Sun, 16 Sep, 2012
Thanks to a R20 million cash injection the local botanical gardens have gone from being the "shame of Grahamstown" to a beautiful and inspiring hub of learning.
This is what director general of South Africa's Department of Environmental Affairs, Nosipho Ngcaba, had to say when she was in town last Thursday. Ngcaba was here to celebrate the official opening of the Environmental Learning Research Centre at the gardens, which is the second of a three-part plan devised in 2006.
“These botanical gardens used to be the shame of Grahamstown,” Ngcaba said, because its ponds were dirty, it was home to many invasive plants and its entrance wasn't very presentable. “But with the commitment of Rhodes University and Makana Municipality, it's a wonderful sight that everyone can appreciate,” Ngcaba announced.
The centre has been driven by a four-way partnership between Rhodes University, Makana municipality, the provincial Department of Economic Development and Environmental Affairs and the national Department of Environmental Affairs.
“With three legs you have a stable potjie pot, but with a fourth you can have a whole table!” chirped Makana councillor Julia Wells. She said that developing a green economy is one of the district's priorities, “and the highly applied environmental research being conducted here will help our community immensely”.
The learning centre has not only produced 15 PhD alumni already, but it is also popular with school teachers in Grahamstown. “This centre helps excite local teachers about environmental issues,” said CEO of the South African National Biodiversity Institute, Dr Tanya Abrahamse.
“We've all made life-changing decisions because of influential teachers,” she said, “and by focusing on these practitioners and getting them excited, they in turn are spreading the word to the youth of our community.” There was initially a budget of R7 million to realise the three-phase plan for the botanical gardens, but so far it has cost R19.1m, Ngcaba told Grocott's Mail.
“Looking at the result, none of us have any regrets. We wouldn't do anything differently,” she said. The plan set out to first renovate the grounds, build the learning centre - a first of its kind in South Africa - and now all that remains to be done is to make another visitors' entrance to the gardens.
This second entrance will be built on the opposite side of the current one on Lucas Avenue to promote even easier public access. “Environmental issues cannot be separated from human rights issues,” said Rhodes University's deputy vice-chancellor of student and academic affairs, Dr Sizwe Mabizela.
“Environmental rights are human rights; we can't have human rights without a planet on which to enjoy them.”