What do sustainable livelihoods look like?  In the drama created by COVID-19 there is a tussle between saving lives and saving livelihoods. Many people across the world have got to the point where saving their livelihoods is how they save their lives. In panic mode they want to save all jobs and all businesses. Regardless of climate change. Despite COVID-19 disruptions to the way the world now functions. Regardless of these understandable desires, truly sustainable livelihoods in a climate change/COVID 19 world will require creativity that comes from deep self- introspection. And courage to walk between worlds diverse…

Millions of jobs have been shed and will continue to do so. Many businesses have closed down and will continue to do so. This is part and parcel of the takeover by the industrial twins: The Third Industrial Revolution and the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Lockdowns, intentionally or unintentionally, have brought the digital and communications sectors into the foreground as the primary sources of extreme transnational wealth. And ‘secure’ employment.

It is no exaggeration to say that virtual reality has shaken the foundations of life on earth, literally and metaphorically. In its most extreme forms of propaganda, some people are led to believe that without connection to the world wide web they are toast. They cannot pay their bills, they cannot access goods and services, they cannot farm… Education is dependent on it… Without it their health is at risk… COVID-19 has thus infiltrated not only human bodies, but captured the world’s imagination

Virtual reality has become the new heaven on earth. Source of the good life…I have resisted it, more or less. A time to pause, to mourn and to adjust, these last few months have thus been for me…

Hamba Kahle: Marian Laserson

Marian Laserson was a highly regarded local architect and environmentalist. Her detailed knowledge of the geology and natural ecosystems in Johannesburg made her the go-to expert on a sustainable city. Marian provided me with confirmation that working with the seasonal wetland that Orange Grove is built on is the best way to create a local environmentally healthy living space. 

My own enthusiasm for trees on pavements she tempered with a more realistic perspective. Pavements are for people to walk on safely, she reminded me. If a tree prevents this, then it was planted in the wrong place. And may need to be removed. So too if its roots block up or break vital infrastructure… Thus, I learnt that the purpose of every element in a city plan is best not taken for granted. So, while I was itching to plant a small tree on the narrow pavement outside my home, I refrained from doing so…

I became keenly aware of how ignorant I was, and remain, of many bylaws. And how crucial it is to grow more professionals with a keen sense of ethics and of civic duty.  I sensed that with Marian, professionalism meant being sensitive to all the elements that go into creating and maintaining a sustainable relationship between the built environment and the natural environment. In this regard, she also emphasized the duty we have towards future generations…

An engaging and generous teacher, from Marion I gained a global perspective on the Witwatersrand as a watershed. And then of specific interactions between water and the rock formations at particular points that makes Orange Grove a construction challenge. The detail of these I was only partially able to absorb.

I thus valued her expertise, her passion for doing things exceptionally well and her professional and personal integrity more than I would ordinarily have done. I am immensely grateful for Marion’s contribution to the well-being of our suburb and city. For me, her memory is most certainly for blessing.

Felled: Oaklands Heritage Tree

I also said goodbye to a tall, majestic heritage tree in Oaklands. Somewhat puzzled by his farewell to me, I did not realise that a week later he would be felled. Cut down to a stump. I had examined him for signs of disease and found what looked like the beginnings of PSHB, yet he had many years of life in him still. Compared to his neighbours, he was in great shape…

Why had he been cut down? My walking companion suggested that it might have been because his roots were blocking the storm water drain close by… Thinking of Marion I accepted this loss. That he had been forewarned, and accepting of his fate, reduced my grief for his end. I gave thanks too for the generation that planted these trees, turning a dusty mining town into an urban forest. This man-made forest has brought us shade. And rain. And timber. And parks.

And even The Wilds. New information boards had been installed which I found both informative and humbling – a reminder to look for silver linings wherever possible. In this case, it was seeing the joy on children’s faces playing between the metal-sculptured giraffe’s feet. People feel safe being there now and looking around I gained a deeper appreciation for James Delaney’s vision for this space. And for the contribution of the mining houses for the urban forest I love – I connected more deeply with the complexity of human beings, especially with our desire for self-expression. And how our desire for continuity and to make a living impacts on all of nature…

Tree Advocacy

I remembered too that what connected me to James Delaney was another tree. I remembered that I am a tree advocate. Not just a dreamer of forests preserving. It was in this reflective and inclusive mood that I revisited what was left of my arboreal friend. If it was to allow water to flow through the storm water drainage system, why had the stump of ‘my’ tree been left in place?

Wanting to get to the bottom of this I walked to the gate of the nearest house. The owner told me that she had called City Parks to remove it because it was dead and its branches kept on falling on her boundary wall… The tree wasn’t dead, I informed her. I inspected it before it was cut downShe insisted that the tree was dead. I left. For since when has clarity come from playing broken telephone?

I could have shown her dead trees in her suburb that should be removed. I could ask JUFA, which has been monitoring this type of illegal activity, to investigate it further. By law, this woman should be fined, for the tree could have been professionally pruned instead… And if City Parks was responsible for the felling, that too should be investigated…

Not everyone who has relatively healthy trees chopped down is a tree hater. The world of money often creates imbalances in our perceptions of value. As does the love of our impeccably ordered lifestyles. For this reason, ensuring that fines are issued and trees replaced is a practical way of correcting this perception. Tree fellers employed by City Parks facing the consequences of illegal decisions is another. Equally important is ongoing public education on the importance of slowing down the thinning of our urban canopy.

