Peace restored after alleged rapist caught

JOHN HARVEY

After months of tension, a peace has returned to the area around the Rhodes Memorial and adjoining Newlands Forest.

Once again, there is a proliferation of joggers and hikers taking to the slopes of Table Mountain to enjoy the spectacular panoramas and tranquillity of the ancient woods.

Although never forgotten, the spectre of the horror rape attacks that rocked the area between November and March is slowly beginning to recede.

The arrest of the alleged Rhodes Memorial serial rapist in March has restored a sense of normality to the slopes, where the 35-year-old man is believed to have hidden for months as he preyed on unsuspecting victims.

In the wake of the attacks, the authorities have implemented a number of new measures to protect people wanting to explore the forest.

“Rhodes and Newlands have always been popular for visitors, so I can really link it with the capture of the (alleged) rapist,” said SANParks regional communications manager Merle Collins.

“Security has been bolstered significantly. We don’t divulge details, but it’s sufficient to say that there is an entire team looking after security in the Rhodes Memorial, Newlands area, including Table Mountain National Park, SAPS, law enforcement and volunteers.”

During a site visit earlier this week, it was apparent that every safety precaution was being taken by rangers, who make regular patrols in their vehicles – something that was not nearly so evident in the weeks prior to the rape suspect’s arrest (“In the footsteps of a rapist,” Tatler, March 3).

While the hike was characterised by cheerful exchanges between dog walkers and joggers, in the one instance where a suspicious looking person backtracked after passing this reporter on the trail, a patrol vehicle soon came into view.

It was clear that rangers had been monitoring the situation from a look-out point.

Despite the lower winter temperatures, Newlands Forest remains a magnificent drawcard for residents and visitors alike.

None of the pristine character has been lost over the years, and while the pine and gum trees planted in the 1800s for the commercial logging might not be in keeping with plans to restore indigenous populations, their presence is no less impressive. That being said, SANParks is also undertaking rigorous alien clearing initiatives.

There are around 360 alien plants in Newlands Forest alone, of which most are invasive. These aliens are garden escapees such as Chinese Privet and Eugenia and pose a real threat to the natural diversity of the forests.

In this and other regards, SANParks should be highly commended.

Newlands Forest covers a vast area, and the efforts being made to ensure it remains one of Cape Town’s most popular natural attractions should be paid every respect.

One can be inclined to forget how fortunate Capetonians are to have such a phenomenon in close proximity to the bustling central business district. Save for the odd discarded bottle or packet, the area is entirely devoid of litter, which would be almost unheard of in many of the world’s capitals.

Now that the threat of attacks has waned, these forests are once more there to be enjoyed by all.