The water catchment importance of the KwaZulu Natal Drakensberg was recognised by the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in the mid-1900s and who took ownership of what is today the uKhahlamba Drakensberg Park World Heritage Site, and declared the area as a Water Catchment Area. A portion of the Drakensberg between the Royal Natal National Park and the Cathedral Peak Section of the World Heritage Site was not included in the Water Catchment Area and/or the World Heritage Site, as it was and still is under communal land tenure and the leadership of Traditional Authorities and the Ingonyama Trust Board. The latter are the AmaNgwane and AmaZizi Traditional Authorities who today are supportive of the notion of having the upper portions of these two areas formally proclaimed as nature reserves and managed as Community Conservation Areas.
Despite the fact that these two Traditional Authority areas were excluded from the Water Catchment and World Heritage areas, they have enjoyed a long history of attention from a wide variety of conservation minded individuals and organisations, which continues today. Through these efforts much awareness has been generated within the communities of these two Traditional Authority areas as to the value of the natural and cultural resources of the Upper uThukela. These efforts continue today with millions of Rands being invested in the eradication of alien invasive plants, the reclamation of erosion gullies, the monitoring of rock art sites and the delineation of wilderness areas.
In recognition of this effort as well as the positive alignment of the Traditional Authorities to this work, the KwaZulu Natal Biodiversity Stewardship Programme recommended that the process of entering into Stewardship Agreements be used as a mechanism to secure formal proclamation for the Upper uThukela. The delineation of a "wilderness buffer boundary" by the Wilderness Groups in the Upper uThukela was a catalyst in this process, as it provided a definite geographical entity with which the Stewardship Agreement process could begin working.
Through Climate Action partnership (CAP), in April 2010 a Stewardship Facilitator was posted in the area and relevant stakeholders were engaged with the idea of adopting the Stewardship Agreement process. However, a stake holders meeting (which known as Synergy meeting) was established where technical issues are discussed and it seats in every three months. The aim of establishing this forum was to avoid duplication. This synergy is made up of different organisations that work in Upper Thukela which have similar objectives or vision. These organisations are as follows:
- African Conservation Trust
- Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife
- Working for Water
- Maloti Drakensberg Transfrontier Project(MDTP)
- South African National Biodiversity Institute(SANBI)
- Department of Grassland Science (from UKZN)
- INR-Afromaison Project, and
- Wildlands Conservation Trust.
Furthermore, having obtained acceptance from the two Traditional Authorities the Biodiversity Assessment phase was undertaken and was completed in December 2010, and the very positive outcome was obtained from the Stewardship Review Panel in January 2011, i.e. a score of 18.3/20 and the recommendation for the proclamation of a nature reserve (a copy of the assessment can be obtained from Mxolisi Fulumente or Kevin McCann). This positive outcome served to further motivate the Traditional Authorities to continue with the process and the management planning process was initiated at the end of January 2011.
Numerous Workshops were held with the two Traditional Authorities and other role players and stakeholders through the months in which consensuses were reached on various issues and the management planning framework was completed (A copy of the document that was produced as a result of this process can be obtained from Mxolisi Fulumente). This included a vision statement, a list of management objectives and related operational goals. Task teams were then set up to put the detailed action plans together and to complete the process.
In July 2011 the CAP funding got finished and CEPF funding which was obtained from Wildlands Conservation Trust took over as from August 2011 to the present in order to finalise the proclamation of Upper Thukela as Nature Reserve(s).
Although a goal of proclaiming the two areas as Nature Reserves has not been achieved, through this CEPF funding which was/is implemented by Wilderness Action Group (WAG) but it could be highlighted that some activities had happened for example Ingonyama Trust meetings, Cross visit to Umgano Project, Payment for Ecosystem services workshop, meeting with the traditional authorities, and sending a letter to the Okhahlamba Local Municipality.