Where are all the local timber industrialists?
Theo Stehle, Knysna:
The recent Knysna Timber Festival held on the premises of Timber Village (now bereft of its buildings and contents after the fire destroyed everything), turned out to be the most successful ever, thanks to the indomitable spirit of Jock McConnachie and his work team (and its new owner Carl) who took up the challenge to rebuild Timber Village to at least what it had been before.
There was a wide variety of exhibitions and demonstrations at the event, which was very well attended by the public, also overseas visitors. However, these were overwhelmingly from elsewhere in the country, and apart from manning a handful of stalls, the local (including the wider Garden Route) industry glared in its absence.
This is most disappointing, as the Knysna Timber Initiative (KTI), together with Knysna municipality (Ilse van Schalkwyk) and Knysna Tourism, have worked hard to get the local businesses involved in the resurrection of that sector of the local economy that 20 years ago formed the backbone of the Knysna and Garden Route economy – the timber industry.
The decline of this important industry is deplorable. Although all the participants in this industry have complained bitterly about this during the past years, owners of timber-related businesses have not regarded it worthwhile to make sacrifices and work together to revive this industry – even just by investing in the Timber Festival, which has been labelled by KTI committee member Jock as “the catalyst” for its revival. However, if there is no buy-in from the local members of the industry, the desired revival will not fall from the sky. It simply cannot be left to the municipality or a few individuals to try to achieve this.
It is a fact that for years owners of local timber businesses have cared predominantly for their own, and not for the collective welfare of the industry as a whole. Even one of the leading firms whose history goes back many, many years, is going it on its own.
If this continues, there isn’t a hope that the situation might change for the better.
A good example of people with a common interest working together is the successes achieved by organised agriculture, in which the SA farming community collectively took up the challenge to successfully improvise for the serious lacks of all spheres of government.
Agri SA is assisting 100 000 emerging farmers with money and expertise to establish economically viable, sustainable, farming enterprises. It has become a leader in resolving broader agricultural issues in which the government has largely failed. It is on the forefront of technological development and provides expertise to most African countries, so much so that quite a few ministers from such countries attended the Agri Expo in the OFS last year. It has a formidable voice with government, because the farmers stand and work together. Admittedly this is on a large scale, but surely on a much smaller scale the principles remain the same?
The question is: Will local timber industrialists take up the challenge to take part in the KTI and band together to get the industry on its feet again? If not, the soughtafter revival is not going to happen, and complaining about it certainly will not achieve anything.