Rhodes Doctoral candidate and and keen environmentalist Namhla Gwedla has embarked on a study that seeks to investigate the barriers to, and possible enablers of tree planting in the Low Cost Housing/RDP suburbs of Grahamstown. Gwedla is a PhD student in the Department of Environmental Science, under the supervision of Professor Charlie Shackleton, and Dr Lausanne Olvitt from the Environmental Learning Research Centre. The vision of the project is to ultimately design and test a community-driven tree planting initiative specifically for LCH areas that will empower community members to prioritise tree planting, especially in their private spaces.
Over the last year, Gwedla has been chairing focus group discussions with communities from LCH areas in three different towns around the Eastern Cape, including Grahamstown. Residents from the newly developed Extension 10 in Grahamstown participated in discussions which at the Assumption Development Centre in Joza.
Both as an outcome of the study and a community engagement initiative, the group of excited community members embarked on a public tree planting event targeting one of the day-care centre in the area on, 22 May. The trees planted at this centre were donated by the Makana Municipality Parks and Recreation Department; and they included Olea africana (wild olive, umnquma, olienhout) and the Harpephyllum caffrum (wild plum, umgwenya, wildepruim). The Makana Community Works Programme (CWP) assisted with tools for planting.
The event began with a general talk by the group to the teachers and the children about the importance of having trees and encouraging them to protect and look after the trees after they had been planted. The Green Champs, as the group of community members are known, demonstrated a great deal of pride in being part of such a momentous activity, even going as far as naming the individual trees.
Some of the trees were donated to group members whose households were fenced off (as a precaution against wandering cattle and donkeys), and who were also keen to look after those trees. The community members said they were planting trees to ensure that “we too have leafy suburbs that look like those closer to town and so that we can breathe fresh clean air.”
The project is a pilot for an even bigger event planned as part of the 2018 Arbor Week celebrations. The initiative of celebrating Arbor Week was a suggestion from the group as part of efforts to revive the culture of tree planting in Grahamstown. Many members reminisced about Grahamstown’s glory as the “greenest city” in the Eastern Cape. The community members said they would like such honours to extend to the township too. Support and partnership with the Umthathi Training Project in Grahamstown have been one of the major milestones of the project, driven by the community members to ensure that the Arbor Week is a success.