DA calls on Creecy to halt SANBI’s onslaught on Botanical Society members

Issued by Dave Bryant MP – DA Shadow Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Environment
11 May 2023 in News

The South African National Botanical Society (SANBI) has taken the unprecedented decision to cancel the existing free access arrangement for Botanical Society (BotSoc) members to South Africa’s national botanical gardens.

This mutually beneficial agreement has helped to grow BotSoc’s membership over many years and this in turn has helped to nurture and build working relationships between local communities and the National Botanical Gardens managed by SANBI. Gardens such as Kirstenbosch have flourished under this working relationship.

BotSoc has been undertaking extensive work to enhance and improve South Africa’s botanical gardens for over a hundred years and a large part of this work is due to its loyal paying members. Without the added benefit of “free” entry, BotSoc’s membership will almost certainly be adversely affected and is likely to be severely depleted in the coming years.

The CEO of SANBI was unable to answer all the questions on the matter posed by the DA during a recent portfolio committee meeting but has since provided a written response as to the purported reasons behind the dumbfounding decision.

Whilst the written response attempts to answer some of the questions posed, it raises many more serious questions about what really lies behind this rash decision.

Cancelling the agreement will do nothing to improve SANBI facilities but will only serve to punish members of a longstanding organisation for no logical reason. The sentiment that BotSoc is somehow benefitting off the benevolent largess of SANBI is completely untrue. If anything, the undeniable flow of benefits has for over 100 years been from BotSoc towards botanical conservation and the national botanical gardens.

The only reciprocal benefit has been the ‘free’ access arrangement which is anything but free because since the early 1990s BotSoc has helped to facilitate for the National Botanical Gardens and SANBI programmes over R80 million in bequests, donations and other monetary benefits derived from fundraising projects spearheaded by BotSoc volunteers.

This excludes considerable corporate and private contributions made to the Botanical Gardens prior to 1990. Without these contributions gardens like Kirstenbosch would likely not exist in their current form.

The Botanical Society is an open, democratic and voluntary civil society, registered non-profit and public benefit organization. Arguably no other civil society organisation in South Africa has done or does more for the cause of botanical conservation than the Botanical Society of South Africa to the benefit of the natural environment, National Botanical Gardens and all the people of South Africa.

The notion that SANBI will establish an, as yet, undefined ‘loyalty’ programme in 2024 to give more affordable access to the National Botanical Gardens does not make practical or financial sense and will only add to the operational costs of SANBI.

A far better idea would be for SANBI to further strengthen its longstanding relationship with BotSoc by encouraging the people of South Africa to join the Botanical Society in order to support and participate in its already well-established conservation programmes and to continue to support the National Botanical Gardens managed by SANBI all the while providing more conservation-minded citizens affordable access to the National Botanical Gardens and increased support for SANBI and its conservation imperatives.

The DA calls on Minister Barbara Creecy to urgently intervene and reverse this poorly informed decision which stands to undo a longstanding working relationship and jeopardize an organization that has done so much good for over a hundred years. There are occasions when it is perfectly acceptable to admit that one has made a mistake and put things right. This is one of those times.