SANParks ‘a law unto itself’

Terry Simon, Tokai

I refer to the letter by Jane Laing and the response from Merle Collins of SANParks (“Fynbos is a safety risk”, Bulletin, August 11). I find the response totally unsatisfactory. It would appear as if SANParks is a law unto itself and is inclined to ignore the input of residents, who are after all the persons who are supposed to benefit from its activities.

It is stated that the agreement between the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and MTO is “irreversible”, that the Tokai Management framework “successfully achieves the compromise many have called for”,”on a daily basis thousands of people use the fynbos covered park” and “there are regular visitor safety patrols by park rangers”.

I would challenge these statements on the following grounds:

* The parties to an agreement can at any stage amend or terminate that agreement by common consent. To satisfy MTO surely all that is required to save the trees is for it to be paid the net amount that it would earn from harvesting and selling the trees.

* Many residents are clearly unhappy with the plans for Tokai Forest, which would indicate that no compromise has been achieved

* Thousands of people do not use the fynbos covered area. I am in the park almost daily and can confirm that users keep to the perimeter paths and the area shaded by the pines. There are indeed few, if any, paths through the fynbos. Indeed I have not seen any persons walking or running through the fynbos and the western area, which consist purely of fynbos, is not used for any sort of recreation.

* Only once have I seen three park rangers on patrol, This was some four months ago when I stumbled upon them seated in the forested area, close to where the murder took place. When I asked why they were not patrolling, the response was that they had to stay together as it was not safe for them to patrol separately.

There is clearly no evidence of SANParks’ presence in the lower area.The condition of the paths is deteriorating, the trees planted on the perimeter some five years ago have been neglected and are battling for survival, the only area that has received any attention this year is the riding arena and a small section of the path, which has had new logs placed at the sides, but this work was not completed properly and seldom are any rangers present. I assume that those who are available are deployed to stop the population accessing the upper forest and arboretum, which has been closed to the public since the fire 18 months ago.

If this is any indication of how Tokai Park will be managed and patrolled by SANParks in the future, then it is abundantly clear that they are only paying lip service to the interests of residents and recreational users and that their only concern is to re-establish the fynbos, which by their own admission will take some 20 to 30 years. In the interim the public will be deprived of some very valuable and much needed public recreational space, the demand for which can only increase with the densification of the population in the southern peninsula.

I understand that a body has been formed representing all interested parties to find a solution for Tokai Park and would implore the Bulletin to report regularly on its progress. I get the impression that the future of the park is solely in the hands of SANParks, who are clearly not interested in anything other than to pursue its stated objective of preserving fynbos in an urban environment, although they have obviously failed to convince the population that this is more important than ensuring that safe and user-friendly recreational areas are provided for the ratepayers. It is my contention that both these objectives could be achieved through constructive negotiations.

* Merle Collins, SANparks regional communication manager, responds:

South African National parks (SANParks ) is governed by the National Environment Management Act (NEMA).

The decision to phase out commercial plantations on the peninsula was not made by SANParks but by central government in 1999. Only a cabinet decision can reverse the decision.

The Tokai and Cecilia Management Framework successfully achieves the compromise many have called for, as it seeks to accommodate biodiversity, heritage, recreational and eco-tourism concerns and opportunities.

In terms of biodiversity, the framework makes provision for the restoration of: sustainable areas of “critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos” and Peninsula Granite Fynbos, ecological corridors, Afromontane Forests, river and wetland systems.

In terms of heritage, the need to maintain key resources such as the Tokai Manor, the Arboretum, heritage plantings and recognising the history of the areas through the plantation, colonial and pre-colonial periods.

In addressing the recreation issues, the Framework provides for all current recreational activities to continue at Tokai and Cecilia and for the retention and creation of shaded areas and routes in appropriate locations.

For ecotourism, proposals include the upgrade of the Tokai Manor precinct as Park head office and as a gateway to the Park with new eco-tourism products and job creation through the rehabilitation of the plantations.

Critically, the Management Framework addresses the thorny issue of shade provision:

Firstly, the plantations are being harvested over a 20-year period. Some of the plantation compartments, which provide for shaded recreation, will remain until the end of the lease period in 2024. To date, only 170 hectares of the 600 hectare plantation area have been harvested.

Secondly, various existing shaded areas will be retained such as the Arboretum, braai site (albeit in a re-aligned from), certain areas of gum trees and historic plantings (eg cork oaks, red woods etc).

Thirdly, the management framework proposes the establishment of shaded routes at both Tokai and Cecilia. An example is the multi-use, perimeter shade route currently being implemented at lower Tokai, below Orpen Road, which is near completion. The perimeter shade route is being developed for recreational use by walkers, dog walkers, cyclists and horse riders. The route will also serve as a fire break and will be planted with indigenous shade trees along its length. At Cecilia a shaded route from Constantia Nek to Kirstenbosch is planned which will provide ‘broken’ shade along existing heritage plantings (the cork oaks), through the riverine kloofs and “transition” planting areas.

Fourthly, a radical concept was developed in the consultation process for the establishment of ‘transition planting areas’ where non-invasive exotic shade trees could be planted in designated areas in cyclical transition with fynbos. These areas are along the periphery of lower Tokai, adjacent to the Tokai Arboretum and on the lower slopes of Cecilia. The type of tree appropriate to the area will be determined through further study and consultation with stakeholders.

Finally, recognising that TMNP is a World Heritage Site and nationally protected conservation area, there are within the city areas, 18km of established public open space that form part of the Constantia and Tokai greenbelt system which can be planted with shade trees for recreation.

There are in excess of 750km of footpaths and tracks in Table Mountain National Park which dissect the fynbos covered areas of the park.

The park keeps a daily record of all patrols across the park and staff in the field undertake maintenance on an annual basis.