Cape Town – A full public participation process will have to take place to determine whether tree felling at Tokai Forest will resume, the Western Cape High Court has ordered.
Judge Patrick Gamble’s ruling was the culmination of months of an emotionally charged court battle between community-based organisation Parkscape and SA National Parks (SanParks) and Mountain To Ocean (MTO).
Parkscape was against the felling and both sides in the court battle have been armed with compelling arguments regarding the future of the forest.
Parkscape has been lobbying for trees and shade in the area. It butted heads with SanParks and MTO after they started felling some of the pine trees last August.
The move sparked widespread anger and protests, with some residents going as far as chaining themselves to trees.
In his judgment this week, Judge Gamble found there had been no justifiable argument made by the respondents to expedite the felling, saying while SanParks claimed to have garnered 2 795 signatures from people who were pro-felling, Parkscape said its petition raked in 2 065.
“Clearly, there are strong views either way,” Gamble said.
He ruled in Parkscape’s favour, describing SanParks’ argument that felling was “a matter of life and death” as dramatic.
“That argument did not hold water given that the long-term plan for Tokai Forest only contemplated the clear felling of Dennedal several years hence,” the judge said in his ruling .
Parkscape chairperson Nicky Schmidt said they were delighted with the ruling and “not just because we’ve been able to uphold the needs and wants of the community we represent".
"We are encouraged that this judgment shows, once again, that South Africa’s legal system continues to uphold justice, particularly in this time when the government and its agencies believe they are a law unto themselves,” she said.
SanParks and MTO had wanted to reintroduce the indigenous and critically endangered fynbos to the forest, but Parkscape argued the vegetation type posed safety risks.
“We feel that bringing fynbos so close to the urban edge of Tokai may well be an act of irresponsibility in terms of both fire and crime,” Schmidt said.
Alex Landsdowne, of the Friends of Tokai group, disagreed: “During a fire, fynbos can be easily contained and managed. Where I agree with them (Parkscape) is that we do need better security.
"But some of those trees are 20m tall and an adult can easily hide behind them, so whether it’s pine trees or fynbos is irrelevant,” he said.
Representatives for SanParks were not available for comment.
Schmidt said that when the public participation process would take place was “entirely” up to SanParks and MTO as they had been “interdicted and restrained” from any further felling of trees.