Community Meeting Minutes – Wednesday July 20th @ Alphen Community Hall

PRESENT:  150 people completed the Attendance Register.  Approximately 200 people were present.

APOLOGIES:  A number of apologies were received before and after the meeting.

The start of the meeting was delayed by 15 minutes due to inclement weather.  The meeting was opened by Duncan Greaves (DG) of Parkscape.  It was asked that all attendees address each other respectfully.

Andre van Schalkwyk (AvS) of Table Mountain Watch gave a presentation on current security issues facing users of Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). On average there have been two to three attacks per month on users over the last 5 – 6 years. AvS noted that the public should not rely entirely on SANParks for safety and that people need to be more aware and educated on how to rely on their own resources. AvS offered to run TM Watch workshops for Parkscape supporters on what to look for, where to look, how to respond etc.

Question:  Tamsin Nel (TN) asked if this was a SANParks meeting and was advised that it was not.

  • TN then asked AvS how calling out in the middle of the forest could safeguard her or her child.  It became evident that this was a heated and highly emotive subject and AvS advised that he could only suggest various tools and methods to avoid or diffuse dangerous situations.
  • Diane Haantjes (DH) stated that a several attendees walked in Lower Tokai 2 – 3 times a day.  They had made the effort to get Activity Permits from SANParks.  However, the height of the fynbos made it unsafe to walk in. SANParks presence in Lower Tokai seemed to be purely for harassment in checking permits and not protection.  DH emphasized that the community wanted an area that was safe to walk in.

Nicky Schmidt (NS), Chair of Parkscape, thanked attendees for braving the weather.  NS explained what Parkscape was and why it was formed. The slides of the presentation can be found at Parkscape Community Meeting Presentation.

NS presented a brief overview of the history of TMNP and how it came to be managed by SANParks, the government’s forest exit strategy, the establishment of the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework and MTO Forestry’s position regarding the pines in Tokai and Cecilia.

NS emphasized that at no point was anyone disputing the importance of biodiversity or the importance of the fynbos biome.However, the Management Framework provided for “transition areas” in Lower Tokai. NS explained how transition areas worked and that SANParks had agreed to a balanced approach. The devastating fires of March 2015 have necessitated MTO felling the pines in Lower Tokai long before the agreed date of 2025 which means that the “transition areas” agreed to in the Framework are now highly improbable. SANParks were not offering any information on what their plans for Lower Tokai are or how they were going to ensure safety in the area. The lack of response from SANParks would indicate that the founding principles of TMNP – “to focus on public interest” – have been lost. NS pointed out that TMNP is an urban park that requires a people inclusive strategy.

Many of the TMNP user groups were deeply concerned about issues like safety, access, fires, fees and a lack of transparency of the management of the park by SANParks.

A moment of silence was held to remember Franziska Blöchliger who was murdered in the dense fynbos of Lower Tokai. The premature felling of the trees in Lower Tokai means that the transition areas agreed to in the Management Framework might no longer be established. If the entire area is given over to fynbos, it brings the risk of crime and fire right to the urban edge. SANParks could not be allowed to simply deviate from the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework. The community has to be consulted and it has to happen before the trees are felled. This public participation process has to take place as soon as possible as MTO have indicated that the trees will be felled anytime between now and the end of 2017.

The first speaker was Rupert Koopman (RK) from Cape Nature.  He noted that in 1996 there was 3-5 times more Cape Flats Sand fynbos than there currently is.  Healthy Sand fynbos is waist height or lower. Lower Tokai is one of very few places where the Sand fynbos can be connected to the mountain.

