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Integrating The Table Mountain National Park Into The City Of Cape Town – Some Lessons From Experience


Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) dramatically improved its ability to link its priority conservation tasks with the sustainable development needs of Cape Town and its citizens, to the advantage of both the Park and the City’s citizens. This story illustrates the importance of a functioning governance system and a commitment to finding mutual interest between the goals of conservation and development.

Problem, challenge or context: 

When the author started at the then Cape Peninsula National Park (CPNP) on April the 1st 2003, fresh from the World Parks Congress in Durban, I found a highly committed SANParks team, exhausted from the frenetic first five years of the CPNP since its inception in May 1998, and highly concerned that from April the 1st, the first day of the new financial year, the gross annual operating budget was to be slashed by 40% in real terms compared to that of the first five years. Also troubling was the fact that the two formal governance structures used by the CPNP for relating to the citizens and the City Authority had collapsed. The citizen’s advisory voice known as the “Park Committee”, had burnt itself out, and the Bilateral between the Park and the City had not met since it concluded overseeing the transfer of staff and function some years ago. It seemed we had no choice but to dramatically downscale core business to essential follow ups on alien plant management, skeleton staff visitor management and fire management without a helicopter budget.
Although there was a commitment to the notion of “A Park in a City and a City in a Park”, there was nothing in the tank. I am sure many of you with experience in PA management know the feeling. The clue to the way forward was the theme of the 2003 World Parks Congress , playing endlessly in my head, that of “Benefits Beyond Boundaries”, with the ringing advice from the Congress, “to stand on the edge of the Park and look not in but out”. That was what to do, but the question was how?

Specific elements of components: 

The first step lay in forging and cultivating the relationships with our key partners, the City Authority and the citizens. To restructure the Park Committee and the Bilateral and to strengthen the system of governance available to SANParks to guide its premier urban protected area. Without the input of the elected City leadership and the views of the citizens it would be impossible to work out how best to integrate conservation into the surrounding urban development plans. With the sanction of the Minister for the Environment, who had appointed the Park Committee in 1998, we worked out a process whereby he first dissolved the old committee, opening the way for a series of community based workshops at Edith Stephens on the Cape Flats, accessible to the poor and rich alike. Portfolios for 15 interest groups were agreed, and an open election of nominated representatives of the interest groups resulted in a new Park Forum. For the first time, instead of only scientists and business people as before, the working class townships from the Flats and those from townships close to the mountain were represented.

The City Bilateral was revamped to include the executive councilors for greater metropolitan Cape Town, representing all the citizens of the city, not only those from the middle class mountainside suburbs as previously.With legitimate structures to consult with and we could commence the conservation and development planning process. Everyone could see the first answer to the way forward, which was right in front of us – the national government’s “Working for Water Programme”, premised on the clearing of invasive alien plants so as to yield water and create jobs for the unemployed. With the programme approved by our Head Office we got the alien clearing programme back on track. Also right in front of us the example of partnership in which the CPNP played a key role - the UkuVuka firefighting programme. This was broad front of public and private organisations, including the local media, which campaigned successfully to raise firefighting funding from the City Authority on the basis of mutual interest – to limit fire damage to life and property through the clearing of invasive alien plants that fueled the fire. Win-win. 

Key lessons learned: 
  • By identifying programmes of mutual interest, it is possible to raise resources from outside of the PA networks immediate budgets
  • Each park has its unique threats and opportunities which form the basis of its unique conservation and development plan – whether large or small
  • The “Outward looking - Benefits Beyond Boundaries” approach includes putting the time and the hard effort into nurturing the advisory and consultative structures that can support and strengthen the governance system
  • We anticipated that the problem would become not too few funds but too little capacity to spend – and made sure we budgeted for additional project management capacity to deliver quality on time.
  • We were inspired by the effort that the Golden Gate National Park puts into its programme of volunteer support and fundraising – so much so that we revived our unused slogan of “A Park For All Forever” to match theirs.
  • Continual relationship building is more important that hi tech GIS layers of research and information  
  • Research is nonetheless absolutely vital and must include an integrated understanding of the social, economic and bio-physical dimensions of urban development - triple bottom line monitoring
  • Political engagement bears fruit, but it goes through cycles and conservationists must take a long term view compared to the short term skyline of political interests
Impacts and outcomes: 

UkuVuka taught us the power and magic of mutual interest – the essence of a good conservation and development programmes. We then put together a conservation and development programme based on improving access to the mountain, as called for by members of the new Park Forum who reminded the Park of the need to improve day visitor facilities like barbeque sites, parking, discounted access cards for pay-points and upgraded visitor centers and cultural heritage. The City was also keen to improve affordable access, and consequently the City surprised all by renewing its funding of 20% of the gross budget for a further four years
Finally and most importantly we put together a conservation and development plan for the national government’s Expanded Public Works Programme, based on employing some 350 previously unemployed people for four years. (Eventually extended to five years and now followed by a number of smaller EPWP projects) Their task was to upgrade 350km of mountain paths using stone and timber and creating the Hoerikwaggo Trail along the spine of the Cape Peninsula (Daitz and Myrdal, 2009). This ensured that the Park could attain safe hiking through the free and open access area of the TMNP. The financial crisis was solved, with more than the 40% deficit being committed and spent successfully on agreed tasks. Time had been bought for a business optimizing exercise which scrutinized the agreements with the commercial concessionaires – both those operating the Table Mountain Cable Car and at the Cape Point. This considerably improved the conservation yield, ensuring that the percentage derived for conservation was sufficient not only to sustain the park but to contribute a surplus to the national interest of a viable national park network.

Contact details: 
Brett Myrdal, Table Mountain National Park, South African National Parks
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