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Project information

Save the Nzhelele River (South Africa)

We want to help Vhavenda communities along the Nzhelele River in Limpopo, northern South Africa, to protect and revive their river, for drinking water, food crops, and the sacred forest of Venda. A lively campaign, led by the local women and schoolchildren, will breathe life into the Nzhelele River.

January 2013 - December 2014

Charity information: The Gaia Foundation

The Gaia Foundation logo
  • Need


    The Nzhelele River is dying because of climate change, pollution, overuse and misuse by commercial plantations and local farmers planting and grazing their animals too close to the riverbanks. And now coal mining threatens to drain this water stressed region and leave the people with nothing. The local communities need to wake up quickly to the threats they face and develop their own solutions, or the Nzhelele River will be no more.


    Local Vhavenda women will head a campaign, hold community meetings, talk with the farmers, and teach the schoolchildren about the value of the river so they realise what they are at risk of losing. They will be supported by a local organisation, The Mupo Foundation, to plant trees and revert to ecological farming methods. The campaign will also be aimed at stopping the coal mining from draining the Nzhelele river basin

  • Aims

    Aim 1

    Raise awareness of the threats to the river and what people will lose.


    » Community meetings bringing together men, women and youth and talks on the local radio.
    » Mapping the, in a dynamic way, to see how it used to be and what has already been lost.
    » Help the people develop solutions that they can carry out as a community.

    What success will look like

    Success will be increased awareness of the threats the river and commitment by the communities to find and work on solutions.

    Aim 2

    Build the skills and confidence to save the river.


    » Bringing together the local "elders" to share their knowledge on how the river used to be looked after.
    » Training on setting up tree nurseries, water harvesting and ecologically friendly farming.
    » Tree planting along the river banks and degraded areas.

    What success will look like

    Success will be the number of small community-initiated projects taking place (e.g. trees planted, farmers changing their methods).

    Aim 3

    Activate resistance to the coal mining


    » Support the local organisation to mobilise the communities around this campaign.
    » Public meetings, local radio talks, posters- about the impact of coal mining on the river.

    What success will look like

    Success will be a visible community campaign that stands up to the threat of coal mining in the area.

  • Impact


    The project will mobilise Vhavenda communities along the river to breathe life back into the Nzhelele: local farmers will stop polluting with chemical fertilisers, animal grazing will move to allow river reed beds to re-grow, trees will improve local ecosystem. This will help to ensure drinking water, food crops, and provide a firmer footing to challenge other threats to the Nzhelele and not give up water rights to mining companies.


    The risks are from unpredictable and corrupt local and regional governance systems, both traditional and formal. However, this campaign is led by local women and schools and there is already growing concern being voiced about water shortages and the health of the Nzhelele River.


    We communicate with donors through regular updates on our website, short videos, Twitter and Facebook.

  • Budget

    Budget - Project Cost: £20,190

    Loading graph....
      Amount Heading Description
      £6,625 Local NGO staff salaries Local team working in Venda for 1 year facilitating community meetings, workshops and campaigning
      £3,655 Community meetings, dialogues To raise awareness, enable communities to come up with common solutions,share learning and mobilise
      £4,950 Workshop Training workshop to revive traditional knowledge on how to initiate and sustain river regeneration
      £3,104 Community-led activities Community initiatives: tree nurseries, seed bank, water harvesting and campaigns to save the river
      £1,856 10% Overheads Rent, utility bills, phone calls
  • Background


    The Nzhelele river valley is the place where the Vhavenda people originally settled and is their cultural heartland. It is also one of the poorest parts of South Africa- overpopulated, very dry, 60% of the population is experiencing food insecurity, 64% youth unemployment. The river supports the livelihoods of the families that farm on its banks and the communities who draw drinking water not to mention the sacred forests, the wildlife, the medicinal plants.


    The project will benefit the Vhavenda people in Vhembe District, Limpopo Province, South Africa. These are one of South Africa’s last remaining traditional indigenous communities, known as the ‘rainmakers’. Immediate beneficiaries of the project will be the 14 communities living along the Nzhelele River.

  • Why Us?

    Why Us?

    The Gaia Foundation has over 25 years of experience working for ecological, social and economic justice with local organisations around the world. We have a solid track record of enabling community movements to grow, using small grants to enable those most affected to take initiative and respond. We have been supporting The Mupo Foundation’ s Venda programme since 2007.

    Read more about the Charity running this project.


    Mphatheleni Makaulule

    Mphatheleni, daughter of a Vhavenda healer, is the dynamic programme coordinator for The Mupo Foundation who will oversee this project.

    Dzomo La Mupo

    A group of community members and sacred sites custodians who work to defend their rights as well as reviving traditional values.

Communities using the river for water

Communities using the river for water

This water supplies many villages. If they take this water we will suffer. We use this water for food gardens,to wash,to cook,to drink,for everything.

Mphatheleni Makaulule (A Venda community leader)