  • An attendee interjected to say the area was hardly connected to the mountain.  RK responded there were no physical obstructions i.e. buildings, and that the tenuous link between mountain and flats needed to be revived.
  • Someone else observed that there were just a few trees left asking why it was necessary for them to go, to which RK responded it was all that the conservationists had left for restoration.
  • Another attendee said she lived next to the forest and that it was “Port Jackson deluxe”. RK said someone needed to remove the Port Jackson.
  • RK then referred to NS’s slide “the risk of crime and fire will be brought right to the urban edge” and said the problem was that the urban edge had encroached on the fynbos. This resulted in considerable jeering and the response from an attendee that this was an issue of safety.
  • Mark Wiley (MW) reminded RK that in a Provincial Legislature environmental committee meeting, Cape Nature had indicated that in the next 12-15 years, 60 to 70% fynbos would be directly affected by global warming.
  • Pat Holmes (PH) from the City’s environmental department, indicated that the City’s conservation plan included the areas under pines which was about 5% of the total area under conservation.
  • Pam Gorre (PG), representing the Tokai Residents’ Association, asked if there any chance of maintaining some trees and of having a grassed area or will the entire area be given over to fynbos regardless of what the public says.  She asked if the original plan [the Management Framework] would not be adhered to.
  • Gavin Bell (GB) Area Manager for the TMNP South, said SANParks would be adhering to the Management Framework.
  • NS noted that SANParks had not responded to queries regarding plans for Lower Tokai and asked if they intended to adhere to the Management Framework.  GB responded that SANParks were committed to the Management Framework, they would not reverse the plan and they would have to go through a process to put the transition areas in place. NS noted that no new planting of trees had begun and if MTO were to fell the trees by the end of 2017, Lower Tokai would be left without shaded recreation.  NS noted, and GB agreed, that the current area of fynbos is where new pines would be planted and the area where MTO were due to fell, would be in line for fynbos planting.  GB went on to say that the fynbos was not yet at the 15 year burning mark. DG thanked GB for publicly committing to the Management Framework and agreeing to engage with the public.
  • TN pointed out that SANParks lack of accountability and transparency is what angered the community and that to say the addressing of safety issues was premature, was unacceptable.
  • RK was asked what was required for the current fynbos to be reduced to waist height and the answer was “a lot of money”.

Professor Eugene Moll (EM) (Botany) then gave his input on the very complex issue of fynbos conservation.  In order for Sand fynbos to survive the soil has to have low nutrients.  Research has already shown that where there are an accumulation of nutrients in the soil, Mediterranean alien invasive grasses overcome the natural species.  He stressed the importance of taking into account early literature on the subject.  EM stressed that conservation is a human construct and that people also have to be taken into account.  The city of Cape Town has been built all over Sand fynbos.  The public will has to be taken into account.

The question of what SANParks intended to do with the Arboretum was asked.  The Arboretum is not indigenous and was planted specifically to see what types of trees would survive.  GB responded by saying in a previous public participation process it was agreed that SANParks would retain the Arboretum and not fell.  It is also a National Heritage site.  The area has been badly damaged by the 2015 fire and SANParks are waiting on a report conducted by a specialist from the Department of Forestry.  EM questioned the qualifications of the specialist being used and queried the reasons why Professor Geldenhuys had not been permitted into the Arboretum.  GB stated that Coert Geldenhuys had been escorted to the periphery of the area but due to the dangerous conditions, was not allowed complete access.  EM felt that Professor Geldenhuys was better qualified to assess the trees in the Arboretum and that his inspection had been seriously curtailed.  GB argued that an assessment had taken place later and EM requested access to the report.

Roy Hirsch (RH) then asked if anyone from the City of Cape Town was present.  At this point Alderman Felicity Purchase (FP) had arrived and she was asked if the City had commissioned a report from Dr Klatzow regarding the fires of March 2015.  FP confirmed that Dr Klatzow had conducted a forensic investigation on the cause of the fires.  According to FP the report had been finalised but at this point it was still going through several committees and that if there was potential legal action involved, it would not be made available to the public.  FP is on the Table Mountain task team.

Rowena Wonfor (RW) who lives opposite the first section of Tokai Forest that was felled 10 years ago, asked SANParks what their intentions were going forward.   RW personally goes into the fynbos to hack back Port Jackson and Wattle and had to watch last year as the fire approached her house.  This was one of the first areas to be given over to fynbos but RW saw very little fynbos and mostly grass, bush and rubbish.  In 10 years, she had not seen any SANParks staff assisting in the removal of aliens or maintaining the fynbos.  RW wanted to know what the plan was if all the pines were felled.  GB replied SANParks were not responsible for the felling of the trees but rather MTO.  GB said that SANParks did maintain blocks of fynbos and had just not got to the block referred to by RW.  RW accused SANParks of having very limited knowledge of the area.

