Judgement reserved in Tokai Park case

The controversy over the removal of pines has divided academic experts and the community.

The Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) reserved judgement on Thursday March 1 when five judges were scheduled to hear an appeal by SANParks, the statutory authority responsible for managing the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP), against a judgment by Judge Pat Gamble in the Western Cape High Court last year.

Judge Gamble’s decision basically prevented any further harvesting of commercial pines in the Dennedal compartment of the Tokai plantation, pending a new public participation process about pine felling at Tokai. The appeal was to determine if this public participation process is legally required.

The controversy over the removal of pines has raged intermittently for many years, and divided academic experts and the community, pitting conservationists and botanists who want critically endangered indigenous fynbos vegetation restored against those who want the shade provided by pines for recreational use such as walking and cycling.

In April 2005 the Tokai and Cecilia plantations became part of TMNP. Before that they were commercial operations managed by the state-owned Mountains to Oceans Forestry (MTO). Tokai was originally planted in 1885 with the first harvesting taking place between 1920 and 1950.

In 1999 a national cabinet decision was taken to phase out commercial forestry where operations were regarded as no longer commercially viable or environmentally defensible. These so-called “exit areas” included the Tokai and Cecilia plantations.

In 2015 a massive veldfire blazed across the peninsula, severely damaging numerous pines in the 600ha of Tokai plantation. MTO Forestry, which was leasing the area from SANParks, successfully applied to accelerate the harvesting of the remaining, undamaged pines.
In terms of the lease, these trees were to have been felled progressively during MTO Forestry’s 20-year lease period ending in 2025. Under the TMNP Management Framework, SANParks had proposed shade walks and other recreational facilities in upper Tokai including keeping remnant commercial pines.

On March 1 2017 civil organisation Parkscape won the case in the Western Cape High Court when Judge Patrick Gamble ordered MTO Forestry and SANParks not to cut down anymore pines in Dennedal plantation.

Parkscape, formed after the rape and murder of Franziska Blochliger in the Dennedal Compartment in Tokai Park in March 2016, seeks to create community-focused, safe, biodiverse, open and shaded recreational areas in the buffer zones of TMNP.

On March 22, 2017 SANParks filed a leave to appeal the judgement. The case was heard last Thursday March 1.

Zandiswa Kanku of the SCA says the judgment is not yet handed down but it will be sent to the Bulletin as soon as it is.

Merle Collins, spoksperson for SANParks and Parkscape’s Nicky Schmidt say they have no comment at this time as judgement was reserved. They will make contact when they receive a copy of the judgement.

Parkscape posted on its Facebook page they say, “The question one of the judges asked was why SANParks has dragged this out, instead of just engaging with us and entering into public consultation with us.”