In 1994 the Premier of the Western Cape requested that an investigation be undertaken regarding the multipurpose use of land to be donated to conservation in the Cape Peninsula. The resulting report, commonly known as the Fuggle Report and carried out by UCT’s Environmental Evaluation Unit, was the result of extensive public participation across the Cape Peninsula and recommended, among other things, that the lower slopes of the mountain (below the contour path) would remain as is, that the plantations (Tokai and Cecilia) would be retained, that the public would have free access to walk and enjoy other recreational activities such as horse riding, dog-walking, mountain-biking, picnicking etc. A further report in 1996, the Huntley Report, stipulated that the public’s interest regarding what is now known as the Table Mountain National Park be protected, that no one group’s interest should dominate, and that the use of the area for recreational purposes should be recognised. Any managing Authority of the Park was to act as a custodian serving the public’s interest and it should do so maintaining transparency, adaptability and principles of participation. Despite misgivings and concerns that a centralised national parks approach would be adopted, and only as the result of certain assurances and undertakings (for example retaining Tokai and Cecilia for recreation and commercial forestry) that the Park would be managed as an urban and people’s park, was the land finally handed over for management to the South African National Parks Board.
Since that time, however, the management strategies of SANParks with respect to the TMNP have become increasingly centralised and the land which belongs to the people of Cape Town is effectively being nationalised. With the Park having been declared a World Heritage Site and following directives from national government (through the departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism and Water Affairs and Forestry) the SANParks’ approach with respect to the TMNP is one with a primary focus on biodiversity and a secondary focus on tourism and commercialisation. The concept of managing the park for the benefit of all the people of Cape Town is rapidly being forgotten and undertakings made are being ignored.
Policies have been put in place which increasingly make the Park people-exclusive –including path closures, access fees where there were none, a “user pays per impact” system, concessions, the requirement of permits and Wild Cards, the clear felling of Tokai and Cecilia plantations (in order to restore fynbos), development of facilities and trails with an eye exclusively on tourism, the closure of environmental education centres, and an increasing amount of restrictive signage. In addition, a gradual destruction of the cultural landscape and heritage of the Cape Peninsula is also being undertaken.
Public consultation and participation in these processes have been limited. Consultation with the public is done primarily through Interested and Affected Groups which seldom, if ever, includes the broad mass of the public. The Park Forum appointed as a “watchdog” between public and Park became dysfunctional as Park management attempt to use the body as an interface to field complaints – and ceased to exist. It should also be noted that only groups with constitutions may be represented on the Forum and that most members of the public do not belong to such groups. In consequence, the public feel increasingly angry and disempowered. This simmering anger is aggravated by what is often described as a “bullying” approach by SANParks, which has openly described the public as a “nuisance” and their outcry as “noise and clamour”.
The level of misinformation disseminated by Park management does nothing to improve the situation and the public have been denied insight into what the management authority is really doing. SANParks own documentation, website and media releases often contain information of such a contradictory nature that there is little sense of openness and transparency in communicating with the public they have been appointed to serve.
Issues of fire management, crime management and visitor safety, the failure to conduct necessary EIAs and heritage impact assessments (HIAs), land usage, restricted access to dog walkers along with the removal of “alien” animals which have long been part of the cultural landscape, are all raised when considering the Park’s management strategies.
It is manifest when considering SANParks strategy that a narrow set of interest groups are indeed, as it was once feared, dominating the management of the Park over the broader interests of the public. It is also apparent that SANParks has no intention of managing the TMNP any differently from any other national park and that undertakings to manage the Park for the people as an urban park is no longer of prime consequence. The complex mandate that was originally confided to the Authority has been effectively abandoned by that body in favour of a simplistic and narrow custodianship which, while it might be well suited to the management of a rural game park, has little purchase in a complex, multi-use urban park. A comment made several years ago by a park ranger on the SANParks online forum sums this up well:
“The SANPark’s mandate is to preserve the natural biodiversity of South Africa. This does not include maintaining urban parks for the enjoyment of South Africa’s citizens and visitors. Despite the fact that a great deal of SAN Parks revenue and operating income derives from paying visitors, it’s prime goal is to protect South Africa’s natural environments, not to entertain Joe Public. In fact, the facilities it provides to the public are merely a vehicle for attracting revenue. Sounds like prostitution but it is largely effective and equitable. The benefits to the tax-payer are expected to accrue, not as the result of a primary focus but through the peripheral effects of a well-protected ecology. Harsh facts but it is reality. If you believe that SANParks are the incorrect custodians of Table Mountain then you should lobby the government who bestowed the custodianship on SA Parks (but I must admit, I support the government fully on this one).”
In considering all the documentation available, it is apparent that from the outset the intention of the management of the TMNP was to be a balance between biodiversity and management in the public interest and for public purposes, and that the concept of “public ownership” of the TMNP was be fostered. It is equally clear that it was always the intent that the recreational aspects of the Park be managed in such a way as to meet the needs of a metropolitan area. There is a clear understanding in the documents that lead to the appointment of a single Authority to manage the Park that the TMNP is a national park in an urban setting and, as such, requires a unique vision which understands and takes cognizance of the needs of both biodiversity and of a city. Regretfully, under present Park management, it would appear that all these good intentions have either been compromised or ignored. Biodiversity, tourism and commercialization have been placed above the Cape Town public’s needs for recreation and well-being, and heritage issues have either been politicized or disregarded as a centralized approach has been adopted. The public increasingly finds itself denied participation in decision-making processes presented with changes as faits accomplis.