MW then commented on SANParks’ response to the felling of the pines in Lower Tokai Forest.  MW said it was disingenuous of SANParks to wash their hands of this issue and to make out that they had no interest in the felling, that it was another government department that had sold the trees to MTO.  MW said that SANParks are integral to the process and were the main drivers of the process as they are the experts in conservation in South Africa.  SANParks could not say they were not the main role player because MTO owned the trees.   The main reason MTO are felling and removing themselves from the area is because anything less than 20 000 hectares of forestry is not economically viable for them.   The government’s decision to exit forestry had been reversed on realising that the country did need forests.  Unfortunately in the Western Cape, forestry is already below the 20 000 hectare threshold thereby forcing MTO to leave the area.  MW concluded by saying that SANParks is the organisation that put the pressure on the system and to deny that is completely disingenuous.

An attendee asked whether it would be possible for “hacking parties” to be organised to keep the fynbos at an acceptable height for safety purposes.  GB replied that it was illegal to remove valuable natural indigenous vegetation in terms of the National Environmental Protected Areas Act (NEM:PAA). The public is not allowed to trim the fynbos.  AvS pointed out that the request wasn’t to trim the fynbos on the mountain but rather the fynbos in Lower Tokai which is an urban park, surrounded by housing.  AvS repeated that this was about a safety issue where people are walking in tall fynbos and referenced that the legislation be changed accordingly.
NS stated that SANParks mandate was public consultation and taking the public’s view into account. She pointed out that this was in the Minister’s Buffer Zone policy.
Dr Tony Rebelo (TR) stated that because of development, Lower Tokai is the only place left to try and conserve Sand fynbos.The only way to keep the fynbos lower was to burn it more often.Hacking and trimming is definitely not allowed.

FP was then asked to give some input from the City.  FP said the City is committed to recognising that TMNP is a park within a city and that it is a park for the people of Cape Town.  For the past 3 years the City has tried to engage with the DEA or Director General of SANParks re the now lapsed Heads of Agreement.  The City has put together a document for discussion and is awaiting a date and commitment from the DEA.  There are issues surrounding the management of the Park, how money generated is sent out of the province leaving TMNP without funds for operational requirements.  The City does see a way forward and feels that a co-operative stance is needed in the running of the Park.  Hopefully by the end of the year things would be clearer but that it may end up in litigation as many things do.
Jenny Cullinan (JC) a researcher of bees said it was critical to have natural areas for bees in order to protect our food security.  Although this was a people’s park, it had to be managed by people who understood the complexity of these special places.  JC stated that we need to understand how the bees survive in the wild so we can feed them back into agriculture and build strong bee communities.  We need the pristine and important environments preserved in order to gain information crucial to our survival.

TN then asked if SANParks was part of Public Works.  She was advised that it is part of the Department of Environmental Affairs.  TN queried why so much had been spent on bicycle lanes in Constantia rather than security in public spaces.  FP replied that she did not know what TN was referring to.

Antony Hitchcock (AH) the Living Collections and Threatened Species Manager at Kirstenbosch then made a statement.  His appeal to the audience was for conservation of the planet. His job is to prevent species of plants from going extinct. He estimated that there is now only 11% Sandplain fynbos left or which 5% sits within the Park.  International conservation laws and agendas dictate that South Africa does conservation work.  SANParks and SANBI have to work within the mandates handed down by government and international agendas to conserve flora.  He advised that the only place where effective, ecological conservation of Sandplain fynbos could take place is in Tokai.  AH felt that the height of the fynbos in Tokai could be managed with a proper fire regime.  Working with species of plants that are critically endangered or extinct in the wild and succeeding with them through hard work, means that the child of the future will see the plants again.

DG thanked AH and stressed that no one present was contesting the importance of conservation. However no regime of international law nor any national legislation can override the public’s entitlement to an administrative process that is lawful, reasonable and procedurally fair.

