Kishugu – a local company with global respect
Kishugu, which has its roots in forest and wildfire firefighting, suppression and prevention, began when a professional forest firefighting pilot and a Lowvelder, passionate about wildfire suppression, joined forces.
Johan Heine, the pilot, and Chris de Bruno Austin, the wildfire-firefighting specialist, shared a common vision – to prevent the loss of life and the destruction of crops and infrastructure caused by unwanted wildfire; and they had a shared determination to succeed.
Fire was never the problem. There are many good things about fire. We use it to cook, to keep warm and to control the environment.
The problem that Chris and Johan set out to solve was how to end the destruction wrought by unwanted wildfire, while at the same time to promote fire as a tool to manage and sustain the environment.
The result was the establishment, over 25 years ago, of a small company, the FFA, in Nelspruit to make their dream of a better world come true. Recently the name was changed to Kishugu – a Swahili word for anthill – ideally symbolic of the philosophy that defines the company: people working in harmony for the greater good.
And they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Today from those small beginnings, Kishugu is acknowledged as a giant in its field wherever people meet to talk about Integrated Fire Management, wildfire suppression, the use of fire as a tool and the husbandry of agricultural land.
With Integrated Fire Management (IFM) at its core, business divisions in the Kishugu stable provide aerial support for wildfire suppression, pilot training, transport for wildfire firefighters, highly technical clothing (Personal Protection Equipment) for the safety of wildfire firefighters, training, consulting and a wide range associated disciplines to clients across the world.
From Nelspruit, Kishugu expertise – under the brand Working on Fire International – is shared with governments, private clients and agencies from South America, to Australia and Indonesia. Thanks to Kishugu, thousands upon thousands of hectares of land have been saved from devastation by unwanted wildfire as a direct result of intervention by experts from Kishugu.
So welcome is their experience and expertise, that Kishugu professionals were called upon to assist the South Africa Department of Water Affairs and Forestry in the drafting and refining of South Africa’s Veld and Forest Fire Act.
In South Africa the most visible aspect of Kishugu’s expertise is in the award-winning government-funded Working on Fire (WoF) programme. The programme, managed under contract, has seen previously unemployed people trained to become highly skilled wildfire firefighters.
Today WoF, comprising of more than 5,000 wildfire firefighters, is celebrated as the most successful job creation and skills upliftment programme in the history of South Africa.
Distinctive in their bright yellow shirts, supported from the air by yellow painted aircraft, the arrival of WoF teams is celebrated by landowners across the country, when the flames of unwanted wildfire “stand up” beyond their own control.
In the light of global warming, predictions are rife of an increase in unwanted wildfire. It’s a challenge facing any country where there are vast tracks of land vulnerable to fire. With this in mind, Kishugu experts are working globally with local professionals to develop and implement global strategies to reduce risk.
“What we have created so far, with the support of our staff, is just the beginning,” says Chris du Bruno Austin. “Our aim is to be acknowledged globally as the best in our field and we are well on our way to achieving our goal.”
According to Head of Communications at Kishugu, Naranda Leeuwner, “We owe a lot to the media in achieving global acknowledgment of our role in wildfire management.”
“In the same manner that fires begin with a small flame and grow larger, so has the Lowvelder been with us, spreading the good news about Kishugu and putting Nelspruit, our and their homes, on the world map.
“In the more than 25 years of our success, Lowvelder reporters and photographers have been at our side; first with the news, publishing the best of the most dramatic pictures, supportive when we succeed and critical when we make mistakes.
Together with the Lowvelder, we have a distinct footprint in Nelspruit and we stride with pride across the world – working together for the greater good”.