Ministerial launch of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden, Limpopo Province
The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden falls under the Vhembe Biosphere Reserve, within the Vhembe District Municipality and Thulamela Local Municipality. It includes a representative portion of the Soutpansberg Mountain Bushveld, a Vulnerable vegetation type with only 2.2% under protection. The addition of the garden will contribute to the representivity of the major biomes and vegetation types of South Africa into the national botanical garden system and will be the first in the Limpopo Province and will also supplement the national network of botanical gardens.
The 82.7845 hectare’ portion of land, ERF 451 Thohoyandou-D, is provincial state-owned land vested within the Limpopo Provincial Government, and has been managed and controlled by the Limpopo Department of Economic Development, Environment and Tourism (LEDET) as a Nature Reserve. The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden will serve as a biodiversity centre for the province showcasing traditional botanical garden infrastructure and, biodiversity research facilities which will be of benefit to the province. Serving as an additional nature-based, cultural and scientific tourism attraction, the garden will contribute to the area’s socio-economic development, and enhance tourism by linking with local and regional tourism initiatives. The developments to the garden are expected to increase its educational value, financial viability and the interest and support of visitors, tourists and the local community.
The South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), an entity of the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) is mandated by the Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (in terms of section 11(e) of the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act, 2004 (Act No. 10 of 2004) (NEMBA)), to manage, control and maintain all national botanical gardens.
SANBI, through an existing Memorandum of Agreement and Service Level Agreement with LEDET, have being managing the Botanical Garden since 2016 pending the declaration of the NBG. Along with the infrastructure being refurbished and upgraded, funding has been made available from both DFFE and the National Department of Tourism to construct a new tree canopy walkway, public ablution facility, upgrade the existing guest houses as well as develop a new visitors centre.
The DFFE has been playing a facilitation role in the process to declare the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden since the beginning of 2015.
One of the main reasons for the protracted process to establish the Gardens was as a result of the land claim that was lodged by the Mphaphuli community, which effectively saw the halt in the process to establish the Gardens. The land claim process took place between 2017 – 2019.
The Minister’s intent to declare TNBG was published on 11 December 2020 for 60 day comment period (Gazette Notice No.43981). Members of the Mphaphuli Development Trust and Tshiluvhi Elders submitted written comments relating to settlement of the land claim, co-management arrangements and community benefits and requested for meetings.
Community engagement was held on 2 June 2021 with the Department, SANBI, the Department of Agriculture Land Reform and Rural Development (DALRRD) and Chief Land Claims Commissioner (CLCC), addressed all concerns raised and all community stakeholders present confirmed their support for the establishment of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden All parties (DFFE, SANBI and community) agreed to the governance approach of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden- no co-management model is expected by the community.
During the community engagement, the issue of the naming of the NBG was raised. This matter has subsequently been addressed through feedback received from Royal Council who has indicated that the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden is supported and there will be no need for renaming.
In addition, R20 million from DFFE EPIP and R20m from the National Department of Tourism (NDT) has been secured for garden development and tourism destination promotion. Planning for new and upgraded facilities in the Garden is at an advanced stage under the National Department of Tourism and work on site is expected to start in 2021/22 financial year. A planning meeting with SANBI and DFFE Environmental Programmes to revive EPIP project was convened. SANBI is following up with the updated business plan as required for EPIP fund processing. Both projects are expected to create temporary jobs and work opportunities for the local community and enhance the Garden as a tourist destination. In addition, the National Department of Tourism has supported the employment of Tourism Safety Monitors working in the Garden, who started in 2020 and will continue into 2023.
The DFFE is now in the process to formally declare the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden and plans are underway for an envisaged launch of the National Botanical Garden by Minister in the coming months.
The Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden will be classified as a conservation garden, and will function as a biodiversity center for the Limpopo Province including traditional botanical garden infrastructure as well as biodiversity research facilities which will further aim to promote biodiversity education to the surrounding schools and communities. Research conducted will be of benefit to the Limpopo Province and the Garden will provide a ‘window’ into the unique traditional biodiversity practices and cultural diversity of the Province. Serving as an additional nature-based and scientific tourism attraction in the province, the Garden will contribute to the area’s socio-economic development, and enhance tourism in the area by linking with local and regional tourism initiatives. The developments to the garden are expected to increase its educational value, financial viability and the interest and support of visitors, tourists and the local community.
The launch of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden is aimed at further demonstrating the benefits of establishing the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden to the Mphaphuli Community neighbouring the National Botanical Garden. The existing Botanical Garden, is well known amongst the Community and are gardens that are very much part of the Community’s culture and as such is highly valued, with many community members having grown up visiting the Garden in their youth and who still continue to visit the garden. Benefits to the Mphaphuli Community amongst others include:
- Free access to the ancestral grave sites and ruins. This will be applicable to family members which were moved and had their household and burial sites within the parameters of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden. This will include ritual commemoration or showing the next generation their ancestral roots.
- Historical acknowledgement. Naming of different facilities within the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden will be done in cognisance of the history of the Mphaphuli Community. This may include hiking trails, buildings etc. The community can and has also participated in the suggestion of the official name of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden.
- As part of the planned design, a section of the landscaped path will be done with traditional huts to showcase the Mphaphuli Community traditions including their rich indigenous knowledge and use of biodiversity. Local traditional healers will benefit through workshops on how to grow their own herbs and sustainable harvesting of medicinal plants.
- Learners from Mphaphuli Community will also benefit from a curriculum-aligned biodiversity and environmental education programmes. The programmes will reach out to schools by giving practical biodiversity awareness and sharing of knowledge. Through the same programme, learners in higher grades will be exposed to opportunities of careers in the biodiversity sector.
- During the development phase more than 200 temporary job opportunities will be created for the local communities in line with the Expanded Public Works Programme. Accredited and non-accredited training will be offered to those employed in the project. It is further envisaged that direct and indirect jobs will be created through the establishment of this facility.
- Socio-economic opportunities: Local SMMEs will benefit during the development phase and during the actual operation of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden. This includes services like security, catering, laundry, general supply of material, kiosk or restaurant operations etc.
- Use of facility by community. Mphaphuli Community will be given preference in booking venues for use if such request is for the benefit of the community.
- Preservation and conservation of threatened and endemic plants. The Vhembe region is known to have many endemic and threatened plant species and through the establishment of the Thohoyandou National Botanical Garden a collection of endemic plants will be held for display, education and scientific research for the benefit of the community and for future generations. e.g. Muangaila (Milletia stuhlmannii), Mutavhatsindi (Brakenridgea zanguebarica), Musununu (Oxytenanthera abyssinica) and Mutsiwa (Brachystegia spiciformis) trees.
This national botanical garden will also work with the community in growing indigenous plants for with the objectives that each household must at least have one or two indigenous species in their yards.
Cultural knowledge preservation. The Vhavenda nation has a very rich unique cultural heritage. Such cultural heritage is threatened by modernisation and the national botanical garden will play an important role in integrating cultural heritage of the Vhavenda nation. This will help in displaying the sustainable living of the local community and preserving it for educational purposes.
The launch is to take place on 22 May 2022.