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Change the world


Gary Koekemoer is a finalist in The Herald Citizens of the Year Awards in partnership with Nelson Mandela University.

It takes a good look in the mirror and making incremental changes to make a difference in the world.

This is the view of Wildlife and Environment Society of SA (Wessa) Algoa Bay chair Gary Koekemoer, who is The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizens of The Year Award 2022 category winner for innovation in environment.

Koekemoer was nominated by Mervyn Brouard.

Brouard, also of Wessa, said the environmentalist deserved recognition for transforming environmental activism by drawing together and energising several different entities to jointly tackle the many critical concerns in Algoa Bay.

To leave a better world for future generations, Koekemoer believes those in the world today have to make choices that preserve the environment.

This is one of Koekemoer’s motivations for his environmental activism in Nelson Mandela Bay and the Eastern Cape.

Moreover, Koekemoer is driven by the love he has for the city, people and the wildlife that surrounds them.

“I think we have a fantastic city. We have five biomes and Cape Town has two.

“We have a fantastic resource of a bay that I swim in on a regular basis and I’ve dived and sailed in it.

“We have three or four whale species at a time in the bay. I love wildlife and I’m fascinated by people.

“I think we need to fix up how we relate to this world,” Koekemoer said.

Now well-known for his environmental activism, it is perhaps a collection of experiences and encounters that Koekemoer’s life journey has brought him that makes him so passionate about the environment and its future.

A conflict resolution specialist, Koekemoer was a part of the peace committee in Nelson Mandela Bay in the early and mid-1990s during SA’s tumultuous transition from an apartheid state to democracy.

The work was an introduction to activism for Koekemoer, who would later become an environmental activist.

When he completed his postgraduate studies in labour relations, he worked in human resources and travelled to various parts of Africa, the Middle East and Europe where he was exposed to different cultures and wildlife.

“From an early age, I’ve been exposed to the outdoors

— my parents had a farm in Zimbabwe and I spent a lot of time in the bush.

“My peace activism showed me the value of people working together,” he said.

Koekemoer said he was drawn into joining Wessa by former Algoa Bay branch chair Martheanne Finnemore, who was also his lecturer and an activist in the peace committee.

He joined Wessa about 10 years ago and later succeeded Finnemore as chair of the local branch.

Koekemoer was among the organisation’s instrumental voices in its antinuclear activism.

Last year, the organisation opposed Eskom’s bid to build a nuclear reactor at Thyspunt, warning that a plume from a nuclear accident could engulf towns in 15 minutes.

He was also among role players who co-ordinated a reaction to proposed fish farming in Algoa Bay, through Wessa and various environmental organisations.

Koekemoer also recently founded the Algoa Bay Ocean Stewards, a coalition of organisations, enterprises and individuals who share a common concern for rivers, oceans and beaches in Algoa Bay.

A modest Koekemoer said just being nominated for the award was both humbling and conflicting.

“It comes with a bunch of emotions.

“I’m incredibly humbled by the recognition but I’m also incredibly conflicted because it’s not just me.

“There’s a team of people who work with me and citizens who are active in this area but are invisible to the broader masses.

“I am also very chuffed at the recognition because I view it as a badge of honour for the work I have done,” he said.

The top 10 category winners will be celebrated at a formal black-tie gala awards ceremony at 6.30pm on September 9 at the Radisson Blu Hotel.

Corporate and single tickets are available for supporters who would like to join the celebratory event.

Contact Berna Ulay-Walters, The Herald marketing manager, to book your seat on:

ACTIVIST: Wildlife and Environment Society of SA Algoa Bay chair Gary Koekemoer is The Herald Nelson Mandela University Citizens of The Year Award category winner for innovation in environment. Picture: WERNER HILLS

This article appeared in The Herald (South Africa) on 3 August 2022 written by Zamandulo Malonde


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