Msunduzi Municipality has handed the management of its plantations over to the South African Forestry Company SOC Limited (Safcol).
The entities officially signed a three-year service level agreement on Tuesday for the management of the plantations that are currently under the management of Msunduzi Municipality.
Safcol’s senior manager for communication and marketing, Nokuthula Makaringe, said this “milestone” was another strategic path for Safcol to increase plantable land through mutually beneficial strategic collaborations with various entities to grow and diversify revenue streams.
“The contract between the parties is for three years, with the possibility of renewal, subject to satisfactory performance and factors such as compliance to applicable policies.”
Access to more forest land by Safcol will result in an increased supply of timber as part of horizontal integration, sustain and create more jobs, develop local communities, and implement sustainable forestry practices to ensure long-term forest health in the country.
“Our operations employ about 5 000 people through direct and indirect employment and, by extension, are responsible for about 20 000 livelihoods in communities adjacent to our operations,” said Makaringe.
Safcol is a state-owned enterprise that falls within the portfolio of the Department of Public Enterprises, with the mandate to conduct forestry business, which includes timber harvesting, timber processing, and related activities, both domestically and internationally.
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The entity said it is an integrated forestry business comprising Komatiland Forests SOC Ltd (KLF), Abacus Forestries and Kamhlabane Timber in South Africa, and Indústrias Florestais de Manica, SARL, (IFLOMA) in Mozambique.
In 2021, Msunduzi was urged to “offload” its forestry because the timber was reportedly looted and the council was deriving no benefit.
Last year, The Witness reported that the city was not letting go of its timber plantations.
This was despite advice by the municipal administrator Scelo Duma, who recently said the plantations were not assisting in revenue generation.
“The recent geopolitical developments in Europe will have further adverse impact on the economy of the country and inadvertently Msunduzi. The [timber] industry is not going to recover anytime soon, so it’s not prudent for the municipality to keep that forest. However, I’m just advising as it is the municipality’s decision to make,” said Duma at the time.
The plantations cover a vast area of Pietermaritzburg, up to Cascades, Boughton, and Blackridge.
Safcol chief executive Tsepo Monaheng said the three-year agreement was not enough for all parties to see if it is productive or not.
“There are eucalyptus, wattle, and pine species on the plantation. For eucalyptus, it takes eight years to grow fully but you can start harvesting it in the sixth year depending on what end product you want to produce.”
After three years we will have to go to tender for a long term because the aim is not only to see the end product off to the Durban harbour. We want to identify interested parties who can work the timber into an end product made locally, thereby creating jobs for locals.
During the signing of the service level agreement on Tuesday, city manager Lulamile Mapholoba acknowledged the difficulty the city faced with the plantations.
“This is a very significant development in the history of the city. Among the assets we have as a municipality, we have the forests. In recent years, there have been challenges around the issue of managing the forests,” said Mapholoba.
The Witness has previously reported that residents have been concerned that forests were not being maintained to the extent that some insurance companies said they would no longer insure homes that bordered on the forests.
Undergrowth and scrub had not been cleared and firebreaks not burned leading to fire hazards.