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Helen Duigan

Co-founder of Pretoria’s first registered nature conservancy in 1987 and co-founder of ARMOUR.

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I grew up in a “Moral re-Armament home” on a farm in South Africa, with words such as “Ideology, God’s Plan for your life, the Communist threat to conquer the world, Quiet Time and Four Standards” very much part of my life.  Although it was never a good fit for me, I supported what my parents, Mike and Marguerite Horn, were doing.  It was their life work.

I got a B.Sc degree at the University of Stellenbosch in 1963 and taught in high schools afterwards, until the start of Up with People.  I joined the South African version, Springbok Stampede/Sounds of the South. This was valuable experience and we reached many people across southern Africa.

I met my husband, Anthony, during this time and we got married in 1970, at the time when the schism between MRA and Up with People was happening, also in South Africa.

Anthony and I, with my brother Jan Horn and his wife, Jeanette, bought an empty piece of land 45km outside Johannesburg.  We wanted to create our own place where there was open space for ourselves and six boys (three Horns, three Duigans!).  Anthony and I and our boys lived in a tent, while building a small cottage and finally, 15 years later, completed and moved into our present house!  The boys learnt valuable practical skills which have been most useful to them ever since!

I called our place “Waaigras” – celebrating the waving grass of the wide open veld and far horison.

In the political turmoil of the 1980s and ‘90s we kept in touch with our black friends and gave accommodation to some of their children, so they could finish their education. 

In the late ‘80s our wide open space came under threat when the Nationalist government decided to use this area for black low-cost housing – far outside the amenities of the city, in Apartheid style, as usual.  The Greenbelt Action Group was created and we managed to stop it, but it was clear that something was needed to counter similar “take-over” actions. 

With supportive neighbours I started a nature conservancy. For the past 30 years it has been a bulwark against countless attempts to mine, and carve up or to destroy this beautiful, pristine area by inappropriate “development”.  The Conservancy stretches over 10 000 hectares  -  a mountain range, three rivers, bushveld and grasslands.  It is now in the process of being declared a national Nature Reserve.

I first produced a printed magazine to highlight what was happening in the Conservancy and in environmental affairs, followed by an e-zine, called VeldTalk, which reached several thousand people.

Our efforts to protect the area brought us in conflict with an unscrupulous developer who sued me and four colleagues for R210million (€ 13 million!).  The case went to court in 2010 and we won – creating a first in the country for activists challenging a developer.

The appalling state of pollution in the rivers of Gauteng Province led Anthony and me to create ARMOUR – Action for Responsible Management of Our Rivers -  three years ago (2015).  ARMOUR has already won a major newspaper’s Environmental Award and is going from strength to strength in the battle to save our rivers.  (For those using Facebook – there is always something happening on the ARMOUR page!)

From the beginning Anthony’s and my vision for Waaigras has been to be a place where people from all over could come and find whatever they needed – space, strength, silence, rest, vision, direction, courage - to face wherever their lives took them.  Waaigras is invisibly linked with a multitude of people, all over the world.  And we thank them for what so many have given to Waaigras! 

Additional names
-Nee Horn-
Additional names
-Nee Horn-