Public outcry after protected trees at Voortrekker Monument cut down

Posted by David Henning on 23 September 2021

In an event that seems to have occurred under the radar, the garden surrounding the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria was completely uprooted, including the well-established yellowwoods and rare succulents donated from passing towns that formed part of the Great Trek.

The once lush hill surrounding the Voortrekker monument. Picture: Flickr Commons

The Monument’s garden makeover was brought to the public eye thanks to the Facebook group, Trees in Africa, when a post on 9 September showcased a bare koppie surrounding the iconic monument in Pretoria. According to founder of the group, Richard Gill, the damage seems worse than it looks.

The removal of trees has exposed the bare koppie that the monument is situated on. Picture: Richard Gill

Numerous trees, some 60+ years old, succulents and aloes have allegedly been cut down. These include the four varieties of yellowwood trees, protected under the National Forests Act of 1998. This means that they cannot be cut, damaged, destroyed or disturbed without a permit.

The stump of Eastern Kuni Bush, Searsia pallens, normally grows as a shrub to small tree. This could have been the largest specimen in South Africa. Picture: Richard Gill.

According to a public announcement from the Voortrekker Monument, they stated that they are focused on the preservation of the monument, and are therefore refurbishing the garden around the monument according to the original vision of the Voortrekker Monument with a ‘Trek Route’ garden.

The announcement also states that in-depth research was done to restore the garden to the original, according to the Conservation Management Plan for heritage sites. According to their press release, ‘advice was sought from heritage specialists to ensure a balance between historical and natural heritage.’

This included plants from the original towns of the Great Trek and along the route. Plants were donated from 20 towns with strong historical significance to the Trek, and planted in 1961.

These paths were overgrown and impassable in some places, with roots uplifting the paths. The ambition is then, to restore the garden back to these original ‘trek’ paths surrounding the Voortrekker Monument.

It was then decided to restore the historic trek route garden, according to the original intention, to: ‘serve as a focus garden where children can play the Great Trek “board game”, before visiting the Voortrekker Monument. This will be South Africa’s biggest outdoor board game. The plan is to open the historic trek trail garden on October 8th.’

The Trek route garden in the 1960s. Picture: Voortrekker Monument.

A landscape architect was approached to prepare a quote for a master plan, who allegedly cautioned them in taking any action before the heritage status of all the trees could be confirmed. But the trees were removed before he could put forward his recommendations, according to Gill.

This Erythrina was also reported as chopped down in the recent uprooting. Picture: Trees in Africa.

When speaking to Gill however, as much as he acknowledges the argument about the original paths, he says it does not mean that the old trees couldn’t have been incorporated into the plans.

What is also disheartening to note, is that some of the donated plants sourced in 1961 were also removed and discarded, such as highly sought after Kobas/Cyphostemma juttae succulents, which could have easily been replanted.

A Henkel’s Yellowwood chopped down, which is a nationally protected tree. Picture: Richard Gill

Even though the plan is to restore the heritage to match the original trek paths, Gill contends that heritage is not a static thing, but that the very definition of a heritage landscape allows for such changes over time.

The yellowwood trees removed are South Africa’s national tree and linked to the Afrikaner history that the monument represents, so their removal seems arbitrary and nonsensical.

The Voortrekker Monument management will meet with the Dendrological Society next week to discuss issues and seek ways forward.

This is a developing story. 


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