Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, in Cape Town is a great place, not just for tourists, but also for the locals, as a place where generational memories are shared. The mountain, the streams have been a perennial witness to centuries of change that took place on the slopes of the great Table Mountain.
From the days of the San people to where we are now the mountain has been a mute witness to many an upheaval. The Rhodes takeover and the subsequent development of the forests resulted in contained and well-managed gardens – Nature well-trained.
For some of us, reluctant city dwellers like myself, the mountain and the gardens have been a silent refuge, a place where I could arrive anytime of the day. It was one place where I felt I could replenish my energies. Here I could sustain my breath of life, bring up my children to imagine bigger and wilder forests. Forests untamed, unmanaged, where nature’s awesome power made humans small and at its mercy.
Kirstenbosch is one place where my children ran barefoot as toddlers, I walked barefoot, we drank the water, splashed around, dunked our heads in the rivers.
Kirstenbosch for me and for thousands of Capetonians continue to provide a breath of life.
But it all started changing.
One early sunny morning, on my usual barefoot walk, I encountered a few garden staff- a couple of men with their gear. I did not pay too much attention and continued walking. One of the men, looked at my feet as I walked along and said, “ I would not walk barefoot here”. Without thinking too much, I replied that if I cannot walk barefoot in Kirstenbosch, where else can I… He said that they spray the garden…to keep the weeds under control.
Months later my daughter walking in the gardens with her friends encountered a man spraying a bed. She saw the can was labeled “Roundup”. She was shocked. As an 18 year old, she has been exposed to the GMO discourse from a very young age. She knew well what Roundup was all about.
Roundup is a product of Monsanto-a broad spectrum herbicide with the active ingredient glysphosphate. Globally it is accepted by commercial agrochemical sectors as the safest of all the chemical herbicides. The few studies that suggest Roundup is completely safe have all been affiliated directly or indirectly with Monsanto.
Activists & small farmers fight against Roundup
But environmental activists and small farmers around the world have been fighting against Round Up and other Monsanto products.
Roundup has not been proven 100% safe for humans or our environment. There have been severe health impacts on the environments and people who repetitively come in close contact with the chemical.
So what would happen to those who habitually walk barefoot through the gardens? The workers, the visitors, the children?
I took up the issue with SANBI-South African National Botanical Institute- through networks and friends of mine. SANBI responded. Yes they do use Roundup in the gardens. Yes they have to keep the estate weed free.
And, most importantly, the estate manager insisted Roundup is safe.
I requested that SANBI inform the visitors to the gardens that Roundup is being used at Kirstenbosch. The information is important so that the visitors can decide whether they want their children to walk barefoot, or drink and play in the water.
I believe as a public heritage property, citizens have a right to walk barefoot without fear of toxic accumulation plaguing their system. I believe the least SANBI can offer us, public citizens is our right to information, so we can make informed decision.
Thank you to the film maker, Reneé Scheltema, for filming this and sharing with us. Read more about her work here.
Text by Nirmala Nair. Source: Zubeida Jaffer
- Nirmala runs the School of Practical Sustainability.
Skeleton Stream runs through Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and is a favourite playing and paddling place for children. Three other streams run through the gardens; three from the mountain and one from the spring in the Dell. Image: SANBI