Can the law protect Lake Fundudzi

A view of the lake and its surrounds.


Lake Fundudzi is a place of worship for the Tshiavha clan in Venda, northern Limpopo. It forms part of a larger network of pools, groves and waterfalls, which must be protected according to Venda culture to ensure good annual rainfalls and fertile soils.

The Tshiavha people believes the lake is inhabited by the ancestral spirits of the Vhatavhatsindi people and no foreign people are allowed to visit without prior permission from local headmen Netshivavha. But, is there a law that can protect the lake?

This is one of the questions addressed by researchers Nikki Funke, Alistair Rieu-Clarke, Maronel Steyn, Geoffrey Gooch and Karen Nortje presented in their paper that also explores "An interface between water, protected areas, customary and international laws".

Lake Fundudzi, which is situated near Thohoyandou, is a unique inland freshwater lake in the Mutale Tiver. It is especially revered by the Venda people who regards it as a magical place. At present it has no clear legal status, which has made it a bone of contention between stakeholders competing for their right to the Lake.

On the one hand, the Tshiavha people claim that that Lake Fundudzi belongs to them as they protect traditional customs and beliefs. On the other hand, the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism and at least one of the other chiefs are promoting infrastructure development for tourism and land use practices for others.

According to the researchers there are few options to consider.

Lake Fundudzi could be protected either under the 2004 National Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act (S 23), the National Heritage Resources Act (S3), the 2003 Limpopo Environmental Management Act (S 15), 1972 World Heritage Convention or customary law.

At this stage, "there is a stalemate between proposed ideas for development and protecting Lake Fundudzi as a sacred site, but for how long?"

So for now, "the proposal is to"

  • Raise Lake Fundudzi’s status by giving it international recognition
  • Provide interim protection until the declaration process is complete
  • Need for streamlining of national legal framework for conservation areas

"But ultimately: One needs to find a compromise that protects the sacredness of Lake Fundudzi and helps communities benefit from its “living heritage”?"

This research received funding from the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme.



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