FP concluded that a lot of the animosity in the room is because there was no Park Forum and no engagement between the City, SANParks and the public. It is imperative that a Park Forum be formed so it can be a platform whereby users can have a voice and engage about issues.There was always going to be opposing and diverse points of view but compromise was possible. People have to be taken into consideration as does the survival of our natural environment. We need to work around issues and do what is acceptable to the majority. FP hoped that the meeting was a step in the right direction and as much as one did not want to listen to another’s opinion, the reality is that we have to. The City has to and SANParks has to.

DG thank all for their participation.

The meeting concluded at 19h50.

Support for safety and trees – by Fiona Chisholm

I’m sure many of the 200 people who left their cosy homes on the evening of July 20th in the bucketing rain to fill the Alphen Community Hall expected the meeting to be about saving the trees in the Lower Tokai Park. Instead it was about saving lives.

Nicky Schmidt, the driving force behind the event and chairperson of a group called Parkscape, is determined that 16-year old Franziska Blöchliger will not have died in vain. In early March, as we all painfully remember, Franziska was running on the sand track adjacent to the pines and parallel to Orpen Road when her assailants grabbed and dragged her into the too-tall fynbos where she was brutally raped and murdered.

“We know there are people living in the fynbos. We’ve found the signs. Some may be harmless but because muggers know it’s possible to hide without detection, they are drawn to these secret places. Accidents are just waiting to happen…..”

According to the opening speaker Andre van Schalkwyk, who runs Table Mountain Watch, which works hard to restore visitor confidence and improve safety in Table Mountain National Park – including in Lower Tokai – people must take responsibility for their own safety.

“Even in those situations where you cannot use your cellphone, pre-primed with emergency numbers, you still have three tools. Your eyes to be aware of our surroundings and who is in the vicinity. Your ears to listen for movement and your voice – a very powerful tool – to shout at the threatening person and to scream your loudest for help.”
According to Nicky, who gave an excellent power point presentation on the background to the somewhat fractious relationship between SANParks and the public, the tragedy of Franziska Blöchliger, along with other stabbings, rapes and muggings in the Table Mountain National Park, has brought about the need to create safe urban parks for all in the buffer zones of TMNP, starting with Lower Tokai.

The pines could be cut by MTO Forestry “any time between now and next year”, she said. Turning the land over to fynbos was to risk bringing fire and crime to the edge of urban life. Additionally, it could mean that the Tokai Cecilia Management Framework (which allows for shaded recreation in Tokai) that was toughly negotiated by Nicky and her previous team in 2006/7, and which was committed to by SANParks, could run aground with new environmental legislation and MTO’s early departure.

For anyone wondering who the people behind Parkscape are – well, they’re neither a bunch of activists nor a group of nutters who would tie themselves to the pine trees on the day the chainsaw teams moved in. Nicky from Stonehurst, who ran the original Parkscape in 2006 – 2008, describes the group “as eight concerned residents worried about safety in Lower Tokai, and that the recreational opportunities currently provided in the Tokai Cecilia Management Plan will be lost.”

Others in the team are Prof Eugene Moll (Kirstenhof), Chris Whyte (Tokai), Glenda Phillips (Silvertree), Ann Hutchings (Tokai), Sandra Kruger (Tokai), Renee Baard (Bergvliet) and Duncan Greaves (Stonehurst).

The second incarnation of Parkscape only came together in May and was constituted as an association a month ago. But it is fast increasing its popularity and has close on 1800 members on its database, with some as far afield as Stellenbosch and Brackenfell, along with residents from Sea Point, Newlands, Hout Bay, Noordhoek and the greater Constantia Valley.
Other groups in the area have also shown their support – such as the Tokai Residents’ Association and Neighbourhood Crime Watch, Women of Westlake, Zwaanswyk Resident’s Association and various cycling, riding, pony and dog-walking people.

So what’s to be done about Lower Tokai?

It was the late arrival of Alderman Felicity Purchase who brought the weight of the Cape Town City Council with her, that hopefully will ensure that from now on SANParks will respond to public concerns over safety and nothing will be done without public participation to adhere to the original Management Framework for a people-friendly park with shaded recreation area, pockets of fynbos and stands of non-invasive pines which will be cut and re planted.