Aniek Nieuwenhuis is a portrait of resilience. Her life almost ended at the age of nine.
During a camping holiday, a gas cylinder exploded, trapping Nieuwenhuis in a burning
cabin. She suffered third-degree burns to 85 percent of her body. After more than 50
surgeries and a year off from school, Nieuwenhuis made an incredible recovery. But
there was no denying that her life was irrevocably changed. To process her trauma,
Nieuwenhuis turned to her creativity.
It was near impossible for Nieuwenhuis to express her experience in words. But through
visual works, she could voice her journey. Fifteen years after the accident, Nieuwenhuis
graduated with a degree in Fine Art from the University of Cape Town in 2019.
Baobab Guardian programme.
The tree of life is crying out for help. For centuries, baobabs have given people and
animals vital nourishment and shelter. With wide trunks and sparse branches that
resemble roots, they are an iconic feature of Africa’s landscape. Yet the increasing
climate crisis is wiping the plants off the planet. Scientists suspect that temperature
changes weaken baobabs, and in some cases kill them entirely. During the past decade,
trees as old as 2 500 years have died. But in Venda, Limpopo, a revolution is taking place.
A group of women known as the Baobab Guardians are restoring their population.
The synergy between people and the plants inspired ecologist Dr Sarah Venter to
create the Baobab Guardian programme. She encourages and trains women such as
Mamubeda to plant seedlings in their own gardens. Later, they’re transplanted around
the village. Some guardians build special enclosures to protect the baby giants until
they’re at least three metres. This keeps them above the reach of livestock that try to
eat the plants. Once the baobabs are strong, they can grow without supervision.
Nurturing the baobabs requires, on average, a three-year commitment. The women are
paid for their efforts, but their dedication is laden with love. Her community makes
rope, baskets, and cloth from the baobab bark, while the dry, white fruit has medicinal
qualities. So far, the guardians have fostered close to 40 trees. With their help, this
species will outlive the people working to save it, so we can continue to live in harmony
for centuries to come.
A flash of scarlet streaks past the audience. Between sweeping lengths of fabric
suspended from the ceiling, a glittering figure twirls out. What may seem entirely
magical to viewers is Gabriela Sissons’ forte. As an aerial silks champion, the
combination of circus performance, dance, and athletics fuels her fire.
Sissons has always been a dancer. But when she attended her first aerial dance class,
the elegant movements led her on a new course.
Climbing up the fabric, she secures herself by artfully positioning the sheets around her.
Performing acrobatic feats in the air takes stamina. The only thing holding Sissons up is
the material and her own strength. In this discipline, danger is always present. Yet
Sissons is addicted to the thrill, swaying from heights of up to nine metres.
Fiona and Naomi Radford
A battered bakkie chugs along the seemingly nondescript road. In the back, you’ll find
almost anything from a wood owl and a tortoise to lizards and snakes. Fiona and Naomi
Radford are at the helm. The twin sisters began accumulating their strange assortment
of animals years ago. While working at the Durban Natural Science Museum, the
Radfords would teach children about the lives and environments of different species.
Their presentations sparked so much enthusiasm that kids began bringing the duo all
types of creatures that they’d find on the streets. In the 35 years since, the Radfords have
had over 100 animals in their care.
Their growing pack forms The Menagerie – a public benefit organisation in KwaZulu-
Natal that houses wild and domestic rescues. The sisters handle each one like experts.
“Loving animals came as a second nature to us,” Fiona says. Education is the core of
their work. The Radfords travel to underprivileged communities and schools, and
exhibit at birthday parties. Through supervised interactive lessons, they teach children
how to approach and protect the creatures they come across.
While domestic animals have high adoption rates, wilder species can’t be rehomed.
They remain under the watchful eyes of the Radfords. True to their name, The
Menagerie is an unexpected collective of creatures and care. Even when they’re at
capacity or struggling to fund their endeavour, the Radfords continue to spread
awareness on the proper treatment of all species.
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