“Through wilderness we remember and are brought home again.”

Sir Laurens van der Post

By Ronit Shapiro, Creator and Producer – Sisters of the Wilderness, Founder – One Nature

Published 25 July 2019

In 2005 I was asked to organise an event at the Royal Geographic Society in London, to raise awareness to Africa’s wild nature. The keynote speaker at the event was the late Dr. Ian Player, a much beloved South African conservationist and a deep-thinking writer. Little did I know at the time that this meeting with Dr. Player would make such a profound impact on my life.

Hearing Dr. Player talk was a great inspiration and touched something deep within. Then reading his books, in particular Zulu Wilderness, Shadow and Soul, made such an impression that this led me to change my entire career. 

Ronit Shapiro

After working in corporate communications for many years I decided to use my creativity and story-telling skills to tell stories that matter. I want to share the untold universal stories that need to be heard, those stories that can make a real difference to timely social and environmental issues affecting us all.

Passionate about the wellness of people and the environment, I intuitively felt that human and nature interconnect. I got affirmation to my intuitive feeling when I read the works of great writers, philosophers, poets and naturalists, and especially when spending time in nature.

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

In 2010 I wrote to Dr. Player and asked his permission to make a film inspired by his life and pioneering work in the wilderness. Dr. Player lived and worked in the African wilderness nearly all his life. He fought to protect wilderness and promoted a worldview of interconnectedness and deep ecology.

Over many years, he and his Zulu mentor and bush guide, Baba Maqgubu Ntombela, introduced thousands of people to the iMfolozi Wilderness, an ancient wilderness which nestles within the oldest game park in Africa, the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi park in Northern KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. 

Dr. Player wholeheartedly supported my initiative to make a social impact film set in the wilderness. He invited me to visit him and his wife Ann in his farm Phuzamoya, in the Natal Midlands in South Africa.

This was the beginning of four extraordinary life-changing years of in-depth mentorship by Dr. Player, and a special friendship developed with him and his dear and wise wife Ann. Sadly, Dr. Player passed away at the end of 2014. His passing created a deep void. At the same time, I was determined to continue with the film and social impact projects.

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

I aspired to create a moving image story to reconnect audiences with nature and raise awareness to the value of nature to our well-being. In particular I was drawn into the African wilderness, which is unlike any other wild nature, with its primordial wildlife and fauna.

A moving experience, that I had on a wilderness journey in iMfolozi, gave me confidence that this is where the film should be set and that this precious wilderness must be protected. Here an ageless spirit survives and one can sense a spiritual connection to the land. 

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

The iMfolozi valley was home to the first people of Southern Africa and later became the heartland of the Zulu people, who lived here in harmony with nature and with great respect (inhlonipho) to Mother Earth and all creation. This is also the place where the Southern White Rhino was saved from extinction. This wilderness is alive and it enriches and revitalises its visitors, physically and spiritually. 

In the film, I wanted to ‘transfer’ the audience to this primal place where no barriers separate human and nature. A journey into this wilderness is an intense experience where one can expect to undergo a personal transformation. It is a place of great inspiration.

Sadly, the iMfolozi Wilderness is now severely threatened. An existing open cast coal mine on the eastern border of the wilderness is expanding regardless of its devastating impact on nature, the surrounding rural communities and their livestock. Moreover, there are additional proposed coal mines in very close proximity to the park’s southern boundary which threatens to devastate even further this fragile nature ecosystem and the nearby communities.

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

Wild nature is fast disappearing due to humanity’s careless and irresponsible behaviour over generations. But we can stop this destruction! If we allow ourselves to pause and listen to nature and appreciate the value of nature to our wellbeing, and let nature remind us that we are nature and nature is us and what we do to nature we do to ourselves; that if we harm nature, we harm ourselves. When we develop an awe and reverence to nature, for nature sustains and nourishes us, we will be on the path to avert the destructive trend.

To that end I created Sisters of the Wilderness

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

The film, which takes one on an immersive journey within and without into the African wilderness, tells the story of five young Zulu women going into the iMfolozi wilderness on a journey of healing and self-discovery. On their journey they learn about the plight of this primordial wilderness from an open-cast coal mine on its border and an intensifying rhino poaching calamity.

Credit: photograph still from documentary “Sisters of the Wilderness” by Ronit Shapiro

Sisters of the Wilderness is not just a film. It is also a social impact project which aims to make a difference to timely and important social and environmental issues. The project’s key impact goals are: 

  • Young people empowerment and leadership development, using the power of wild nature, with a special focus on women empowerment.
  • Re-connect audiences to wild nature and raise awareness to the value of nature to our well-being.
  • Help the efforts to save the iMfolozi wilderness from the threat of unsustainable mining and the illegal hunting of its rhinos and other endangered species.

The film is now screening in film festivals worldwide.

Please follow our Facebook page Sisters of the Wilderness and share with your friends. Thank you!

Call to Action

If you wish to support my project, host a screening of the film in your organisation, event or to a special interest group, or distribute the film in your part of the world, please contact me directly at onenaturefilms@gmail.com.

The Crowd Versus works to support the defence of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Wilderness through the foundation Save Our Wilderness.

If my article motivated you to help The Crowd Versus, you can get involved by being creative (link here) or to contribute to the case of The Crowd Versus Destructive Mining in Zululand. Thank you!

The Crowd vs. Destructive Mining in Zululand

Coal companies and the South African government have to stop with coal mining that puts Zululand and its people in danger and threatens the world’s greatest concentration of rhinos in the wilderness area of the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve.  Read more …

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