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Proteadal Conservation Association Wins Big For Orchids...

The Proteadal Conservation Association, in association with Wild Orchid Southern Africa (WOSA), is delighted to announce a major victory for conservation in South Africa, and for the preservation of the irreplaceable habitat and threatened biodiversity of the West Rand Ridges around Proteadal along the southern border of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens in Krugersdorp. This includes the habitat of the only viable population of the critically endangered Albertina Sisulu Orchid and the hunting ground of the majestic Black Eagle.

The decision to grant authorisation for the development of almost 3000 high density residential units on a portion of Mogale City property known as Proteadal, was set aside and made an order of the South Gauteng High Court on 31st July 2019.

In late 2015, a review application was lodged by the Proteadal Conservation Association (with support from WOSA) against the MEC of Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (GDARD), after he approved the development on appeal, effectively overturning the underlying 2014 decision by the Head of Department of GDARD, to deny authorisation for the development. Wild Orchids Southern Africa supported this review application as respondent in the court application.

Today, the 2014 decision still stands as an order of the court, so the orchid is safe for now.

This victory is not just for the Proteadal Conservation Association and their very able environmental legal team Webber Wentzel and Counsel, but for all the other organisations (like WOSA) and individuals who contribute towards the environmental care of these ridges to make them worth preserving.

A job well done for a wonderful but highly threatened orchid

Albertina Sisulu Orchid

Photo by Andrew Hankey

Proteadal Conservation Association - Press Release

A Victory for Conservation in South Africa was realised in the south Gauteng High Court this week in the Proteadal Conservation Association vs the MEC of the Gauteng Department of Agriculture and Rural Development ( GDARD), to review and set-aside the MEC’s decision on appeal, to grant an environmental authorisation forthe development of almost 3000 high densisty residential units proposed by Mogale City Local Municipality (MCLM) and their developers Tiamo Construction, on municipal property known as Proteadal on the southern border of the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens (WSNBG).

A draft order agreed to by the parties, to review and set-aside the MEC’s decision was made an order of Court on Wednesday 31st July. A costs order was not considered necessary in present circumstances, and in the interests of ensuring an amicable agreement between the parties.

The outcome of this case means that the underlying decision made by the HOD of GDARD in 2014, to deny authorisation for this development, still stands.

At the time, MCLM appealed the 2014 decision, which was upheld with conditions, by the then MEC of GDARD, Lebogang Maile, thereby effectively overturning the 2014 authorisation denial by that department. The PCA, a community group of volunteers, with support from WOSA,took the MEC’s decision on review, assisted on a pro-bono basis by Webber Wentzel’s environmental law department lead by Garyn Rapson and Tsoseletso Bogopa and Counsel, Peter Lazarus and Ian Learmonth. The review application was opposed by the MEC’s office and GDARD.

Some of the findings on which the 2014 decision was based, included acknowledging that Proteadal “has significant environmental attributes including irreplaceable and ecological support areas that are designated as highly sensitive and that are essential for the preservation of conservation and biodiviersity in Gauteng. The site also serves as an important link in terms of connectivity and the environmental integrity of the adjoining Roodekrans Ridge and the Kings Kloof areas”.

The findings further suggest “the proposed development threatens not only the ecosystems on site but can have far wider negative impliations in terms of slope failures, flood control, climate regulation and cumulative impacts. It would threaten the ecological integrity of the nearby WSNBG NR as well as loss of natural cultural and heritage aspects, whilst also having negative impacts on the Cradle of Humankind WHS to the North West”.

In terms of housing provision and possible job opportunities created by such a development, the 2014 findings state “Considering the highly sensitive nature of the site and the possible fatal consequences arising from the proposed development, it would be far more feasible and sustainable to identify more suitable land in already transformed and degraded areas for housing provision”.

In addition to these findings, the ridges at Proteadal, are the last remaining viable habitat for the ‘Critically Endangered’ Albertina Sisulu Orchid, of which there are just over 100 individual plants left on earth. A healthy population of the ‘Endangered’ Mountain Reedbuck and the internationally renowned Black Eagles of Roodekrans also thrive on these ridges, as well as various other threatened plant and animal species. As a legislated ‘Critically Endangered Threatened Ecosystem’, the west rand ridges are an invaluable conservation asset for our country, and a highly scenic open space in an urban setting, that should be extensively utilised for recreational activities, which would contribute enormously to the sense of place of the West Rand region and the well-being of its community.

PCA volunteers, together with other environmental NGO’s (including WOSA) active in the area and the WSNBG, are engaged in innovative and sustainable solutions through active management and monitoring, to preserve the ecological integrity of this sensitive habitat as far as possible against the types of threats often associated with open areas around cities. Some of these pressures include illegal use of off road vehicles that cause serious erosion, unsustainable commercial protea-wood harvesting, snares and poaching, illegal dumping, alien plant invasion and pollution and sewerage spills in the upper Crocodile catchment.

Environmental organisations such as the PCA create awareness about ecologically sensitive ecosystems and the value of biodiversity, and that the authorities and the public have a duty of care towards our environment.The current trend in South Africa of economic interests overriding sound environmental decisions is costing us our future, and this collective action by the PCA and its supporters is another example of where the public has taken a stand in preserving valuable environment and threatened biodiversity before it is too late. Communities, environmental specialists, planning professionals, developers, and government officials, each have a role to play in finding creative solutions to meet the serious environmental challenges facing our country.

Belinda Cooper
PCA Chairperson