The Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo’s (JCPZ) The Wilds nature reserve is once again the centre of a dispute.
The reserve – a 16ha park on the outskirts of the city near Houghton – has long been the site of disputes on how it should be run and is often under fire for an alleged lack of maintenance.
On Saturday, park rangers – or metro police depending on where you’re coming from – were recorded stopping Friends of the Wilds (FOTW) founder James Delaney and a crew of volunteers from effecting upgrades and repairs to a section of the park.
“We have been fixing the water features and begun building wheelchair paths,” Delaney said.
“Recently, the new Joburg mayor, Dr Mpho Phalatse, has spoken of her vision for creating a caring city. Paths for those in wheelchairs, but also for parents with baby strollers, the elderly who can’t walk on uneven stone paths, blind people and many others, seems consistent with her vision.
“Even the cops said they can see we’re doing great work, but they had been commanded to stop the work. The builders have permission to be on site, to complete the water project. This is what they were working on.”
Delaney noted a proposal was presented on behalf of FOTW to the JPCZ’s project steering committee for specified maintenance, upgrades and developments at The Wilds, including a wheelchair-friendly pathway.
“A specialist team of accessibility architects and others made a formal proposal to build a route of universally accessible paths. It was signed by the requisite number of community members, as well as the ward councillor, and submitted to the appropriate City Parks committee,” Delaney said.
“The proposal was refused on grounds that seem spurious and intentionally terminal. It’s unconscionable, in my humble opinion. Also, a bit sad.” Delaney said a meeting arranged by JCPZ for today had been cancelled.
JCPZ spokesperson Jenny Moodley said, in principle, wheelchair access was supported. However, clarity was required from FOTW regarding:
- Details about where additional stones would be sourced;
- Details about the manner and extent to which the stone pathways would be re-laid;
- A detailed layout plan and stormwater management plan was sought to ensure the adequate management of runoff;
- A full heritage assessment was needed as this is a declared heritage site;
- Environmental management plan was required; and
- A standard site development plan needs to be in place prior to the commencement of any work.
“These are required for all heritage and conservation-managed spaces. JCPZ recorded that in the absence of the entity receiving clear and detailed information for the above heritage and conservation facility, from the FOTW, that the re-laying of paths to accommodate wheelchairs, was not supported,” Moodley said.
“In the absence of the supporting information, the [FOTW] continued with the construction of the pathways in a public facility without the required authority. The by-law enforcement under the park rangers were subsequently alerted and had to step in to stop all construction.”
She noted City Parks valued the support of volunteers.
“However we need to abide by the relevant legislated guidelines to protect the site and all users.”