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Our History

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WESSA, one of South Africa's oldest and largest independent non-government environmental organisations.

Our many achievements over the years have been well documented: 

The book "The Conservationists and the Killers”, first published in 1982, covers WESSA’s history for the period 1926 to 1980. A special "Diamond Jubilee” issue of WESSA’s then magazine, African Wildlife, was published in 1986. To mark WESSA’s 85th birthday in 2011, "A celebration of 85 years of Caring for the Earth", was compiled, and a new publication celebrating WESSA's 90th birthday was 
produced in September 2016.


Read more about WESSA's 90th birthday here


A snapshot of WESSA successes throughout its history

1920s to1970s    1980s to 1990s    The new millennium

Highlights from WESSA’s activities in the early years

  • 1926:  WESSA successfully campaigned for the establishment of the National Parks Board, and the proclamation of the Kruger National Park.
  • 1929:  WESSA campaigned for the protection of the entire Cape Peninsula mountain chain.
  • 1931:  WESSA successfully campaigned for the establishment of the Addo Elephant Park, and was actively involved in the campaign to enlarge the Park until 2002.
  • 1937:  The Mountain Zebra Park was established after 8 years of petitioning by WESSA.
  • 1946:  The first issue of African Wildlife magazine was produced, which remained in continuous production for 63 years until 2009 when the organisation joined forces with other conservation organisations to produce Environment magazine.
  • 1948:   WESSA was a founder member of the IUCN (the International Union for the Conservation of Nature), one of only two founder members from Africa.
  • 1964 – 68:   WESSA successfully campaigned to save Mkuze Game Reserve from de-proclamation.
  • WESSA successfully campaigned again, this time to halt the proposed mining of coking coal in the Kruger National Park.
  • 1968:   WESSA started one of the first environmental education projects in South Africa.  It now has many such projects throughout the country, and is acknowledged as one of the leaders, both in South Africa, and in the world, in this field.  This was also the first year that WESSA employed staff.
  • 1972:  The first conservation magazine for young people, Toktokkie, later re-named EnviroKids, was established by WESSA and it has been in continuous production for over 40 years.
  • 1972:  WESSA successfully campaigned to have the Eastern Shores of Lake St Lucia included in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park (now iSimangaliso and a world heritage site).
  • WESSA surveyed the Transkei coast in the late ‘70s, and made recommendations for its conservation, and also pioneered the first public hiking trails along this section of our coast.

Significant achievements during the 1980s and 1990s

  • In 1980 WESSA produced the first Environmental Conservation Strategy for South Africa (the first NGO in the world to do so).
  • WESSA successfully campaigned against the mining of the Eastern Shores of St Lucia and to save the Mapelane Dune Forest from destruction by mining.
  • WESSA established the Wildlife Clubs scheme (mainly for school groups) with some 350 Clubs country-wide.  This was superseded by our Eco-Schools project, now with over 1,000 participating schools.
  • The organisation pioneered and promoted the very successful Metropolitan Open Space Systems (MOSS) in most large urban areas of South Africa.
  • WESSA pioneered the successful “Friends Scheme” whereby volunteer groups conserve local areas.
  • WESSA played a key role in the establishing of the first “Conservancy” in the KwaZulu-Natal midlands.
  • WESSA initiated the “People and Parks” process in KwaZulu-Natal - one of the first initiatives to bring conservation authorities and their neighbours together to discuss their common futures.
  • Over the decade WESSA campaigned for the establishment of many lesser, though important, nature reserves, examples of which include; the Beachwood Mangroves, Amatikulu Nature Reserve, the Ben Lavin Nature Reserve, and the Umgeni Valley Nature Reserve.
  • WESSA established the Drakensberg Wetland Project in 1995, and then took over the running of the world-famous Twinstreams project in 1996, from Dr Ian Garland.
  • The organisation was instrumental in bringing about a meeting (in 1996) of all of the Wildlife Societies of southern and eastern Africa, the result of which was the formation of the Alliance of Wildlife Societies of Africa.
  • Many books and field guides were produced by the organisation, as well as its well-known Share-Net series of booklets – many of which have been the first introduction of many school children, particularly those from under-privileged areas, to the exciting world of science.
  • 1997:  WESSA’s National Office, at Howick in KwaZulu-Natal, was selected from the 14 member States of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) for the establishment of a regional SADC office to promote environmental education throughout the region.
  • WESSA manages the National Wetlands Project, a collaborative initiative which has been in existence since 1991.
  • The organisation has been actively involved in developments with respect to national parks and was one of the original campaigners for the development of the Addo Elephant Park.
  • WESSA was actively involved in numerous community-based projects: The developments at the NgoyeForest (KwaZulu-Natal), the Utshwayelo community campsite at Kosi Bay, the Vosloorus and Khutsong education programmes (Gauteng), the education programme at the Tsoga Centre in Langa (Cape Town), and the community greening programmes in the Eastern Cape and Northern Cape regions.

Notable achievements in the new millennium

  • 2001:   South Africa (through WESSA) became the first country outside of Europe to run the Blue Flag program
  • 2003:  Eco-Schools were initiated in South Africa, with as WESSA is the implementing agent, and there are over 1,000 registered schools on the programme across the country.
  • 2007:  The United Nations University (based in Japan) awarded WESSA Regional Centre of Expertise status as part of a consortium of partners.
  • 2009:   WESSA started the ‘Stop the Spread’ campaign encouraging the public to get to grips with the threat of alien invasive plants and animals
  • 2010:   WESSA played a significant role in the establishment of the Centre for Environmental Rights and is a founder member.
  • 2011:  WESSA was appointment as an Institute of Sectoral or Occupational Excellence by the Local Government Skills Education Training Authority, giving WESSA the opportunity to work with government and municipal officials on conservation issues and to make a significant impact by focusing education and training on the importance of our water resources.
  • 2012:  WESSA was the preferred environmental NGO to co-host, with the American based Wildlife Society, the IV International Wildlife Management Congress held in Durban.
  • 2012:  WESSA became a significant partner in the SANBI Groen Sebenza Jobs Fund Programme, on a major skills development and job creation pilot programme aimed at developing priority skills in the biodiversity sector to create sustainable job opportunities for 800 unemployed graduates and matriculants.
  • 2013:  WESSA, with funds received from the National Department of Environmental Affairs, launched the Western Cape Youth Environmental Services Training Programme, a three year programe offering 300 underpriviledged youths exposure to accredited and non-accredited training interventions, a structured mentorship programme, and an opportunity to gather practical experience in the environmental sector.
  • 2014:  The SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme implemented by WESSA,was selected by UNESCO, at the Japan World Summit, as one of the five most significant Sustainable Development projects in Africa.
  • 2015:  WESSA's Eco‐Schools Water Project in partnership with the Department of Water and Sanitation won the ‘Water for Life' United Nations Water Best Practices Award.
  • The WESSA Eskom Energy & Sustainability (E&S) Programme has won the eta award in the Young Designers category every year since 2003 and in recent years we have also won in the Community category. 
  • 2016: WESSA celebrated its 90th birthday
  • 2016: WESSA hosted the international Foundation for Environmental Education’s Eco-Schools operators meeting in Johannesburg, attended by more than 85 delegates from over 50 countries around the world