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The City of Johannesburg has been accused of “misleading” the public about the extent of the polyphagous shothole borer (PSHB) infestation, which is killing off some of the city’s trees.

While Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo last week said it was too early to classify the borer beetle outbreak as a disaster, the Borer Action Group (BAG) countered that this was another attempt “to minimise this environmental threat to excuse its inaction.

“It’s apparent that Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo, MMC for Community Development Nonhlanhla Sifumba and the City of Johannesburg are downplaying the extent of this problem resulting in the widespread neglect of trees in the city,” said the BAG, in a letter to Johannesburg mayor Herman Mashaba.

The signatories include the Johannesburg Urban Forest Alliance (JUFA), TreeWorks and several tree-felling companies and arborists, who disputed the council’s statement that only 98 trees had been reported as infested.

“We have it on good authority that, in fact,more than 1200 trees have been reported since January 2019 alone via the WhatsApp number.”

The private sector, said the BAG, had done “far more” than City Parks in creating awareness about the infestation. “Numerous public talks have been held over the past two years by private tree companies, residents’ associations and landscaping institutions and JUFA. City Parks is only holding its first on March 11...

“Although it claims to be mapping trees in various areas now, this is too little, too late. We are now in the thick of the crisis, and the mapping and practical involvement should have started two years ago. The city seems to be relying solely on information sent to it and is doing very little, if any, proactive research of its own. If this is the case, it is a neglect of its duties.”

In a statement, MMC Sifumba said it continued to consult government; research institutions, tree maintenance service providers and its internal teams to identify the extent of the infestation of the PSHB.

“We do not know of any service providers who City Parks has been in contact with and it certainly hasn’t been in contact with those who have been dealing with the issue over the past two years.

“A few service providers met with City Parks at the beginning of April 2018, where various issues were discussed. Among others was that the city needed to provide a disposal site for the contaminated wood.

“It’s almost a year later and we don’t have this. We have not been contacted by the city since this meeting, even though MMC Sifumba continues to state in her press releases that the city continues to meet with us.

“This is tantamount to misleading the public. We also had a face-to-face meeting with Herman Mashaba and he promised us some action from Sifumba; what followed was another press release and no interaction with us.”

Sifumba reported that some London plane trees along Jan Smuts Avenue, in Saxonwold (“it is in fact Dunkeld”) had seemingly developed an immune mechanism.

“There is absolutely no scientific proof that we are aware of to suggest this. There must be some information at hand for MMC Sifumba to publicly pronounce this as an ‘exciting and positive breakthrough’.”

The Saturday Star