KA: I know you were in Paris this year at the Environmental Summit. What is your title at WWF and please tell us what you exactly do?
KM: I am the manager of the Table Mountain Fund. It is a conservation fund, which is solely aimed at conserving the fynbos. My office is in Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens and gaze up onto this majestic mountain with its waterfalls, sugar birds and aromatic herbs all day long! I strongly believe my location of work helps keep me calm, focused and dedicated.
KM: Hmmm, many answers here. First was, after the first year of my Bachelors in Science, my highest grade was ecology! Secondly, after developing endless crushes as a teenager on very knowledgeable game rangers in khakis. Lastly, our family took annual trips to the bushveld when I was growing up and as a result, from a young age I associated the bushveld with excitement, family connection, laughter, awareness and relaxation. It seemed the logical next step would be to become a profession in the field.
With that said, I would never say that I am driven by passion. Passion would have taken me into dancing. I think I am in this field, because I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge, although my poor memory permits me from retaining any of that knowledge! I have a deep desire to “do what’s right”, and for me, conservation and general environmental awareness is morally right.
KA: What was it like growing up in South Africa and how has it changed over the past 22 years?
KM: I was very blessed as a child to have been sent to what was then considered a mixed race school. The school was a thirty-minute drive away from where we lived, but my parents didn’t mind, because they felt that it was necessary for their children to be exposed to a wider demographic. During that time, black or biracial children were not allowed in public swimming pools, so my mom taxied the children to our home and provided swimming lessons to the entire school of 200 children in our 8 meter long swimming pool.
We also had a live-in nanny growing up. This was the norm in South Africa and remains prevalent, but our nanny Aggie lived on the premises with her husband, which was unheard of back in the early 80s. I don't think Aggie even had fixed working hours. She was literally always there, like a second mom. In 2013, after 40 years of being with us, Aggie was diagnosed with a fatal condition, so my mom and dad moved her into our guest room and took care of her. Sadly, we only had three weeks to comfort Aggie.
I am a privileged white South African and it is hard to be proud of that. Even though I was only 11 when apartheid was abolished, I still know I played my part in aiding an injustice society. 22 years later and it remains a daily struggle to be mindful of the discriminatory thoughts which may have survived through the decades.
With that said though, in many instances I feel that South African is far more advanced than many other nations. I have visited a fair amount of Europe, India, USA, Australia, etc., and their acceptance of racial difference still has a long way to go.
KA: What sort of frustrations do you have in SA trying to preserve the environment and how do you get beyond that?
KM: We suffer from severe unemployment and poverty. Although we have advanced environmental laws restricting the types of activities, which may take place in sensitive biodiversity, the reality is that decision-making often has to go in favor of the people and economy, rather than the biodiversity. We are however slowing compensating for this inevitable loss through development, by proactively protecting conservation-worthy lands. Especially through a mechanism known as Biodiversity stewardship, where altruistic private landowners are willing to declare their own lands as “protected areas” for the sake of conservation. This mechanism however still requires huge financial investment from the supporting NGO or state organization but is believed to be the future for conservation in South Africa.
KA: What are the pro's and cons to raising children in South Africa?:
KM: We live in the city, so I can only speak for urban life. The strict labor laws in this country provide for a work/life balance. My husband and I are home by 5 o’clock and the sun is still high in the sky. The family cycles along a mountain track or hikes Table Mountain or just a splash in the icy waters of Camps Bay Beach, before heading home around 6:30 pm for dinner, bath and bedtime stories. Holidays are always dedicated to the outdoors. Two weeks each December is spent on a warm Indian Ocean beach and two weeks each winter holiday is spent in the bushveld at the family home in The Greater Kruger Area. The South African lifestyle is ideal. It’s wholesome, organic and real.
KA: What advice do you have for mothers who want to do their part for the environment?
KM: Now when converting to ‘environmentalism’ I suggest doing it slowly. If you are too heavy on yourself, then you will crash and burn literally turning to retail therapy within a week. Simply defeating the entire purpose of this pilgrimage. Introduce gradual changes in your life that first simply heighten your awareness. And once you are comfortable with looking yourself in the mirror and acknowledging your excessive impact on this planet, only then do you start tackling your modcons (which you no doubt still define as necessities).
