Hillcrest residents vow to protest until trees replaced

2013-11-25 00:00

CONSERVANCY groups and residents in Hillcrest have vowed to protest outside the local Caltex garage until the trees that were chopped down by the new owner are replaced.

Standing his ground, owner Luis Farias maintains he wants his customers, staff and his family to be safe when the garage opens its doors in 2014.

On Saturday, residents braved the early morning heat to voice their protest on Old Main Road, with placards demanding the re-planting of the indigenous trees. The majority of motorists passing sounded their horns in support of the protest.

Other placards displayed encouraged motorists not to support Caltex.

Agitated residents shouted at Farias “we need our trees”, as he walked past them to the construction site.

Farias said he understands the concerns of the residents, and that he had no intentions to hurt them. “I cut the trees merely to make the place safe for my customers. I’ve spent R8 million to buy and revamp the service station. And this site has been robbed several times. I cannot take that risk too.

“These people were not even using the garage; they should appreciate our effort to make the place safe,” he said.

Farias said he was shot several times in 1996 by robbers at his business in the Eastern Cape and spent months in intensive care. After that attack, he was paralysed and wheelchair-bound for a year. Today, he still walks with great difficulty.

But his explanations were not enough to convince residents, who vowed that they would return to the street every Saturday until all the trees are replaced.

Ward 8 PR councillor Gillian Noyce said the reason she joined the community protest was to send a strong message to businesses that they have no right to chop down trees. “People cannot go to municipal land and cut trees willy-nilly. These are protected trees, some over 40 years of age.”

She said cutting indigenous trees was a serious offence, and has asked the municipality to charge those caught doing it. Steve Camp, who led the protest, said they only ask that Farias go and buy five mature indigenous trees from a local nursery to replace those he cut “without authority” from eThekwini municipality’s parks and recreation unit.

Unit head Thembinkosi Ngcobo said their policy states that people are not allowed to remove trees without permission. “We will investigate the matter and there are penalties attached.”

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