Of pines and sadness

The mood was sombre at the gathering on Tuesday as people tied ribbons to the fence in a sign of remembrance.

The court ruling in the battle between South African National Parks (SANParks) and Mountain To Ocean (MTO), and community-based organisation Parkscape was handed down just a week before the one-year commemoration of the brutal rape and murder of Franziska Blöchiger. (“Franska case continues”, Bulletin, February 16).

Franziska’s body was found in the fynbos alongside the plantation. Parkscape do not want the pine trees to be cut down and one of the reasons is because they fear they will be replaced by dense fynbos which could aid criminals.

The ruling states, among others, that “a full public participation process will have to take place to determine whether tree felling at Tokai Forest will resume”.

Yesterday, Wednesday March 7, Philip Olckers and Anthea Thebus said prayers as they remembered all young women who have been murdered over the past few years.

The last time Parkscape members gathered here was in August last year when a group gathered in the same spot to protest the removal of this block of pines. The trees were due to be felled on August 30 (“Tokai Park debate”, Bulletin July 28), (“Pines get the chop”, Bulletin September 1).

However, it had to be stopped until judgement was served after Parkscape took SANParks and MTO to court Judgement was handed down by Judge Patrick Gamble at the Cape Town High Court on Thursday March 2.

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Parkscape spokesperson Nicky Schmidt, said: “We are obviously very pleased with the ruling and not just because we’ve been able to uphold the voice of a significant part of the immediate and broader community. We are also greatly encouraged that this judgement shows, once again, that South Africa’s legal system continues to uphold justice and just administrative action, particularly at this time when parts of government and some government agencies believe they are a law unto themselves.”She added that their win ensured that SANParks would now be legally obliged to engage with them in the public participation process.

SANParks said they were studying the judgement to determine a future course of action.

They say the Dennedal compartment is about 25.5ha, which is about 20 percent of the 140-hectare lower Tokai restorable sand plain fynbos site. Less than one hectare of the 25.5 Dennedal compartment was felled.

Asked why this block was important, they said it was the last remaining piece of critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos with sufficient natural seedbank to allow for near to one hundred percent recovery that forms part of a larger ecological corridor linking the mountain to the wetlands in the lowland areas. In order to restore the natural seedbank, all the pines south of Orpen Road need to be harvested.

Margaret Kahle, who facilitates regular hacks in upper Tokai, said it was a miracle that nature’s seedbank had lay dormant for many decades under the pines, “and once released, will have been rescued from local, and in many cases, global extinction”.

Asked why Parkscape wanted the trees to remain, the organisation said its vision sought to meet a multitude of needs, from biodiversity, shaded recreation, safety, social upliftment, culture and heritage – and education thereof, and community building. “TMNP, unlike Kruger or Tankwa, is an urban national park, and Lower Tokai is sited in the middle of a dense and existing community and is surrounded by residential property except for a few parts of the western and eastern sections. For Parkscape, SANParks’ failure to engage, and the hasty and clandestine decision to fell, despite the existence of the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework and the provisions of the National Environmental Management acts, merely made the trees a vehicle for achieving something more balanced and inclusive,” says Ms Schmidt.

She said the matter of Tokai Park is about considerably more than trees, and it was unfortunate that some insisted on making it all about trees.

Due process, the right to be heard and community needed to play a considerable role in this, she said.

“Like every organ of state, SANParks has an obligation to adhere to the basic values and principles governing public administration set out in the constitution, as well the duty to ensure that the administrative action it takes is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair. These are important principles that are one of the cornerstones of our democracy,” said Ms Schmidt.

On Parkscape’s Facebook page there was mixed responses to last week’s ruling.

“Wonderful and powerful when a community joins their efforts and voice. It was not a lot to ask for public participation in the first place. This win is justice! Due and lawful process has be to followed before anything further happens,” said Angie Hausner.

Margaret Versfeld asked why the owners of these trees were being denied cutting down their own trees, to which Judy Mare responded: “But they used to cut them down in rotation and replaced by young trees so there were always trees. Now there is fynbos but it’s created huge spaces where no one can walk safely any more.”

Andre Colling asked what the due and lawful process was? “Is it simply consultation? Who makes the final decision? If a final decision is made, will Parkscape go to court again?”

To this, Parkscape replied saying the court order stated that “valid and lawful decisions” had to be taken before any further felling could commence. Until that time, there was an interdict and restraint against both SANParks and MTO with respect to further felling.

“We understand that there are some of people who are not happy about the outcome of the judgement. The case was about just administrative action – the rights of the people to justice and fairness, and the right to be heard.”

But Daniel Boshoff argued that the area was a plantation of invasive trees that damaged biodiversity in the area and increased the fire risk. “The trees still need to come down. If anything it’s a technicality that isn’t helping the environment although it is a lesson in following due process.”