By Sheila Berry
On Saturday, 1 December 2018, a ceremony was held at St Mark’s Church, Karkloof, in memory of the legendary conservationist, Dr Ian Player, who passed away four years ago on 30 November 2014. His name is inextricably linked with the saving of the White Rhino from extinction and the establishment of Wilderness areas in iMfolozi and iSimangaliso. Amongst a long list of extraordinary and diverse achievements, Dr Player is remembered as the founder of the Duzi Canoe Marathon and of the Phuzamoya Dream Centre, a monthly event that has been running for 9 years and meets once a month.
The Global Environmental Trust pays special tribute to Ian who inspired the Save Our Wilderness campaign. He was a vehement and outspoken opponent to the coal mining operations that are encroaching on the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park (HiP) and posing serious threats to this important, priceless and irreplaceable legacy. This conservation gem has the largest concentration of rhino in the world and is one of South Africa’s major tourist attractions.
Saturday was a gently overcast afternoon that suited the mood of the event at St Mark’s, a small Norman-style church, near Phuzamoya farm, the home of the Players, where Ian’s widow, Ann, still lives. Ian is buried in the peaceful graveyard attached to St Mark’s, where a small, intimate group gathered to share memories of Ian, together with reflections, dreams, poetry, prose, and song – anything that people felt moved to contribute. Those who were unable to attend sent messages or links to share. Tributes received from the UK, Australia and USA and were also read out.
Ian had enormous respect and admiration for the Zulu people and their culture. He is buried in a traditional Zulu grave that was dug for him by Sandile Masondo, a young man from Howick who greatly admired Ian Player. The ground was hard and dry and the deep grave required many hours of intense physical labour. Sandile welcomed the privilege of being able to shed tears of sweat to express his grief at Ian’s passing.
The gathering was an enriching time that served as a reminder of the value and importance of ceremonies to mark significant events. They provide opportunities to reflect, remember and emerge with gratitude.
It was not possible to pay tribute to Ian Player without mentioning his close Zulu friend and mentor, Magqubu Ntombela, who came from the Somkhele community neighbouring HiP, the community devastated by the ever-expanding Tendele open-cast mine. Through the Mfolozi Community Environmental Justice Organisation (MCEJO), the community’s lawyer, Kirsten Youens, recently applied to the High Court in Pretoria for a review of the 30 year 222km2 mining right approved by minister Gwede Mantashe on 15 June this year. It is unimaginable to think of a noisy, polluting open-cast coal mine operating until 2046 on the boundary of the Park, affecting the wildlife and displacing and destroying the lives and livelihoods of thousands of rural farmers. Does this possibility also disturb the well-earned, peaceful sleep of Ian Player who was laid to rest at the age of 87 years, having lived a life dedicated to safe-guarding sacred natural places and precious species to ensure that future generations inherit a healthy, diverse and vibrant world?