By Sheila Berry
The news that Tim Condon passed away yesterday, in Canada, brought a great sense of loss and a wave of sadness that South Africa, particularly Zululand, has been robbed of such a stalwart champion of the environment and a relentless campaigner for conservation.
It was with a heavy heart that I woke this morning with the sad knowledge that there would not be one of his newsletters or an encouraging email in support of the Save Our iMfolozi Wilderness campaign. One of the rich blessings of spearheading this campaign, and there are surprisingly many, is to count Tim Condon as a friend who was always there when I turned to him for help. I could almost guarantee that a response from Tim to an urgent request to assist SOiW would be waiting in my Inbox early the next morning. His last precious gift to assist me in my hour of need arrived last Friday, just three days before he died.
It has been enormously reassuring to have Tim on our side. It was like having a busy newsroom working industriously throughout the night while one was asleep. A bit like the story of the poor overwhelmed shoemaker and his wife who woke one morning to find the big pile of broken shoes repaired and beautiful new shoes made! Eventually they discovered a team of elves were working joyfully throughout the night to assist the shoemaker while he and his family slept. This was Tim – a team of elves!!
I have no doubt he would strongly object to this comparison. There was nothing elfin or secretive about him. He was a big strong courageous man who was prepared to come out fighting. Even if he sometimes got things wrong, I deeply respect and appreciate him for speaking out and naming and shaming when things were wrong. His output was formidable. He worked tirelessly for the cause despite heart surgery and the spectre of another heart attack constantly at the door. Here was a man who was definitely going to go down fighting. I salute him for this and I am extremely grateful to Val for her support and generosity in sharing him with so many people. Also, to his understanding family who knew where Tim’s passion lay and did not try to stop him but would lure him away to beautiful places for brief periods to recuperate and get some much-needed rest.
I remember Val and Tim and their family from their Durban North days. Their spacious home was always busy and welcoming. In the 1990s, before emigrating to Canada, Tim brought a team of scuba divers to Bazaruto island, Mozambique, where I was working with Paul Dutton on a conservation project. Tim’s knowledge of the teeming variety of life on tropical reefs was impressive and extensive. Many an “expert” would consult with Tim when a “new kid” on the coral was spotted. What I noticed and appreciated about Tim even in those days was his passion for sharing what was available to him and what he knew. There was none of the one-upmanship that so often accompanies an expert or specialist. With Tim it was sheer enthusiasm and delighted amazement to be able to identify and name a new creature spotted on a reef. He was not interested in the laurels but in the health of the coral reefs. A new species was another nugget of gold indicating growing diversity on a coral reef – be its foundation originally God or man-made.
Tim, you will be sorely missed. Your passing leaves a void bigger than the black holes of the Somkhele and Fuleni mines but, unlike the devastation a coal mine leaves behind, you have planted many many seeds and rich things are sure to grow and, with the passage of time, undoubtedly this painful landscape will heal and be transformed into something as beautiful as the Zululand grasslands and bushveld you did more than your share to protect and conserve. We owe you a huge debt of gratitude for all you have done to support conservation in SA – all the way from Canada. You are a true man of Africa and of Zululand. I carry your courage in my heart and will think of you whenever I share your delight in the little signs that indicate not all is lost. Hamba kahle formidable friend.