Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Guide for Tourist

While apartheid will forever be the dark stain over South Africa’s history, its shadow fell heavily on Kirstenbosch in 1967 with the forced removal of many families of loyal Kirstenbosch staff from Protea Village, a small community living in the land below the Garden’s eastern boundary. The government’s policy of racially segregated ‘Group Areas’ was enforced across the country, and the Protea Village community was transferred to the Cape Flats. Kirstenbosch was fortunate to retain the profound loyalty of its long-serving staff. Despite the trauma of dislocation from the peace and convenience of living on the land adjoining the Garden, the people of Protea Village continued to serve the Garden with devotion. Justice was done in 2004, through the restitution of land rights to 80 Protea Village families, and the opportunity to reclaim title to land that had been home to many families for over a century.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Guide for Tourist Photo Gallery

Eloff was soon to learn that Compton’s succinct view of the story of Kirstenbosch as one of ‘romance and hard facts’ could be paraphrased as one of ‘realities and hard lessons’. Hardest of these was the failure of a succession of development planning exercises commissioned by the NBG Board between 1973 and 1988.

The seemingly endless debate around development plans continued to the end of Rycroft’s watch in 1983. Eloff, however, had an expanded vision for the organisation, with new requirements for increased research and education facilities that changed the field of play. In 1985, yet another firm of landscape architects, Chris Mulder Associates, also from Pretoria, was commissioned to review the Fagan and Botha proposals (see box on page 51) and, in consultation with the new Director, presented a new master plan. During ongoing discussions with all parties, it emerged that the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism had approved a budget of R50 230 000 for the project. The euphoria was short-lived. Further enquiries revealed that the figure was a figment of some Pretoria official’s imagination. Needless to say, the funding never materialised. Submitted in 1988, Mulder’s proposals constituted a massive tome with ambitious ideas of relocating virtually all buildings within the Garden. Further, many new facilities, as well as staff accommodation, would be located outside the Garden on land from which the Protea Village community (including many of the Garden’s loyal staff) had been forcibly evicted in the mid-1960s (see page 52). But by the end of the 1980s, the ambitious Kirstenbosch Development Plan had been abandoned, at least until a new direction could be found.

Compton had learned after two decades of hard work that ‘economic botany’ had little chance of success, given the small budget available; and, more especially, that the proper place for such work would be under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. Eloff took a somewhat different approach, and championed the development of the commercial potential in horticulture of South Africa’s indigenous plants. The ‘Plant Production’ division hoped to use modern tissue-culture technologies to rapidly propagate new selections of indigenous plants, while also focusing on securing the future of threatened species through a programme of ‘conservation through cultivation’. A seed bank for rare plants was initiated, and students and facilities were funded by special grants and donations. But the exercise was hopelessly undercapitalised, and resistance from the commercial horticulture sector presented Eloff with an ongoing challenge. Despite some remarkable successes -such as the discovery by researcher Hannes de Lange of the smoke-based germination cue for restios (see page 176) – the programme failed to produce the desired results.

While the NBG Board, and especially Eloff and his colleagues at Kirstenbosch, must have found the 1980s particularly frustrating, their hard work laid the foundations for later successes.

Plants from diverse habitats, such as the desert-loving sparkling mesem Drosanthemum bicolor and the delicate, wetlands Crinum campanulatum, flourish in the Garden.

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