From sailor to earth warrior

Suzanne du Plessis

For Suzanne du Plessis, the question hasn’t been ‘Can I make a difference?’ It’s been a matter of what kind of difference she wants to make during her life on this planet.

It takes a special kind of guts to pack up all you own and sail the seven seas for 10 long years with only $1 500 to your name. But that’s exactly what Suzanne du Plessis and husband Dee did in 1992 on their 36-ft self-built monohull, Kwêla.

From the Amazon and Caribbean to French Polynesia, Tonga and Indonesia, the pair visited and worked their way through 13 countries – with only 2 suitcases of possessions. “We’re both nomads at heart and this lifestyle was so liberating,” she said.

Shortly after they returned in 2001, the couple settled right back in at Strandfontein. “It was almost as if we’d never left!”

This was when Suzanne turned her attention to matters earth, becoming one of the foremost West Coast environmental activists and conservationists. Zealous about the Olifants River – which is “the blood-line” of the Matzikama municipal area – and the devastation caused by mining, she chaired the Olifants Estuary Forum for three years. “This estuary is one of the few remaining natural gems on the highly mined West Coast. And we wanted this area protected.

“Power is in the earth. Which is why we’d much rather see the economic benefits from tourism than having our river and ecosystem destroyed. All too often in the past, the voices of residents, fishers and civil society haven’t been heard, even though they’ve repeatedly appealed against prospecting and mining applications.”

Finally, after the forum lobbied for more than a decade, agreement was reached in 2019 to declare the Olifants River Estuary a nature reserve. Currently, everyone is awaiting the final legalities with bated breath.

Prior to chairing the forum, Suzanne established NPO Friends of Die Swart Tobie to promote eco-tourism. In this instance too, the hard work paid off when the West Coast Crayfish Trail was enhanced.

Her environmental protection work didn’t go unnoticed. Among a plethora of awards, she’s won WESSA, CapeNature and Lifetime Achievement awards.

All’s not done yet. Suzanne runs workshops for local women on knowing their rights, arranges coastal clean-ups and built the now famous 570-metre Wandering Whale labyrinth at Strandfontein with the help of six men.

Life isn’t just lobbying though. While her husband of 35 years surfs the Atlantic, she turns her hand to making beautiful driftwood and seal bone salad spoons with the help of Papendorp resident Mary Cloete. In between, a book on sailing as a woman is in the making. And then there’s time out walking the serene Strandfontein beach with beloved Border Collie Java.

To relax, I play music
My sport is walking, cycling & swimming
Favourite West Coast place is the Olifants river estuary
Favourite restaurant is Fryer’s Cove in Doringbaai
I love eating fish, chocolate cake, salads & curry
My signature drink is red wine
I read novels and books on sailing & the environment

Photos: Dee du Plessis