Minister Molewa addresses launch of Sisulu Circle at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens

Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens, Roodepoort
10 July 2018

Minister of Tourism, Mr Derek Hanekom
Executive Mayor of the West Rand District municipality, Cllr Boyce Maneli
Executive Mayor of the City of Johannesburg Metro, Councillor Herman Mashaba
Director General of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Ms Nosipho Ngcaba
Director General of the Department of Tourism, Mr Victor Tharage
Chair of the SANBI Board, Dr JM Matjila
CEO of SANBI, Dr Moshibudi Rampedi
Honoured Guests, especially members of the Sisulu family who we are grateful for to be joining us
Members of the media

Good morning

It is an honour indeed for me to be here this morning to launch the Sisulu Circle at the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. It is even more poignant in that this month marks the centenary of both Tata Nelson Mandela and Ma Albertina Sisulu, titans of the liberation struggle without whom we would not enjoy the freedom we do today.

Ma Sisulu was an extraordinary woman on so many levels. She was a role model for so many women as she dedicated her life to the anti-apartheid struggle. Together with her husband Tata Walter Sisulu and Tata Mandela, and many many other activists, their sacrifices laid the foundation for the country we have today. It is befitting that in their memory we have paid tribute in this form. In the years to come, many South Africans will sit here, in the shade of the Sisulu circle, and remember them.

This beautiful and tranquil location was established in 1982 as the Witwatersrand National Botanical Garden and was renamed in honour of Ntate Sisulu in 2004. This Garden spans 276 ha and is one of our countrywide network of Botanical Gardens managed by the South African National Biodiversity Institute or SANBI.

It plays an important conservation role on a number of fronts. You will have heard earlier that one of the few remaining populations of the Endangered Albertina Sisulu Orchids are to be found here. This rare plant is being threatened by pending housing developments and uncontrolled recreational vehicle activities.  This National Botanical Garden also hosts a breeding pair of Verreaux’s Eagles, and nearly 250 other bird species.

There has been other pioneering work done here in Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden. In 2017 the Roodepoort Helderkruin Lions Clubs officially launched a new Sensory Braille Trail here. Through the Braille guide book, the visually impaired are able to enjoy the Sensory Garden to its full extent.

Minister Hanekom, we know that gardens tourism has become increasingly popular amongst South Africans over the years. In the 2017/2018 financial year total visitor numbers were at 2 156 894 – this is an increase of 3% from the previous year, which is also the highest visitor number ever received by SANBI’s network.  One of the Gardens showing a marked increase in visitor numbers is this one. It was visited by 301 965 people in the 2017/18 financial year. 

It has been voted the Best Place to Get Back to Nature in Gauteng for nine consecutive years, the best picnic spot in Johannesburg Reader’s Choice; second amongst a list of 13 of the best botanical gardens in the world by the Huffington Post; and the second best tourism place to visit in Gauteng by the SA Tourism website.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

South Africa is the third most mega bio-diverse countries in the world. Our unique fauna and flora, some it to be found here and nowhere else on earth, draws tourists to our shores every year. Our natural heritage is a popular attraction not just for foreign tourists but for our own people as well.

The launch of the Sisulu Circle here is an ideal opportunity for the public, and in particular the youth, to reconnect with nature.

I would like to say a few words about SANBI, for those of you who may not know about them. SANBI is an entity of the Department of Environmental Affairs and was established in 2004 after the National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act came into force.

SANBI is mandated with managing South Africa’s fauna and flora and is an internationally respected leader in the field of conservation research and education. It is one of only two South African Direct Access Entities of the Green Climate Fund, and is currently hard at work laying the foundations for a range of projects that support South Africa’s transition to a low carbon climate resilient future.

Furthermore, as the National Implementing Entity of the Adaptation Fund, SANBI is implementing projects to the value of $10 million to assist municipalities and communities vulnerable to the effects of climate change to develop climate-smart agriculture interventions and climate-resilient livelihoods, and to build climate-proof settlements.  

