Minister of Arts and Culture Nathi Mthethwa admires the statue of Queen Labotsibeni Mdluli, one of 55 he unveiled last year on the site of the National Heritage Monument in the Groenkloef Nature Reserve. Picture: Masi Losi

Dali Tambo’s multi-million-rand heritage dream of creating 400 life-size sculptures of Struggle heroes, Africa’s biggest water theme park and gardens of remembrance, has come under fire for its potential effects on a pristine ridge system in one of the continent’s oldest reserves.

The DA notes the National Heritage Monument, the brainchild of Tambo and the Department of Arts and Culture and endorsed by President Jacob Zuma, is to be established on a sensitive Class 1 ridge system in the popular Groenkloof Nature Reserve.

The rehabilitated and pristine ridge stretches from the fountains entrance south towards the caravan park and north into the valley,” says Siobhan Muller, the DA’s spokesman on city planning in Tshwane.

This could lead to the deproclamation of 70 hectares of undeveloped land, she suggests.

“The run-off (from the ridge) runs into the Apies River. The fountains in this area feed the city centre of Pretoria.

“Petrochemical run-off from the top of the ridge - (from) parking and holding areas for vehicles - will go directly into the Apies and (this could) affect groundwater”.

Blessing Manale, mayoral spokesman for the City of Tshwane, believes the objections and concerns have little to do with environmental impacts.

He says they represent “yet another resistance to the remodelling of the cultural and heritage outlook of the city to reflect our history and the tenets of our freedom”.

Phase one includes the Long Walk to Freedom, a “monumental parade of 400 life-size sculptures of individuals who have contributed to the country’s liberation” . The first statues were installed in September.

This phase also involves creating gardens of remembrance, structures for Struggle archives and presidential libraries, a visitors' centre with an auditorium, Africa’s biggest water theme park, an African Madame Tussauds, restaurants and shops.

In the document, the council cites the plans envisaged for phases two to four. These include building a five-star hotel, conference centre, offices, residential units and further restaurants.

The application notes that “Fountains Valley, including the reserve, is a proclaimed nature reserve therefore care should be given to the conditions of the proclamation”.

In 2013, Tambo, chief executive officer of the National Heritage Project company, said in briefing MPs on the portfolio committee of arts and culture that planners would be “mindful of the national reserve” in the creation of a water park and would avoid having an “impact on the conservation of the site”.

Muller says she supports the heritage concept, but its location is a problem, given that the reserve, established in 1895, is one of the oldest in Africa and “the most visited” in Gauteng.

“The proposal document states the area will also be used for celebrations. The monument will include four towers 23m high and this would interfere with air space (for the) Waterkloof Air Base.”

Development on the ridge system will open the possibility of further development. Wildlife would be “seriously affected by the proposed development and increase in noise levels”.

But Manale says the monument is part of the efforts to redress historical imbalances and instil a sense of pride and identity.

“For a very long time, the South African story was one-dimensional - told from the perspective of our erstwhile colonisers.

“We believe all concerned groups will be afforded the appropriate opportunity to raise their concerns through the environmental impact process... We are certain that our mega- infrastructure development will be done in line with the best sustainability considerations as a non-negotiable.”

Tambo did not want to comment this week, suggesting it was not protocol and that the department, which was leading the project, should do so instead.

Spokeswoman Lisa Combrink says the department has been working closely with the City of Tshwane and government agencies that served on the monument’s steering committee.

“These government entities, including the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, which did not comment, have provided input and recommendations with regard to development in the Groenkloof Nature Reserve.

“The development of the National Heritage Monument, on any land, is subject to stringent National Environmental Management Act regulations, administered by the Department of Environment Affairs,” she says.

The department is funding heritage development, the creation of statues, but is not involved in any other elements.

Saturday Star