East London Gets National Botanical Garden

kwelerha nbgThe Minister of Environmental Affairs, Edna Molewa, officially opened SANBI’s first botanical garden in the Eastern Cape – the Kwelera National Botanical Garden – on the 30th of September 2014 in East London.

Kwelera (derived from the Khoikhoi word ‘Goerecha’ meaning ‘place of aloes’) will be managed through a partnership agreement between the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI) and the Eastern Cape Parks and Tourism Agency (ECPTA). It was previously part of the Kwelera Nature Reserve, an important biodiversity corridor that runs along the coast between the Gonubie and the Kwelera River estuaries.

Minister Molewa lauded this partnership and highlighted that, “It is the first time in our country’s history that a national botanical garden is being managed through a partnership arrangement; in this case between SANBI and the Eastern Cape Parks & Tourism Agency. This venture has been the realization of the common vision we both share, to work together for the conservation of the environment, for current and future generations.”

Kwelera is the 10th national botanical garden in South Africa. There are nine others across six of the country’s nine provinces  which are all managed by the SANBI. Kwelera is the first coastal national botanical garden in South Africa. The vegetation of this transitional subtropical and temperate zone thrives on an annual average rainfall of around 800mm, but has to put up with high winds often reaching gale force in October and November. Tough White and Red Milkwood (Sideroxylom inerme and Mimusops caffra) and Silver Oak (Brachylaena discolour) provide a thick canopy, sheltering a carpet of soft green undergrowth, dotted with bright splashes of colour from Flame Lily (Gloriosa superba) and the occasional Paintbrush Lily (Haemanthus).

Work on the Kwelera National Botanical Garden will happen in two phases. Phase One entails the proclamation of 160 hectares that was formerly part of the Kwelera Nature Reserve. Phase Two involves the acquisition of adjacent land for the building of an education centre, offices, research and nursery facilities and a formal landscaped garden showing the rich botanical diversity of the Eastern Cape. 

"It is envisaged that the development of these facilities will attract and host thousands of visitors to appreciate the beauty of this portion of the south-east African coastline," Molewa said. Conservation efforts had to be aligned with sustainable development, she added. "Through this garden we are creating an oasis of tranquillity here at Kwelera, allowing our people, many of whom have never had access to such facilities before, to have an outlet for recreation and leisure.”

The National Botanical Garden will be classified under the international definitions of botanical gardens as a ‘conservation garden’, which will contain, or have associated areas of natural vegetation. This is in addition to cultivated collections that will be established on land adjacent to the coastal dune forest of the reserve.

The Department of Environmental Affairs has made funds available to SANBI for the establishment of the garden, including a project allocation through the Expanded Public Works Programme. The funds will allow the creation of temporary local jobs and opportunities for skills development amongst unemployed individuals, particularly women and youth in the surrounding areas. There will also be job opportunities  for 20 people who will maintain the garden in its pristine condition.

At the event, Minister Molewa also announced that work is currently underway to establish a new national botanical garden in Limpopo. Like the Kwelera Garden, it will also form part of SANBI’s Garden Expansion Strategy.

Kwelera is located between the coastal towns of Gonubie and Queensbury. The reserve is on the Jikeleza tourism route, based around the R102 East Coast Resorts Road north-east of East London (www.wildcoastjikeleza.co.za) and the Strandloper Trail from Kei Mouth to Gonubie passes along its shore (www.strandlopertrails.org.za)

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