Rhodes Memorial site rehab too slow – Friends

Trees have been felled to rehabilitate the area around the Rhodes Memorial.

SA National Parks (SANParks) is taking too long to rehabilitate the fire-scarred site around the Rhodes Memorial, says a volunteer group that helps to look after the landmark.

The Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Garden was gutted in the fire, which was blamed on arson, that swept from Rhodes Memorial to Devil’s Peak over three days in April, destroying homes, heritage landmarks and a UCT library (“Arson caused Table Mountain inferno – report,” Southern Suburbs Tatler, July 1).

In August, Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) hired a contractor to start felling trees in the burnt area that were deemed to pose a threat, said TMNP manager Frans van Rooyen.

So far, the contractor had felled more than 800 trees at the site, he said.

“The trees were damaged from the big fire and posed a danger,” said SANParks spokeswoman Babalwa Dlangamandla.

The contractor would likely fell another 50 damaged trees near the Rhodes Memorial parking area because of the danger they posed, she said.

The felling was due to be finished this week to make the site accessible to the public, said Mr Van Rooyen.

“Partial reopening of the area has been granted to users by TMNP management, which allows hikers, runners and cyclists to make use of the area through the turnstile located at the main entrance,” he said.

No vehicles are permitted in the area during tree felling.

Meanwhile, contractors had been hired to clean and protect the site of the restaurant and tea garden and a heritage architect, appointed by the insurers, would oversee rebuilding work, said Mr van Rooyen.

However, Gabriel Martin, the chairman of the Friends of Rhodes Memorial, said the rehabilitation was taking too long.

“SANParks should be replaced by the Western Cape government in being decentralised in order for the park to be properly run,” he said.

Taking six months to decide whether or not to rebuild the world-famous restaurant showed no urgency on the part of SANParks to support the families of the restaurant staff who had lost their jobs, he said.

“The restaurant could have been easily rebuilt well before this summer season providing over 60 families with income.”

More public pressure should be exerted on SANParks to finish the rehabilitation of the area, he said.

Mr Van Rooyen said discussions with the Department of Public Works and Infrastructure, the custodians of the land, had delayed the possible rebuilding of the tea room. “The architect and technical department are busy drafting the bill of quantities and will offer guidance regarding the way forward. All of this will, unfortunately, take some time,” said Mr Van Rooyen.

They would keep the public abreast of all the developments through regular communication, he said.

The Department of Public Works and Infrastructure did not respond to questions by time of publication.

The Rhodes Memorial Restaurant and Tea Garden was gutted by the Table Mountain fire earlier this year.