always improving one’s skills, and the skills of his team. Over the years, he has taken on numerous tasks, such as wetland rehabilitation, building gabion structures, and building and packing eco-logs, among other things. “You’re never too old to learn,” he says. “My goal is to focus on what I do now, and to learn new skills in this industry.” As such, with NLC support, James and some of his team will be receiving supervisory and management training in the coming month.

The value of nature is among the lessons he has learnt over the past 18 years. “I’ve seen how the work we do allows nature to operate as it should. We’ve seen how the birds come back in areas that we’ve worked in. I hadn’t realised how invasive plants outcompete indigenous fynbos, so that the fynbos can’t grow as it should. I realised how important our work is – each person in my team has an equally important job. And that motivates me.”

They are currently working to clear invasive plants in Critically Endangered Elim Ferricrete Fynbos, where invasive species such as Myrtle, Port Jackson and Rooikrans have heavily invaded the area. Already the team has cleared 11 hectares of extremely dense alien infestation and a further 10ha of light infestation since the project started in October 2021.

“The remarkable NLC support”

James is also happy that the team now has constant work and constant pay. “If we don’t get paid on time, then there’s no money for food. So when we are paid consistently, as in this project, we can pay our bills on time. And that motivates us as a team, and is one of the reasons our work standards are always high.”

He concludes, “We’re really grateful to the NLC that they could think about people like us to support us to take on this kind of work. And what’s more, they are also doing something for nature. That makes this even more remarkable.”

Visit the National Lotteries Commission website to find out about other projects supported by the NLC.

The NLC relies on funds from the proceeds of the National Lottery. The Lotteries Act guides the way in which NLC funding may be allocated. The intention of NLC funding is to make a difference to the lives of all South Africans, especially those more vulnerable and to improve the sustainability of the beneficiary organisations. Available funds are distributed to registered and qualifying non-profit organisations in the fields of charities; arts, culture and national heritage; and sport and recreation. By placing its emphasis on areas of greatest need and potential, the NLC contributes to South Africa’s development.