The project was initially developed in response to the floods of 1996, which were caused by the thick invasive alien vegetation which had built up and blocked the Crocodile River, which flooded when water was discharged from the Hartebeespoort Dam, and the Department commenced a clearing campaign in a section of the river downstream of the Hartebeespoort Dam, something that obviously required extensive labour.
Thus began a nation wide programme of clearing water catchment areas of invasive water-hungry alien plants so as to improve water quality and supply. Between 1998 and 1999, the Working for Water project cleared 107 565 invaded hectares, with 128 648 follow-up clearing, spending 96% of the department's R261 million budget. The Programme's pace and success had continued from there.
The economic spin-offs from the clearing activities, intended and unintended, have been manifold and far-reaching. The most obvious of these is the large scale employment created on the clearing projects. Those employed have developed skilled and expertise, and have established small businesses which can tender for work to clear land for local landowners. Further employment has been created in the maintenance of fire-breaks which are required by law as well as in building corridors for power-lines and railways.
Following clearing projects, the areas which have been purged of the aliens which had robbed the land of good water supply, can now be irrigated and cultivated, creating permanent employment in agricultural enterprises. In addition, the indigenous plants that grow back following the removal of aliens have proved economically viable for small-scale farmers - most notably the cut-flower industry, the production of rooibos, honeybush tea and buchu. These activities go a long way in protecting and promoting the valuable eco-tourism market in South Africa.
The alien plants themselves have produced substantial income. The cleared timber is often channeled into roadside sales of firewood, or is redeveloped by small businesses into building materials such as poles, planks, beams, trusses for roof construction. More creatively, the timber has been transformed into educational toys, providing resources for creches and schools in disadvantaged communities. There are also projects which manufacture furniture from the wood, and others which concentrate on the process of converting the wood into charcoal and eco-bricks.
"This project has a global approach to the management of natural water resources; it has over 300 difference projects spread across the country addressing a range of problems " Dr Ewa Cukrowska, Impumelelo Project Evaluator.