05.04.2016 Different stakeholders gather at the official launch of the Roosfontein nature reserve yesterday at the Westville, Durban. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Durban - A decades-long struggle by environmentalists has finally succeeded with the official proclamation of the Roosfontein Nature Reserve.

The nature reserve, which will now be preserved for future generations, borders the Westville Prison and is being preserved to protect the endangered rare dwarf chameleon, North Coast grasslands and medicinal plants.

The land had been earmarked for a golf course, stadium and casino in the past, but environmental activists fought for its preservation.

Richard Boon, manager in biodiversity planning at the eThekwini Municipality, said the nature reserve covered 213 hectares, with a further 20 hectares near the nature reserve earmarked for housing projects.

Dr Debra Roberts, deputy head of environmental planning and climate protection, said it was a joyous moment that the reserve had finally been proclaimed such and recounted how they had negotiated with the Westville mayor pre-1994 not to misuse the land.

She said the challenge for Durban and African cities now was to create uniquely African cities that were not made in the image of mini-European cities.

“We’ve had to decolonise our minds,” she said. “We need to be uniquely African, like when you go to Rio or Nairobi, they have huge natural parks and savannahs. Our cities have to be different and must play a different role.

“Look at the beautiful grass hills, these are a valuable resource.

“That is why a golf course on that land was not part of building an African city, that is why we started lobbying 30 years ago, we said we think this is valuable and we need to protect it for the future and keep Roosfontein free of development,” she said.

Roberts said it was only in 1994, when discussions around the future of the Cato Manor area were being held, that it was decided the land would be kept as a nature reserve.

“African nature had to be a part of that, that is why the city looked at proposals for a stadium and a casino, but we had always maintained that we need to protect Roosfontein, that has always superceded everything, because the green economy is critical for the South African dream,” she said.

Kenneth Mabila, the natural resources manager for the municipality, said this was the third nature reserve to be proclaimed in line with provincial and national standards in the city after Paradise Valley and the Palmiet Nature Reserve.

He said the reserve was 80% grasslands and that it was important to preserve the North Coast grasslands found in the reserve.

The most endangered species to be found on the reserve was the dwarf chameleon but upon assessment, other wildlife could be introduced at a later stage, said Mabila.

“Biodiversity is an asset of the municipality that must be maintained. The dream for the reserve is that we have chalets and campsites, but for now, we must deal with the threats of alien plants and people that might want to put up structures to live on this land,” he said.

eThekwini Parks head Thembinkosi Ngcobo said reserves were “our natural heritage” and that it was important to preserve these for future generations.

“If we do not preserve them, we will hurt our own identity. We are under pressure in terms of our green spaces,” he said.