SANParks has denied Friends of Table Mountain’s (FoTM) claim that the leading mountain user group was snubbed during a Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) information sharing field trip held by the public entity last month.
SANParks sent out a media invitation in early February to various media houses, inviting representatives to attend a three-day event (Tuesday 23 February to Thursday 25 February).
The purpose, the invitation read, was “to allow the members of the media an opportunity to learn about the intricacies of managing a national park such as TMNP and to share information on the numerous activities happening in the park”.
FoTM claims SANParks’s advertisement of the event on its Facebook page also included an invitation to stakeholders.
However, the lobby group for the better management of TMNP claims, they did not receive an invitation. When FoTM asked SANParks “Why?”, FoTM task team members claim they were told that the Facebook post was in error. Yet, FoTM claims, subsequent media coverage of the SANParks field trip indicated that members from Take Back Our Mountains (TBOM) – a movement focused on coordinating safe hikes and promoting mountain safety – were invited.
Andy Davies, chair of FoTM, says SANParks has made much about forging partnerships with users and stakeholders, but challenges the genuine intent of this “when other stakeholders and, perhaps more critically, members of the minister of environment, forestry and fisheries Barbara Creecy’s task teams were not invited to the event”.
“We’d have welcomed the opportunity to understand why SANParks finds TMNP such a challenge to manage,” says Davies. A challenge, he adds, which seems to revolve primarily around the urban nature of the open-access park and the diverse and growing community of users. “You get the feeling that SANParks would really prefer there to be no city and no people.”
FoTM also claims SANParks’s recent press junket was nothing but a media whitewash. The lobby group questions how SANParks think they’re going to rebuild “the history of broken trust when they keep doing this”.
Davies points to SANParks’ media clips and social media posts that have been shared last week.
He notes that the topics covered are all those which have been raised by FoTM in recent weeks.
“We also have to hope that this is not another public relations (PR) exercise and that there’s a genuine intent to fix the problems that have evolved over the past 20 years.”
In response to FoTM’s claim that they were deliberately excluded from the media excursion, Rey Thakuli, SANParks acting head of communications, says no stakeholder was ever denied any participation.
“The sole objective of the media excursion was to share information on the intricacies of managing a national park within the metropolitan city of Cape Town, specifically highlighting safety and security plans, maintenance of various trails, user group conflicts, permit fees as well as the relationship between SANParks and user groups,” Thakuli says.
He adds that FoTM forms part of stakeholder groups that SANParks interacts with on TMNP, on a continuous basis.
“It is a relationship based on goodwill and in the mutual interests of improving the management of the area; therefore their perspective that an information-sharing session is a whitewash comes as a surprise,” Thakuli says.
According to Thakuli, apart from the various task teams created by Creecy, SANParks has operational obligations and plans which includes information sharing with targeted groups. This, he says, is reflected in SANParks’s annual performance plan.
“It is our view that the media excursion was hosted to share information and was not designed to exclude any group from participating. It is indeed unfortunate that such a critical stakeholder sees our efforts in informing members of the public about our operational success, challenges and opportunities as nothing but a PR frenzy,” he says.
Last week, People’s Post reported that SANParks would soon be launching an operations centre in Newlands to improve its crime-fighting initiatives.
In a follow-up query, People’s Post asked when exactly “soon” would be.
“The centre is still at the concept stage and a scheduled opening will be determined in due course as funding is still being sourced,” Thakuli said, adding that the objectives of the centre would be crime prevention and area-integrity management.
Although he could not share how many rangers would man the centre, Thakuli did say that it would operate 24/7, 365 days a year.
People’s Post also asked that SANParks responds to FoTM’s claim that, even though SANParks said it had 16 trained dog rangers, there weren’t any dogs.
“The canine unit has been non-existent for over a year,” Davies has claimed.
Thakuli says the dogs have been retired due to age.
“We are in the process of getting new dogs,” he said.