A history of restricted accessibility
TOKAI PARK HAS COME UNDER SEVERE THREAT OVER ITS VEGETATION
IN HIS introduction, Judge J Gamble states that Table Mountain was always open to all for recreation. But restricted accessibility has a long history, as discussed by Professor Lance van Sittert in 2010. The restrictions applied to activities and people of colour. Lower Tokai Park became part of Table Mountain National Park in 2005, but it is not mountainous. It is a plain with soil similar to the Cape Flats, now under severe threat regarding its natural vegetation.
Archival research reveals further that permission for dog walking restricted to Lower Tokai Park was granted at the height of apartheid. Suburban development of the Constantia-Steenberg Valley happened after the Group Areas Act 1950 became law. The Valley became a whites only area in 1961.
The Steenberg Mountain Range begins at Constantia Nek and for most of its history was fynbos land. The Hout Bay and Tokai sections (including Vlakkenberg) belonged to the national Forestry Department and Silvermine to the Cape Town Municipality, but where possible, plantations were established.
Pines are the nucleus of the business and have to be protected from trampling, grazing, fire and other threats. Therefore forestry always required permits for land access, except for SA Mountain Club card holders for hiking. It is therefore clear that a single set of access rules didn’t apply across the Peninsula mountain-chain.
The South African Forestry Company (1990-2005) employed forestry rules within forestry law. The only area allocated for dog walking were the plantations east of Orpen Road. The permission was granted in 1970, bypassing the Forestry Law, Section 21, 2(g), Act 72 of 1968, simultaneously cancelling the 1964-permission for dog walking within the picnic area. Both permissions required yearly permits.
Upper Tokai Park was not open to the public except for the hiking trail and the arboretum. Domestic animals and trespassing were always prohibited by forestry laws from 1888 to the present. Forestry Western Cape addressed recreation in 1963 and the Tokai picnic area opened in 1964, with designated paths for dog walking on a leash.
But according to archives, loose running dogs, crime and vandalism in the picnic area necessitated a review with strict notices, increased admission fees and policing by newly appointed forestry guards in 1968. Crime was forever present in the greater Constantia-Steenberg Valley.
Though forceful removals were seen by the government of the day as the answer to the future, lack of housing led to squatting, such as at Westlake at the end of the 1970s, as well as escalation of crime and violence in the 1980s, together with the defiance campaign against apartheid. Pollsmoor was established in 1964 as a coloured facility. The picnic area was open to all, but the braai facilities and toilets were segregated by race.
Forced removals of four coloured communities followed in 1963. The main consequence of these was a labour shortage for farmers and forestry. Consequently, small farmers began to sell off their land and the economical tide favoured the influx of a “rich and upper-class” group (as described by forestry staff). Local farmers were opposed to forestry since early times because of labour, fires and water issues.
Forestry provided a ride-through path at Boshek to Soetvlei and limited horse-riding to fire-belts. The suburb Dennendal was proclaimed in 1969 and took several years to get off the ground. Dennendal was previously Kleinbergvliet farm, subdivided and named after the adjacent section of Tokai Plantation.
The subsequent about-turn by forestry in allowing dogs to run off the leash, but no walking within
The picnic area was open to all, but the braai facilities and toilets were segregated
plantations, was to keep the goodwill of the new rich and important people. Like approving the request from Dr Giles, March 1970, and to counter the threat of losing the greater part of Lower Tokai Park to the Department of Public Works for a road construction village, including a clinic.
Although land was offered in compensation, the chief regional and district officers of forestry declined the exchange, instead declaring the land east of Orpen Road as the “only” dog walking area in the peninsula, which was not true. (Giles actually walked his dog in Cecilia; Silvermine also allowed dogs.) The decision in August 1970 was also motivated to avoid the settlement of people “not suitable” to the new neighbourhood.
Clearly, this was not an altruistic decision, nor was it free of racism. Furthermore, the dog walkers were excluded from the mixed users in the picnic site, making dog walking a whites only activity. The Group Areas Act was repealed in 1990.
Did conservation really get its fair deal in this judgment? For the everyday person, this judgment injured the entrenchment of conservation in many South African and international laws for protecting and conserving the environment. Simultaneously it enhances the inversion of symbolic restitution after 1994: privileges under apartheid are now written into law.
This ruling also poses a threat to heritage. The heritage of the land in question includes pre-colonial people and a declared wood (fynbos) reserve during the Dutch period, which is not embedded in the arboretum and buildings in the precinct representing the forestry history. The arboretum will be and was always open to the public.
SANParks might have failed its administrative duty according to the judgment, but it acted on behalf of the ecological and cultural heritage of this country in fulfilling its statutory duty.
This judgment could have unforeseen consequences for conservation in the future.
Van Rooyen holds a PhD in history
AT RISK: The pine trees in Tokai Park that have provided many with shade for many with dogs might still be cut down one of these days.