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Deputy Minister Makhotso Sotyu's speech to Working on Fire Programme graduates

Kishugu Training Academy, Nelspruit, Mpualanga Province. 27 February 2020

Programme Director,
The Kishugu Training Academy Management
DEFF Top Management and Officials All Students and Graduates
Distinguished Guests,

Good morning,

It is indeed an honour to be here today to witness the graduation ceremony of our recruits to the Forestry Support programme, which Working on Fire has organized at very short notice. This is a very important initiative designed to address the critical needs in the forest areas which fall under the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries.

Without interventions like the Forestry Support programme, our department and government face a very real threat of unwanted wild land fires destroying our property and spreading destruction to neighbouring land, including communities who live in these areas.

Moreover, there has been extensive damage to infrastructure as a result of vandalism in these forests. It is really sad and regrettable that we now need to also counter these destructive tendencies among some in our communities, by physically occupying and looking over our infrastructure in our forests. These are some of the challenges we face as these forests are transferred back to DEFF from those who operated them over the recent past.

However, today we are here to recognize and celebrate your graduation from the Training Academy as fire-fighters and forestry workers. That in itself is no small achievement. The training you have received here at the academy has prepared you to perform much-valued services in your community, be it fire-fighting or more general forest management.

This first intake has seen 120 youth from our impoverished, rural and semi- rural environments trained with new skills, and now ready to become productive members of our society.

We welcome 15 new Working on Fire Fire-fighters among the graduates. I am pleased to hear that of the 105 Forestry Project graduates, 61 were able to reach the fitness standards of Working on Fire Fire-fighters and will also be trained in advanced fire-fighting.

The remaining 44 completed training in basic fire-fighting and will play an important role in the fuel load reduction and invasive plant control in our forests.

I am pleased to note that 32 of the graduates are women – although I must encourage Working on Fire to increase their efforts in recruiting women, so that we at least meet the current Working on Fire level of 30% females in its ranks.

We all know the stark reality of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, in our society today. I appeal to our graduates that you embrace this opportunity and employ your newly acquired skills when you get back to your bases. As with all skills you learn, you can only claim to have the skill once you have employed it and become better for applying your knowledge and training.

You have a particularly  fortunate  opportunity  that you will not only be receiving some relief from the acute pressure of unemployment, but your activities represent an important contribution to protecting our environment and protecting our communities.

The reality of climate change means that your efforts will also help us to deal with the impact of this global trend, as we are destined to experience more and more extreme weather and disaster wild land fires.

The government’s Expanded Public Works Programmes, which funds this initiative, provides a foot in the employment door. One has the dignity and discipline of work, and work that is highly valued by the communities and others whose lives and livelihoods are safeguarded by your work.

There is real honour in doing this work, as can be seen by the pride and appearance of the Fire-fighters whom you have seen around you, and those whom Working on Fire has sent down to the plantations as an immediate capacity.

Enjoy what you are about to do, and take every opportunity to learn and grow. This is not your final destination, but a stage on your life’s journey of learning, growing and progressing.

Embrace it, and other doors may open over time.  Many former Working on Fire Fire-fighters now serve in the Fire Brigade services in local authorities, the South African Police Services, South African National Defence Force, conservation agencies, municipalities, airports, and the private sector and also as entrepreneurs running their own businesses. The Working on Fire programme was their stepping stone, and through excelling during their time in the programme, they have opened up more opportunities for themselves.

I would like to express my appreciation of the efforts of the management in the Environmental Programmes Branch of the Department, the Forestry Branch of the Department, the Training Academy and the Working on Fire programme in responding rapidly to the need of the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries in managing the forests, which returned to department’s control.

I also specifically wish to thank the management and personnel of the Training Academy who provided the instruction to this group of graduates. To the graduates, I say well done and my best wishes to you in your future.

I thank you all.


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