Saving an oak

2008-01-23 00:00

The publicity that arose last week around the controversial destruction of trees in Howick has not receded. Several hundred concerned residents have now signed a petition to express their opposition to the municipal authorities, and Amafa, the KwaZulu-Natal heritage body, is undertaking an investigation.

The desire to save a century-old oak tree is a symbol of a wider issue. What may seem to officialdom an inconvenient or sentimental distraction represents to the protesters an important environmental agenda. They are championing the charm that trees and flowers can bring to an urban landscape, and they are concerned about the arbitrary and ill-considered destruction of exotic trees. Some trees and plants, imported from other countries, are noxious and invasive, and deserve to be removed, but this stricture does not apply to all aliens and certainly not to a revered oak tree unless, through age, it has become a danger to the public.

The uMngeni Municipality has already alienated many ratepayers with exorbitant rates increases in the past and is generally considered not to be consultative on most matters. Here is an opportunity for it to improve its image. A creative compromise on the threatened trees lining the streets of Howick would do a lot, not only for ecology but also for human relations in that town which proudly calls itself “the hub of the midlands”.

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