I have a feeling of growing dismay as I read about the current impasse between the management at City of Cape Town and the Table Mountain National Park. What is really at the root of the problem? Apparently at the level of professional staff, there is a good working relationship. Why then are City of Cape Town politicians saber rattling and threatening court action and taking back sections of the park? 2010 is the International Year of Bio-diversity. In order to achieve effective management of the exceptional natural heritage which the TMNP is world famous, the authorities need to work together.
The ongoing conflict about baboon management appears to be a big part of the problem. The way I see it, the disagreement between both parties as to how to manage the baboons and who should pay is a symptom of the complexity of managing a National Park which is entirely surrounded by a populous metropolis. Nowhere else in South Africa do we have a similar situation. Nowhere else in South Africa must the management of a large City and SANPArks build a close working relationship at all levels.
It is likely that the formal / legal conservation responsibilities which form the core of a National Park were not written for a situation which has to manage an unfenced, open access conservation area which is significantly impacted by its urban neighbours. An example of this is the fact that a wild animal (e.g baboon) is only considered to be the legal responsibility of SANParks while inside the TMNP borders. So TMNP management does not consider baboons raiding urban areas outside the Park to be their financial responsibility. At face value, it is easy to see why City politicians wrestling with limited budgets feel that TMNP is coping out. However, as the City has failed to manage the refuse system which attracts baboons and has allowed the urban sprawl which has dramatically reduced the habitat of baboons, it too has `failed’ the baboons.
But I believe that baboons are only part of the impasse. Ald. Felicity Purchase told me that the City feels that the priorities it set out in the `Heads (agreement) of Understanding’ when TMNP was established have not been upheld by SANParks and that this situation is the reason for the current legal action being considered.
She also has a perception, shared by others in the City that TMNP, especially Boulders Beach and Cape Point, is a cash cow which SANParks is using to subsidise other National Parks instead of contributing more to management of the Park. This belief that TMNP makes a profit is disputed by Dr Mabunda in a SANParks media release (see below) which states clearly that without a subsidy from DEA&T and the City of Cape Town, TMNP would not have sufficient income to fulfill its responsibilities wrt fire fighting, alien vegetation control, crime prevention etc.
It certainly does not bode well for a future working relationship between the City and TMNP when the leadership needs to resort to court action. The City already has 23 Local Authority Nature reserves to manage on a tight budget. As the delivery of efficient services to its residents and the business community and the extension of the rates base is the prime focus of the City, I have huge reservations about its ability to adequately address the conservation management requirements of the TMNP as well.
While there may be no precedent for management of a national park surrounded by a city, it is time for officials and politicians of both the City of Cape Town and the TMNP to step down from their entrenched positions. They need to work together to forge a working relationship that will secure the future of the conservation of the People’s Park as well as enhance the quality of life of the residents Cape Town.
To read a City of Cape Town Media Release wrt the Court Action go to http://scenicsouth.co.za//2010/08/court-to-rule-on-baboon-funding-for-cape-town/
To read a SANParks Media Release about income and expenditure, read http://scenicsouth.co.za//2010/09/tmnp-has-no-official-notice-of-city-of-ct-take-over-bid/.