Our Burning Planet

TRAILS AND PARKS

Give our Mother City its mountain – calls made for better quality control and management

Give our Mother City its mountain – calls made for better quality control and management
Table Mountain has a myriad of trails used by hikers, runners walkers and climbers. (Photo: Xavier Briel)

Friends of Table Mountain are calling for Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment Minister Barbara Creecy to hand over the management of Table Mountain National Park from South African National Parks to the City of Cape Town, after years of frustration, as trails degrade and biodiversity and user safety is put under threat.

“The public continues to be disappointed and have lost all faith in South African National Parks (SANParks’) ability to effectively manage Table Mountain National Park (TMNP),” read a statement from Friends of Table Mountain (FOTM). 

FOTM cites issues such as muggings, poaching, overnight sleeping, as well as biodiversity concerns including industrial-scale bark stripping, other forest destruction and expansion of invasive alien vegetation on the mountain.

The trails have fallen to disrepair, with boardwalks missing slats, slats loose or broken and nails sticking out of them.

FOTM members believe the City of Cape Town will make better use of the revenue generated by TMNP to rehabilitate and upkeep the trails. They believe the city can be held more effectively accountable by mountain users and understands the local context better.

In response to the call from FOTM for a change of management, SANParks told Daily Maverick that “FOTM, like any South African, has a right to opinion. SANParks prides itself in being a leading conservation agency recognised locally and internationally.”

Large-scale bark-stripping of indigenous trees in Newlands Forest, part of Table Mountain National Park. This illegal harvesting, mostly from indigenous trees, is used in traditional medicine. (Photo: Friends of Table Mountain)

The Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) reported that in the 2019/2020 financial year, TMNP generated more than R371-million, but only R99-million was reinvested in operations.

The majority of that revenue is generated from Cape Point at R216-million, followed by Boulders (R90.5-million) and Table Mountain Aerial Cableway (R39.7-million).

“If the City had that income, that could spend a lot more money on the mountain,” FOTM chairperson Andy Davies told Daily Maverick.

Davies pointed out that in February 2021, SANParks said at a press conference that TMNP is a “difficult” park to manage. 

“So if it’s a difficult part to manage, then they need to apply more resources to it,” said Davies.

More available resources?

When asked why they don’t apply more resources, SANParks told Daily Maverick: “The park applies available resources to its operations with improvements made and progress monitored continuously. This is all executed according to an approved park management plan, which follows an extensive consultation process with various stakeholders.”

FOTM said it is not right that SANParks profits out of TMNP while they continue to manage it poorly.

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Income revenue streams saw a dip the following year – between April 2020 and February 2021, the TMNP generated R23.5-million (the revenue report was sent to Minister Creecy through a parliamentary question by FOTM through the DA’s David Bryant before the end of the 2020/2021 financial year), and R74-million was reportedly reinvested back into operations. 

When asked about spending, SANParks told Daily Maverick that they do not “ring-fence revenue at park level”, explaining that “all revenue generated by all parks is allocated to the SANParks revenue budget”.

“SANParks stays committed to allocate expenditure budgets to all its national parks to ensure execution of its conservation mandate.”

However, FOTM maintains that they are “not seeing a tangible effort being made by SANParks management to improve TMNP or to at least commit to a bigger operational budget to provide more resources to address the problems plaguing TMNP. 

“We have seen how other national parks are well managed – why can’t the same be done for TMNP?” FOTM asked in a statement.

Due to lack of maintenance by SANParks, many trails in Table Mountain National Park have fallen to disrepair, including missing or broken boardwalk slats, or those with nails sticking out. (Photo: Friends of Table Mountain)

Crown jewel of South Africa

“TMNP is the crown jewel of South Africa, and we cannot allow it to continue to decay. After much deliberation, FOTM can only conclude that SANParks is incapable of managing this complex urban park.

“Therefore, in the best interests of conservation, recreation and tourism on TMNP, FOTM believes TMNP should be handed back to the City of Cape Town.”

FOTM explained that TMNP land is owned by the City and the park was handed over to SANParks under a Heads of Agreement in 1998.

When asked about this proposal, City of Cape Town Deputy Mayor and Mayoral Committee Member for Spatial Planning and Environment Eddie Andrews told Daily Maverick, “While it may sound prudent to have the TMNP bestowed under the custodianship of the City, we should not forget that besides having rich biodiversity, having a national park forming part of the City is one of the contributing factors that makes Cape Town one of the best cities in the world.

“SANParks has recently reestablished its TMNP Park Forum, a platform on which various challenges will be discussed to enable the park management to deploy resources working in partnership with the City of Cape Town and other stakeholders to achieve its mandate,” continued Andrews.

“It is not uncommon for municipalities to work with national or provincial parks in South Africa.

“However, the City will continue to engage with SANParks’ TMNP through its partnership agreements to find suitable options to manage and control unwanted activities within the park.

“At this stage, there are no formal engagements regarding whether the City, nor any other entity of government, should take over the management of the TMNP.”

A nail sticking up from a log on a Constantia Nek hiking trail in Table Mountain National Park. (Photo: Frank Dwyer)

Counter-attack

Davies countered by telling Daily Maverick that “Andrews should not pin his hopes on the TMNP as it has turned out to be a complete flop due to SANParks mismanagement. We also understand that since its inception over a year ago, the City has not attended a single TMNPF meeting.”

FOTM said in its statement: “The current conflicting budgets, mandates, policies and legislation make collaborative attempts between SANParks and the City prone to failure. 

“The City of Cape Town understands local context and can respond in a more agile manner to challenges such as land invasions and crime, while it can also effectively leverage opportunities such as tourism and recreation. 

It added that “the City already performs many functions on TMNP such as: baboon management, significant firefighting support, water catchment management, Metro police support, TMNP Emergency call centre, infrastructure and road maintenance, Air Mercy Helicopter etc. This is in addition to the significant amount of work that public volunteers do on TMNP such as Wilderness Search and Rescue, Volunteer Wildfire Services, invasive alien vegetation removal, trail rehabilitation etc.”

After sending FOTM’s concerns and its call for a change of management, the DFFE told Daily Maverick that Minister Barbara Creecy has asked SANParks for a comprehensive report on everything they have done since 2020.

On 3 March 2020, Minister Creecy created six Ministerial Task Teams to address issues at TMNP after meeting with the disgruntled public.

FOTM said, “Unfortunately, these task teams have achieved nothing, and the public has not seen the required steps of change in management of TMNP.” DM/OBP

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