Shortly before, Nelson Mandela had walked into the light and a new beginning for Mzansi. Little did we know that this would also be a new beginning for commercial forestry in South Africa.

Blissfully unaware of the multitude of Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC) certification requirements that simply were not met, the foresters were stunned. “How is this possible? We are foresters. We care. Look at all the green and the good work we are doing in our conservation areas”.

“No sir. This is a wakeup call and it is no longer business as usual”

Environmental commitment is no longer restricted to your conservation areas. FSC certification means we need to show commitment wherever we operate. We can no longer pursue profit without counting the environmental and social costs. Okay. Back to the drawing board.

A paradigm shift was in the making, closely following the core values of Mandela in his long walk to freedom now reaching the light.

Systems were developed to instill responsible forest management. People were trained, but the reluctance was palpable. “Why should we bother with all of this when we’ve been doing just fine all these years?” The simple answer: if you fail to plan and measure, at some point you will meet your environmental comeuppance, so to speak. Just think about the soil running down the slope at the harvesting site at some point”the loss of soil will directly affect the production capacity of our forest and this will immediately show in your financial results. The financial margins will grow ever slimmer and weaker.

In life, every action has a reaction. Even our thoughts have consequences and we need to understand the potential reaction to everything we plan to do and then hone in on the action with the least negative output. Through careful and considered planning, competent training and control, this is entirely possible.
Slowly, ever so slowly, the penny started dropping but it would meet many obstacles on its way and not least of these, changing the attitude of the forest manager. Beyond the boundaries of the first FSC certified forest, other foresters were looking on with great skepticism. But, the light grew brighter and doing the right thing became ever more obvious. Incredulity and skepticism was replaced by a need to be part of the journey and others quickly followed. Very similar to our journey as a country re-uniting as a rainbow nation under Nelson Mandela’s leadership as the nation embraced democracy and change with new structures and systems put in place.

We moved from a situation of forest managers that were unconsciously non-compliant into a phase of consciously non-compliant and then finally to simply being unconsciously compliant. It’s the right thing to do and we do it without a second thought. FSC had shifted the paradigm and nothing will be the same again. Forest certification is no longer a thing we were forced to do. It simply became the attestation of responsible forest management.

Plantations were removed from river buffer zones where they caused undue damage to the environmental values of the landscape and the people that rely on those values such as having sufficient clean water. Harvesting systems were redesigned to ensure that the potentially significant impacts caused to soil, water, and biodiversity could be avoided or mitigated. Workers knew that their rights were enshrined in the FSC system. They had a new voice. Communities too found a new voice. FSC provides them with the opportunity to be directly consulted in all things forest management and where this impacted on them in a negative manner, change was necessary. In the same way, our new Constitution and new legislation in South Africa guaranteed inalienable rights to all and mechanisms to address past and present injustices.

And with that, South Africa forestry became an industry, self-regulated in all things social and environmental, and the financial bottom lines were smiling. And thus, they remain.

We remember how South Africa became a nation united under one of the most inspirational leaders of the 20th Century and an icon of democracy and social justice, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. On this Nelson Mandela Day, we remember the values this great Statesman and humble servant of the people taught us and how he guided this country through its darkest hours. This reminds us that there is hope in humanity and that as a nation we will prevail through the dark hours we face now as we see how our nation starts the rebuilding process after the unrest we have experienced over the last few days. Building a better future for all our people.

Viva Nelson Mandela! Viva South Africa! Viva Mzansi! Viva FSC! Viva!