Pensioner's battle over gum trees

2008-05-14 00:00

A Pietermaritzburg pensioner is at loggerheads with the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry (Dwaf) over the removal of towering blue gum trees on his property.

Martin Mattyser (64) was ordered to remove the “unlawful jungle” on his property, but he claims he cannot afford the costs, which he said would be R45 000 to R50 000. He is also required to rehabilitate the area after removing the trees or face legal action.

“I bought this property 15 years ago with the intention to retire peacefully, but now the government comes here and orders me around. This is my home, it’s paid up and I am not moving,” Mattyser said.

Seven huge blue gum trees tower either side of Mattyser’s house at Jade Park, Celtis Road in Boughton.

A small stream runs along the property and Dwaf has said the trees may drain it dry. A permit is required to plant and grow alien trees. “This jungle on your property is consuming water, in a closed catchment, without a licence or a permit. Also no trees are allowed within 30 metres of a river, stream, spring or any other water body,” the letter from Dwaf states.

It says that the trees “constitute an unlawful water use … in contravention of the National Water Act, 1998”, and warns charges may follow.

Mattyser said he got quotations for the removal of the trees and found that he cannot afford to have this done.

“My salary is R4 300, and at this level of income I cannot possibly afford to remove the seven trees in question,” he said.

A professional tree feller told Mattyser that after cutting the trees down, heavy equipment such as cranes would be required to drag them out. “Dragging the trees up the donga would also lead to severe erosion to the donga banks.” He said two of the trees are close to two houses and could fall on the houses and cause damage.

Mattyser accused Dwaf of singling him out and ignoring several other offenders in and around the city. He mentioned the Pietermaritzburg Botanical Gardens, trees alongside the stream near the Royal Showgrounds and on municipal property in Tomlinson road.

An official from Dwaf denied targeting one person. “We have no reason to target Mattyser, but neighbours complained about the seeds that fell from the trees and started to grow on their properties … However, I must also mention that there are a lot of other places where trees grow near rivers and we are dealing with property owners the same way.”

The official also told The Witness that while it is Mattyser’s responsibility to maintain his property, Dwaf could assist in cutting down the trees. “If he cannot afford the costs, we can negotiate with a contractor to cut down the trees and sell the wood.”

But he warned Mattyser that it is his responsibility to ensure that the area is rehabilitated to prevent more trees growing from the seeds.

Mattyser alleged that the water running across his property is not a natural stream. “This water comes from a stormwater pipe up on the road. Bottles, cans and all kinds of rubbish come out.”

But Dwaf insists it is a natural stream. The official also warned municipalities to “take responsibility and clean their streams. The regulation requires that no trees should grow on 30 metres of either side of streams.”

Botanical Gardens curator Brian Tarr said the gardens are exempted from the law. “This is a botanical gardens with trees that have been in existence for [many] years, even before the act was in effect. We are not affected by the act.”

Attempts to get official comment from Dwaf were unsuccessful. Dwaf spokesman Themba Khumalo referred The Witness to Sipho Masuku, a local Dwaf official, but calls made to Masuku’s phone remained unanswered.

sandilez@witness.co.za

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