Saving Lives

COVID-19 and the seemingly dying planet also had me re-engage with my basic beliefs and assumptions. Is my worldview a source of strength for me? Do the details that give life to this worldview serve humanity? Do they serve creation as a whole, not just our species? And to what extent? What specific beliefs no longer serve me? And along with this, do I have the courage to let them go? How do I make the necessary changes, while remaining fully grounded?

The topic of death is a taboo in many of our cultures. Death as the result of negative karma, death as punishment for sin and death as a result of the evil eye, or witchcraft, does the rounds. These fuel diverse judgements. And fears. While death as foretold in prophecies, religious and scientific, feed insensitivity and callousness? And fatalisms?

I have not been impervious to these beliefs… Indeed, the opposite is true. It was therefore something I wanted to resolve within myself. I have done so to some degree; bodily death is part of the natural cycle of materiality and only G-d is the true judge… These are a psychological and theological help. Yet questions remain, for love of life demands more from me…

Saving Livelihoods

Who am I? Why am I on this planet at this point in time? What is my specific contribution to life? How do I manifest it? Living purposefully, meaningfully, requires that I transform my judgements into compassion. For myself. For other human beings. For life in its myriad forms. Including men who behave like ferocious animals? I know the answer is, ‘Yes’.

However, I am no longer convinced that neo-liberal humanism is the way in which to manifest compassion – its tendency to turn perpetrators into victims has become a stumbling block for me. As has turning a blind eye to crime on one’s doorstep… while calling it caring for the marginalized.

I am not convinced that saving jobs is where our focus should be. Some sectors of the economy have died and cannot be resurrected, no matter how many resources are poured into them. Others should be brought to an end, gently and with dignity, for they have served their purpose. We can, however, transform businesses by redirecting their assets, especially the knowledge that exists in these spaces, to create new eco-socially sustainable livelihoods.

What does it entail? I have a clear enough picture of it now to articulate it. Yet between knowing and doing there remains a gap. I can only bridge this by letting go of my semi-retired status, which I have so enjoyed… It also requires collaborating with others.

Re-designing futures

I learn by doing. And listening. And self-correcting. Entering the world of income production in ways that enhances my experience of being alive is important to me. Yet because I framed this desire in the context of ‘going into business’ I resisted it…I dislike the impact businesses have had on our built and natural environment. And on the quality of women’s lives. And on our politics. While simultaneously knowing that for many people, self-employment is the only option available in the connected world. Whether one is connected to virtual reality or not…

To overcome this ambivalence I have searched for a ‘business model’ that might work for me. I have dreamt it, played with it, called it the ‘forest model of eco-social this and that‘. It will take a little while to bring it to birth… First I have to release my distrust of business. The most practical way to do so, is to activate my own business. To do so under the guidance of people who have a positive view of entrepreneurship will be a help. For they approach business as a legitimate form of securing a sustainable livelihood… That I should doubt this is absurd to them… As it is to me, now that I too am feeling the pinch of unbudgeted for expenses.

Biomimicry and Permaculture

In the meantime, I recommend an experiential learning adventure that has the potential to open participants to new possibilities – Biomimicry SA is hosting a Permaculture Immersion Process in Mpumalanga. Here science will meet nature in a profoundly integrative and reflective context. I cannot think of a better introduction to sustainable human habitations and livelihoods than this. I would certainly recommend it to the lady who ended the life of my tree friend, for transferable knowledge of nature is the best form of mitigation, insurance and investment in a Climate Change/COVID19 world. 

I would recommend it to landscapers, horticulturists, architects, town planners… youngsters looking for an alternative matric vac… And to ministers of agriculture; forestry; community development… Bankers. Financiers. And Julius Malema? Maybe next time…only a bespoke one for the EFF/ANC Youth League would have a chance to weave its magic with them? And only if participants have a fifty-fifty male-female split?

The Forest Model of Eco-Social Sustainability

In conclusion, there is no possibility of a sustainable future without respect for nature. There is no possibility of a sustainable future without making space for female leadership. And female entrepreneurship – livelihoods created by women, for everyone who loves Mother Earth enough to make changes to their lifestyles. And business styles.

I can loan you my energy to protect and guide you while you do this. For the nitty-gritty detail, you’ll require others – some of whom I can recommend. Most will come as you align with Source of sources, through own source. The latter is the tough nut that needs to be cracked to release your blueprint…

In terms of my own ‘business’, I have brooded on this for a long time now. I trust that as I act, listen and share, The Forest Model of Eco-Social Sustainability will reveal itself organically…And synchronistically.  As I grow my enterprise, so might your livelihood. If your actions align with the campaign for a blue, blue earth…


Sources and Resources
  1. The following blog is informative and well written:


2. However, Salesforce is under the spotlight for failing to implement its Stakeholder Capitalist Model…


3. These articles, published in 2018, explain the status of public trees and the how fines are determined.




© LDM Training and Consulting


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *