About Umsonti

Umsonti NPC grew out of the work of founder members Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe. Peter and Themba began working with rural communities in the Umzimkhulu area of Southern KwaZulu Natal in the mid 1990s through their consultancy company Rural Forest Management (RFM). Interested communities with land suitable for commercial forestry were assisted by RFM to form legal entities, draw up forestry development plans and secure development finance.

The first trees were planted in 2000. Of the initial three communities that received support, Mabandla and Zintwala successfully established timber plantations and began harvesting in 2008. The businesses are run on commercial principles and are self-sustaining, covering all operational costs including support services. Profits are re-invested in new businesses, education and training and other community development priorities.

Based on these early successes and looking to extend their unique forestry partnership model to other marginalised rural communities in areas of high forestry potential, Peter and Themba joined forces with other like-minded forestry professionals to form a Not for Profit Company Umsonti in 2012.

Umsonti services and support 

  • Support for the development of new forestry and associated businesses
  • Technical and business advice to optimise enterprise profits and sustainability
  • Institutional development and support (Business entities and Community Trusts)
  • Access to development finance
  • Building local capacity for operational and financial management and accountability through access to mentorship, further education and training
  • Strategic guidance and support to develop downstream timber processing capability and other community-owned businesses


The Umsonti Directors bring a wide range of expertise and their considerable experience to the organisation

Left to right standing : James Ballantyne, Gnanesh Pillay, Ilan Lax, Jeanette Clarke and Mike Howard. Left to right front:  Peter Nixon and Themba Radebe

Mike Howard

Chairperson of the Umsonti Board, Michael Howard is a professional forester with over 35 years of experience in South Africa and throughout the region. Mike has worked extensively throughout Africa on forestry development programmes.

Peter Nixon

Peter is a professional forester who, together with Themba, has been the driving force behind the successful community-owned forestry model at Mabandla, Zintwala and Sihleza. Peter is a hands-on leader with exceptional technical and financial expertise in forestry, the environment, tourism, livestock and sawmilling.

Ilan Lax

Ilan Lax is an attorney who has extensive experience in human rights, community development and governance.  He brings this legal, organisational and non-profit sector expertise to the Board.

Jeanette Clarke

Jeanette has worked in the development field for 35 years specialising in forestry and natural resources management in the context of poverty reduction and livelihood security. She is a researcher, writer and process facilitator.

Themba Radebe

Themba is a professional forester with a passion for rural development and an exceptional ability to navigate complexities of politics and governance at the community level. Together with Peter Nixon, he has decades of experience supporting community-owned timber plantations and associated businesses in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu Natal.

Gnanesh Pillay

Gnanesh Pillay is a Chartered Accountant with considerable experience in the forestry sector and a passion for rural development.

James Ballantyne

James has worked for 25 years in the forestry industry. He has special expertise in health and safety, training and in ensuring compliance with FSC and South African legislation. He joined Peter and Themba in 2006, providing services to the existing Umsonti community partners as well as developing new partnership opportunities, particularly in the North Eastern Cape. 

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