Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Trip

Kobus Eloff, Director from 1983 to 1989, promoted a more scientific approach to proceedings in the NBG.

The Board of the NBG was somewhat sobered by the Meiring Naude Report and, in selecting a successor to Rycroft, decided that an academic with a broader research background than that of taxonomy would be appropriate. Professor J.N. (Kobus) Eloff took up the directorship vacated by Rycroft on his retirement early in 1983.

Kobus Eloff, born in Johannesburg in 1939, joined Kirstenbosch on 1 August 1983. He came from the University of the Orange Free State, where, as Head of the Department of Botany, he had conducted an active programme in plant physiological and biochemical research, with a special interest in medicinal and toxic plants. Recognising the particular challenges and needs of the NBG, he set out a plan of action with four principal strategic areas – research, plant utilisation, horticulture and education. Eloff’s arrival was well timed: shortly before he joined NBG, the organisation had passed from the political limbo of a state-aided institution located within a variety of ministries, to the jurisdiction of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, where, after several incarnations, it remains to this day. By a peculiar rotation of ministerial responsibilities, the legal persona of the NBG had been promulgated not within the Ministry of Environmental Affairs, but through the Forest Act No. 122 of 1984 – a situation that has led to some confusion over the years.

Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Trip Photo Gallery

But from 1984, as a statutory Board, the organisation had a more secure future in the country’s changing landscape of science politics.

A new generation of Kirstenbosch research was initiated under Kobus Eloff at the Threatened Plants Research Laboratory.

A key challenge to mobilising a research programme at Kirstenbosch was the lack of staff and facilities. Eloff relieved the staffing situation by attracting young graduates to short-term research projects that brought early results. He also raised funds from the Rowland and Leta Hill Trust that enabled the construction of a Threatened Plants Research Laboratory – the incubator of a wider research agenda. But much more was needed to transform Kirstenbosch from a beautiful garden, with interesting plants, splendid vistas and a herbarium, into a Botanical Garden for the 21st century. For this, serious money, invested in a grand plan, was needed. Eloff, with Board support, focused on two initiatives – infrastructure development and plant production.

In 1973, during Rycroft’s tenure, the Cape Town architectural firm of Gabriel Fagan undertook a comprehensive and detailed study of the Garden, its development history, physical attributes, socioeconomic location and linkages. It recommended that most of the developments should be located between the Moreton Bay Fig and Camphor Avenue and the new Rhodes Drive. A new 5 500-square-metre National Botanic Centre would be placed within the garden, on the north-facing slope above the original Garden entrance gates. The Fagan plan recommendations were, in turn, referred to an architectural firm that was commissioned to draw up sketch plans for the proposed buildings. The sketch plans revealed that the developments would result in too great an impact on the Garden, and so another development plan was commissioned – this time from the Pretoria-based landscape architect Roelf Botha. The Botha plans were presented to the Board in early 1981, with the location of the proposed developments north of Window stream, near Pearson House.

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