Stories that inspire: Fight against the cactus

What is a Cactus?

“Cacti are succulent perennial plants native to the Americas. Hundreds of cactus species have been introduced outside their native ranges; a few of them are among the most damaging invasive plant species in the world, according to Oxford University Press. “Namibia is home to 23 invasive cactus species, which holds a threat to our environment and animals” according to Luise HOFFMANN in her article “Some of the most invasive cactus species in Namibia” published in The Namibian News – Environment | 2015-10-29

Meet Gunhild Voigts

Gunhild Voigts

Born in Mariental she is a German speaking Namibian. Growing up on a farm she knows what drought is but on the other hand what a paradise Namibia can be after some rain. The mother of two does not want to leave the threatening breakdown of Namibian vegetation to her children and therefore decided to take up the fight against those invasive cacti in the city of Windhoek. Gunhild and her husband are members of the Botanical Society. They repeatedly attended to the society´s appeal to clear the Botanic gardens from invasive alien species. This is when she realized that these efforts could not be sustainable at all while there is full coverage all around in the city.

When and how Cactus Clean-Up started?

During our interview with Gunhild we asked her, when she first decided to take action. This was her answer: “Actually it was in November 2015 when the Mayor of Windhoek Muesee Kazapua was running for re-election.. I met him in his office and told him I want him to be recognized as the best Mayor Windhoek ever had by getting Windhoek clear of waste and invasive alien species. And still I think we are the best supporters he has in town.” So far the only action of City of Windhoek had been to use chemicals to kill the opuntias at Aloe Trail. With the worry that chemicals will later find their way into the Windhoek aquifer she choose another course of action and called up for volunteers to help clear cacti by hand.

A serious threat

Mrs.Voigts observed that this cactus invasion is a serious threat to all of us alike: farmers, residents, tourists, wildlife and pets: a bird was unable to struggle free after it tried to roost on an Opuntia rosea cactus at the Avis dam,  an Oryx was unable to feed because it`s mouth was full of cactus spines, a dog was encrusted by cactus prickles to such an extent that it could not be saved by the vet, cattle are dying a prolonged and painful death on account of their stomachs becoming perforated and septic as a result of having eaten cacti during the drought, or pedestrians  have to walk on the tarmac  instead of the sidewalk encroached by cacti.


When there are donations Cactus Clean -Up tries to clear the surrounding of the donor`s home in the first place. For the tourism industry several viewpoints were cleared where the collision of Kalahari and Congo Craton with Middle ocean volcanic gap from pre Gondwana times can be observed: Aloe Trail, Uhland Heights viewpoint, Werth Single, Georges Street and Machless Belt viewpoint (entrance gravel road from the fire brigade side.)

As far as there is transport available, Citi of Windoek supports with skips. If there is  no transport available Opuntias are piled up to convert to compost and  the rest has to be transported privately to the Eros landfill site.

Why it is important?

Besides clearing Windhoek from alien invasive plants, there is another side of the medal: unemployed workers from the street side get work, some food and N$ 140,-remuneration for one day of work.

Gunhild Voigts took up the challenge because she believes we should oppose the breakdown of our vegetation before it might be irrevocably too late. Windhoek should not be the starting point for invasive alien plants to spread over the rest of Namibia and pose a threat to Namibian farming and tourism.

“Fight for your environment and do not let it go down”, Gunhild Voigts

How people can participate?

Gunhild encourages people to take action them self: “take out your rake and uproot the cacti where ever you find them. Discard them at Eros landfill site where they are covered with several meters of building rubble to prevent regrowth. Always use tools with long handles and never touch cacti with your hands, as they hurt badly.”

Or you could participate with payment of workers by donating into the account:

Cactus Clean-up , Bank Windhoek, Kudu Branch 482172, Account 8005224758 Please email name and proof of payment to Hille Schwarting.

You could join cactus workers in the field every day when there are donations available for payment.

To have more information about this campaign, please click here

Mobile:+264 81 2085747 Email address 

Written by: Jennifer Ilukena

1 Comment
  1. Thank you, highly appreciated! Best regards, Gunhild Voigts

    Am Mi., 15. Mai 2019 um 08:31 Uhr schrieb Tourism Supporting Conservation (TOSCO Trust) :

    > toscoteam posted: ” What is a Cactus? “Cacti are succulent perennial > plants native to the Americas. Hundreds of cactus species have been > introduced outside their native ranges; a few of them are among the most > damaging invasive plant species in the world, according to Ox” >

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