What SANBI does best, Ladies and Gentlemen, are Botanical Gardens. In terms of SANBI’s Gardens Expansion Strategy: 2016 to 2030, there should be a national botanical garden in every province of South Africa.

We are now set to declare South Africa’s 11th national botanical garden in Limpopo, after SANBI formally took over the managerial responsibility for the Thohoyandou Botanical Garden in Limpopo in July 2017.

In line with the national spirit of cooperation, of working together to move South Africa forward, the Department of Environmental Affairs and SANBI are working closely with other national and provincial government departments to unlock challenges associated with the declaration process for the Garden.

Additional funds have been made available to SANBI from the national Department of Tourism to enhance the nature-based tourism value of the Garden to national and international visitors over the next couple of years.

For SANBI, strategic partnerships are key if it is to fulfil its mandate. The Natural Sciences Collections Facility (NSCF) funded by the Department of Science and Technology (DST) allows SANBI to fulfil its mandate on management of natural collections. 

As a result, natural sciences collections in South Africa are being documented and their status and conditions established.

I want at this point to draw attention to the fact that this Garden, like our other Botanical Gardens, contains only indigenous species of flora.

Biological invasions pose one of the most serious threats to South Africa’s water security, to our ecosystems and to the services that they deliver to our people. The economic damage caused by these invasions has been estimated at billions of rands per year and the problem is growing rapidly as more species are introduced and invasive species start to spread.

SANBI is working actively in this field. The first ever national report on the status of these invasives has been submitted and will be released shortly.

South Africa is among the few countries that has legislation specifically aimed at managing the problem of biological invasions and our Working for Water Programme, initiated by government in 1995, is internationally-renowned for its innovative approaches that combine alien plant control with poverty relief, employment and development opportunities.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The SANBI Kids in Gardens Programme is another project we are particularly proud of. In the past year  more than 50 000 beneficiaries were reached through this programme.

While many of the participating schools and organisations are regular clients to the programme, deliberate plans have been made to market the gardens to new schools in order to spread the conservation message as far as possible. This has resulted in 173 schools with almost 15 000 learners visiting the gardens for lessons for the first time in the past year. 

Further steps are being taken to include marginalised groups. Last year, this resulted in 484 learners with physical and mental disabilities participating in lessons specifically designed for their needs. In addition over 700 youth and 423 adults attended specially designed lessons.

SANBI’s Career Programme is aimed at attracting young people into the biodiversity sector. Over 2 500 learners and students meaningfully interacted with information about biodiversity careers.

The national gardens also play a pivotal role in mentoring and developing young people already in the sector through its Student and Intern Programme. This year 73 beneficiaries were developed through work-integrated learning, internships, scholarships and postgraduate programmes. 

SANBI has overall reached beneficiaries through environmental awareness-raising initiatives which included the celebration of environmental theme days, school holiday and community programmes.

In the past financial year, the Walter Sisulu gardens hosted 6 647 beneficiaries and 13 new schools for garden-based schools programmes hosted by BEE programmes.   

Nationally, 53 179 young people participated in the garden-based school programmes and other guided groups programmes. 162 new schools were reached in 2017/18.

With support from the Departments of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, as well as donor funding, SANBI is making significant investment into maintenance and improvement of its nature-based tourism infrastructure across all its national botanical gardens and research facilities.

This includes the completion of new environmental education centres in the Karoo Desert-, Harold Porter- and KwaZulu-Natal National Botanical Gardens.

It also includes new and upgraded administration buildings, maintenance of natural estates and wetland habitats with support from Working for Wetlands and DEA’s Expanded Public Works Programme, as well as upgrades to the National Herbarium and KwaZulu-Natal Herbarium.  Implementation of a range of sustainable infrastructure projects is also underway in the Northern Cape and Western Cape gardens negatively impacted by water shortages and droughts in recent years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In conclusion, this occasion should give us added momentum to play our individual roles in conserving our environment.

The leadership and partnership of Mandela, Walter and Albertina Sisulu is one from which we, as South Africans, can learn a great deal. Let us march in unison to build the South Africa we want and conserve the environment for the betterment of future generations.  

Together we can move South Africa forward.  I thank you!