Rehoboth Baster Community
Acacia Forest Centre of Contention
Published by Sep 24, 2004
A total of 110 concerned residents of Rehoboth signed a petition against apparent plans by the town council there to lease out a portion - Plot number 9 - of the endangered Acacia forest close to the town to a private enterprise.
Spokesperson of the concerned group, Kathy Hampe, told New Era the objections were raised because the "historical forests" should be protected against unnecessary encroachment. She also said that the group had requested a meeting with the town council to discuss the matter, but that the council has so far not done anything. The group has since written a letter to international environmental organisation Earth Hilfe (help) on what Hampe described as the "destruction of the acacia trees" in the town itself, as well as the forest area.
Town councillor Neville Smit claimed that the council had not yet received the petition. "I suppose that the petition is still on its way." He further said that there was no "Plot 9" in the enclosed area. He, however, acknowledged that a community group of women in Rehoboth had approached the town council in April after the latter placed an advertisement in a local newspaper with the intention to establish a lodge in the vicinity of the forest.
"However, the group would only be able to do so once they have done an impact study, and we are satisfied with it," said Smit. He went on to say that the intended lodge would be situated around the old milk farms along the Rehoboth-Mariental highway, cutting into the Acacia forest area. "But in principle the town council has no problem to lease out the area."
Efforts to have the forest proclaimed as a protected area have gone on since shortly after independence, acknowledged acting chief of the Directorate of Forestry under the Ministry of Environment and Tourism, Vincent Louw. He said the intention of the Government was to proclaim the area as a 'community forest' and demarcate certain areas of where forest resources can be demarcated for use by the community, and be converted into a park possibly with wildlife.
Surpluses of the proceeds from such ventures, he said, would have to go back to the local community, and managed by a forest management committee with representation of the various stakeholders. "But we have been fighting for this [the proclamation of the area] for the last ten to twelve years," he said, noting that the proclamation process was put on hold because of three families that have in the meantime settled in the forest area. "We cannot proclaim the area if those families are not relocated somewhere else," Louw said.
He said that the town council expressed their intention to discuss the matter with the ministry to "take the matter to a political level". He said the town council was not resetting the boundaries of the forest, but aims to erect a railway line in the area. The forestry division is responsible to take care of all timber and firewood inside the area; something that Louw acknowledged was a difficult task despite regular patrols. "But we do not have overtime funds and it becomes difficult to regulate people's activities especially during weekends."