- Minimise packaging on kids snacks: Buy large yogurt tubs and a decanter each day into your own containers rather than packing in a disposable brightly coloured, character-clad plastic vessel. ABSOLUTELY NO individual juice boxes – not even healthy coconut water for little Sadie. If you are lucky enough to have potable water pouring from your household taps then please stop buying bottled water. Bottled water is so 90s. And individually packaged dried fruit or nuts is not only choking our environment, but also making a mockery of your intelligence! Once you have mastered this you can go forth in changing school policy accordingly.
- Seasonal fruit and vegetables are sexy: Do you remember a time when you ate peaches until your tummy ached? Or slammed on brakes on your road trip to buy punnets of cheap avocados? There is something so romantic about indulging in local, and seasonal fresh produce and arranging your diet around that. Nowadays we are able to lay our hands on any fruit or vegetables at any time in the year and this comes at an extreme cost to the environment. My challenge to you is to be the home that serves a leafy green salad WITHOUT avocadoes that have been flown in from the neighbouring hemisphere (be brave). And serve strawberries to three dinner parties in a row!
- Public transport, lift clubs and cycling: Now again. Go easy on yourself here. Do not turn your world upside down if you are not ready for it. The first step in this direction should really be a small step - only slightly inconveniencing yourself each time. Try it once a week initially. Arrange for your child to be collected by other parents even when you are actually able to collect. Cycle or walk to the store for that milk even though driving would save you ten minutes. Quite often, it is only the initial change which shakes us up, but once we know the bus route and times, it actually becomes the preferred mode of transport. And please note that an individual taxi cab or Uber does not count as public transport!
KM: My advice - choose wisely! Sorry, but this is definitely not my area of expertise. We are happy, but I am not entirely sure why. All I know is that if you want to be a working mom (most relevant to full-time work) then your husband needs to be as hands on as you. And invest in friendships that can support your marriage and parenthood.
KA: As a fellow working mother, how do you overcome the feeling of guilt from being away from your children?
KM: When Benjamin was two weeks old I already wanted to start doing a few hours of work a day. On a Monday morning, when Euginia (their nanny) arrives, I skip out of the house to go to work. I need to stay sane and time away from my kids is how I do this. And contributing to something larger than my family and home is another way I feel valued and powerful.
What did however become apparent to me at the very same moment I became a mom is that a job with inflexible work hours would be close to impossible for me - hence my shift to WWF. I now make most of my kids school events, and spend some time with them if they are sick or just a little emotional. They really are my priority and I have an employer who respects that. I also have a close group of mum-friends. I can easily pick up a phone and ask one of them to please be there for my kids. These are the friendships I spoke about that are worth investing in when you become a parent.
KA: How do you define your style?
KM: Being a conservationist, I really do not own a single suit. I wear one pair of heels, but they are gorgeous flesh color heels which go with everything! My lifestyle dictates my dress style, and I need to be flexible to play, act and dance with my kids, and the bush. My defining “Piece” is my messy bun high on top of my head!
KA: If you had a super power what would it be?
KM: I do have a super power. I work full time, have two incredibly happy and well adjusted children, manage a home, stay relatively healthy and fit, and still call my husband my best friend. I think we call that power ''women".
KA: Favorite travel destination: Bushveld!!!! (pronounced Bushfelt) More specifically our holiday home, Pamuzinda. It is an absolute treat, my husband Johan and I fly up to the Sabie Sands for a three night getaway in a luxury game lodge. Ultimate!
KA: Favorite cocktail/alcoholic beverage:
KM: Fynbos-infused gin and tonic. We have a few of these different Fynbos-infused drinks now in SA and I cannot get enough of them. Current favorite is Wilderer gin.
KA: Do you have a favorite recipe that you can share with us - weekly family meal favorite?
KM: Sorry - there are limits to my super power.