Pine court battle postponed to October

Parkscape and its supporters protest outside the Western Cape High Court.

Opposing sides in the #pinesmustfall and #Tokaiforest social media debate became frenzied last week, spurred on by the Western Cape High Court postponement of the interdict application.

Public interest group Parkscape fund-raised for the application to stop the pine plantation felling in lower Tokai, opposite Dennendal Road.

Parkscape attorney Anton Slabbert congratulated Parkscape after proceedings on Friday September 9, calling the application to temporarily stall the felling their first success.

He said the “lawfulness” of Mountains to Oceans (MTO) Forestry harvesting the disputed section of its pine plantation would be decided on the next court date, Monday October 10.

Parkscape brought the legal action against South African National Parks (SANParks) and MTO because they claim they contravened the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework, which was decided upon after a public participation process.

MTO has continued to harvest the rest of its pine plantation in Tokai but held off felling in Dennendal, where it had originally started two weeks ago (“Pines get the chop,” Bulletin, September 1).

Kay Montgomery of Save the Cape Fynbos said: “The lawyers for both Parkscape and MTO Forestry decided – as a mutual agreement – not to proceed with cutting of the Lower Tokai Forest until the case had been heard in court.”

Parkscape said the fynbos replacing the pines was too dense and would not give good visibility and safety. They say the tragic rape and murder of Franziska Blöchliger in March underscores the danger the fynbos poses (“Franziska remembered,” Bulletin, March 10).

However, at a recent meeting between conservationists and Parkscape, botanists said the dense, head-height growth was temporary and would level out with time and management (“Tokai Park debate,” Bulletin, July 28).

The Friends of Tokai Park Facebook page is running a pro-fynbos petition in response to Parkscape’s campaign.

Dr Tony Rebelo of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, posted a release on the page last Friday. “The Friends of Tokai note impending court case between Parkscape versus MTO, and second respondent SANParks. The pine trees (Pinus radiata) of Tokai Plantation are not a forest.

“They are an alien crop that was planted for commercial timber and not for recreational use,” he said.

“We understand the serious concerns about crime. A loss of life is not something to politicise and use in any campaign. We strongly condemn the trivialisation of a young girl’s murder. Those who are exploiting the memory of a young woman must desist from divisive politicking. Any criminal can hide behind a tree, just as they can hide behind fynbos.

“A solution must be found towards crime management going forward – whether the pine trees go or stay.”

Dr Rebelo said the pines also brought the additional threat of fire. “In Cape Town, fire is not a matter of if, but when. The pine trees bordering the suburb are a serious fire risk, endangering the entire Tokai community. A potential pine tree fire at Tokai will burn with flames tens of metres high – it will be unstoppable and cause millions of rands worth of damage,” he said.

Fire is part of the fynbos life cycle, but Dr Rebelo said the 15- to 20-year fynbos burn cycle was “predictable, easily managed and much safer”.

“With fynbos, a protective firebreak can be established and maintained,” he said.

Dr Rebelo said the “Friends of Tokai Park remain in full support of our partners at SANParks”.

“It is important that the court case is fairly resolved. Legal fees will cost tens of thousands of rands that could be better put towards conservation and improving safety at Lower Tokai.”

Side bar:

Social media was awash with wisecracks and opinions on the Tokai felling.

On the Tokai Community Facebook group, Sue Lancaster said of the court outcome: “Well done! Never say die. In the face of all the nay sayers you guys stood up and are holding the authorities to account. Thank you.”

Rob Smith replied: “Huge waste of money – would of (sic) been better spent working to restore the area.”

Brian Kurt du Preez said: “If you want to save the pines, go throw a hissy fit in Europe. Pines in SA equal destruction to indigenous vegetation. You could just as well be raising funds to help Zuma pay for Nkandla, so ridiculous is this protest against SANParks trying to restore the precious Cape flats fynbos.”

Carina Helene Becker shared Friends of Tokai Park’s photo of a flowering species of endangered fynbos with a caption saying: “The math: save one type of alien invasive plant or save hundreds of beautiful, ‘proudly South African’ plants that occur nowhere else in the world!”

Lower down in her post she commented: “Please remember that criminals strike anywhere and at anytime! There have been more rapes at UCT than in Tokai! There are almost fortnightly attacks in Newlands forest/plantation… but no one there blames the vegetation. Thus the vegetation is not to blame, the criminals are.”

Françoise Armour, in response to criticism that fynbos offers no shade, tweeted: “These people should learn to wear sunblock and a wide-brimmed hat!”

Zoë Poulsen, commenting on court proceedings said on Parkscape’s Facebook page: “Contrary to claims made by Parkscape, no interdict has been served in favour of Parkscape. There is a huge difference between a court order and an interdict …

“An interdict is granted when the court has familiarised themselves with all the facts – and there is a judicial decision to grant an interdict in favour of one of the parties. A judicial interdict order is then issued – to one party – instructing them to stop doing … whatever they are doing.”

Gillian Godsell tweeted: “#tokaiforest and decolonisation. Fynbos is the ‘untidy’ hair.”