Friends of Table Mountain rally together to demand action from SANParks over Table Mountain “neglect.”
Cape Town, South Africa (12 October 2020) – Public outrage with how SANParks is managing Table Mountain National Park has led to the formation of a 1000-plus member group of mountain users who are calling for immediate action.
In April 1998 the City of Cape Town signed an Agreement with SANParks, handing over management of what was then known as the Cape Peninsula Park to SANParks. Since then, recreational users and other stakeholders have battled with how the Park is managed.
On 27 December 2019 SANParks’ rangers broke the arm of SA cyclist, Nic Dlamini, in an incident over a permit. For recreational users, this was a final straw.
Seeking to intervene in a situation of growing public discontent, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Barbara Creecy, met with disgruntled stakeholders in March and appointed six task teams to look at various user concerns. Five months on, Friends of Table Mountain, a group made up of members from the six task teams, felt the task team process was falling foul of SANParks. They wrote to the Minister at the end of August calling for her to intervene. Three weeks later, the CEO of SANParks met the group and other task team members. Although the meeting was positive, Andy Davies, who leads Friends of Table Mountain, says they remain concerned about the numerous issues plaguing the Park.
“Security,” he says, “is an ongoing concern already doing damage to tourism.”
He references the warning the UK foreign office issued to Park visitors after the murder of a Russian tourist on Chapman’s Peak in 2019. Davies also points to crumbling infrastructure and the shocking and dangerous condition of many trails. He adds that numerous revenue-generating events, many of which had social development outreaches, have been cancelled over the years.
“All of these things impact the positive potential of the mountain, including job creation initiatives,” says Davies.
Robert Vogel of Table Mountain Bikers adds that many user and interest groups do an increasing amount of work on SANParks behalf.
“Mountain bikers have ploughed close on two million rand into the Park, building and maintaining their own trails and assisting with security. And then we still have to pay for activity permits.”
Vogel questions both the legality of the permit system in light of the terms of the Agreement and the cumbersome manner in which it is managed.
“With an income of R308 million in the 2018 to 2019 financial year, and only R90 million provided to TMNP for operational expenses, we want to know what SANParks Pretoria is doing with the rest of the money,” says Davies.
“The revenue generated by the Park needs to be reinvested into it to stop a dramatic slide in condition and to grow infrastructure. It’s one thing milking the cash-cow, it’s another thing killing it.”
Nicky Schmidt of Parkscape says, “The underlying issue is that SANParks is in breach of the Agreement they signed with the City.”
Schmidt explains that the Heads of Agreement between SANParks and the City acknowledges that Table Mountain National Park is a national park in an urban setting and requires a different management approach to rural national parks – namely that the Park be managed for conservation and people.
SANParks, however, appear hamstrung by national environmental legislation that provides limited grounds for managing an urban national park. While SANParks acknowledged this difficulty at the meeting with the group, the organisation maintains its mandate is conservation – a position reinforced by the Minister’s reply to a parliamentary question that, “The Table Mountain National Park is managed like all other National Parks. SANParks does not have separate protocols for management of urban Parks.”
Friends of Table Mountain say the management of Table Mountain National Park has to acknowledge and reflect the realities of a national park surrounded by a diversely populated urban environment. They add that as much as the onus rests with SANParks to do better, it is also the responsibility of the City of Cape Town to ensure the Park is managed in accord with the Agreement.
“SANParks’ attitude to stakeholders has to change,” says Davies. “A management culture of broken promises and implicit threats, lack of transparency and poor communication, the spin-doctoring and tactics of divide and conquer have to be addressed. While we’re encouraged by our meeting with the CEO, and we are more than willing to work with SANParks, it’s on SANParks to step up and look after the Park properly and, critically, they have to rebuild the public’s trust.”
While Friends of Table Mountain take up a fair but firm approach to holding SANParks to account in managing the Park, many park users have made it clear that enough is enough with calls that it’s time for SANParks to move on.