"May you be fully aware of your fortunate lot
to enjoy that paradise on earth,
the Cape of Good Hope" — Linnaeus – Swedish botanist & taxonomist, 1707–1778
|Oldest Mountain in the World?
Table Mountain was formed between 250–540 million years ago through the folding of the old Richtersveld mountains (north of Cape Town and no longer existing) which were formed 800 million years ago.
Its present shape is about 60 million years old.
Mount Everest was formed 40 million years ago; the Alps in Europe 'only' 32 million years ago.
Being the custodian of one of the world's most awe-inspiring and spiritual places is a daunting task. When most of it is set within a city of three million people (with mankind's predeliction for environmental destruction), the challenge becomes even more daunting.
Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) covers an area of 25 000 hectares, a distance of 80 kilometres from the tip of Cape Point in the south to Signal Hill in the north. It also embraces marine reserves of some 1 000 hectares.
TMNP forms part of the Cape Floral Kingdom, which was awarded World Heritage Site status in 2004. It is the only biome (community of plants and animals living together in a certain kind of climate) in the world to receive this status. It's likely to remain unique in this respect.
Brett Myrdal has been Park Manager since 2003. He has a BSc Degree in Chemistry from the University of Cape Town and a Masters Degree in Town and Regional Planning from the University of Natal. His work experience is diverse and includes lecturing at the Harare Polytechnic’s Department of Science and Technology, programme manager on the award winning Lwandle Housing Project, and was the first full-time manager for the Table Mountain Fund before joining TMNP as Park Manager.
Myrdal's infectious enthusiasm reaches TMNP's 135 permanent employees and 440 contract workers – staff morale is high. "They come here because of the nature of the work – if the monetary rewards are not high, there are rewards in the sunrise and sunsets, and being able to work in one of the world's greatest environments" says Myrdal. "The staff's delivery record is high."
The Park's vision is to make TMNP the greatest urban national park in the world by 2010, with many more incomparable experiences for international visitors. But above all it is a Park for all Capetonians – A Park for All, Forever.
New trails cater for international visitors with high expectations, locals who already love the precious environment, and disadvantaged youths who will be introduced to the Park, many for the first time although they only live a few kilometres away. A range of smart cards provide affordable access alongside other benefits.
Visitor safety has hit the headlines recently, after a number of muggings and attacks. Myrdal believes this reflects what is happening in adjacent parts of the city, which doesn't get reported to the same degree. But they are taking the challenge seriously and all income from the new Cape Town Wild Card is ringfenced to improve safety in the Park.
The new Hoerikwaggo (the Khoikhoi word for sea mountain) Trail will achieve international recognition, like the Inca Trail in south America or SA's own Otter Trail, and highlights the fact that this is a walking park – by foot or wheelchair – rather than one that you drive through.
There were over 770km of poorly maintained and eroded paths. Through the expanded public works programme, some 550km are being upgraded and the remainder will be closed.
The Hoerikwaggo Trail will be guided – to protect the hikers and to protect the mountain. The guides, drawn from disadvantaged communities, will also be storytellers and are being trained by the Boland College (guiding) and Theatre for Africa (drama). Hikers will be able to walk from the Nelson Mandela Gateway at the V&A Waterfront to Table Mountain, and then over five nights all the way to Cape Point, staying in tents or renovated buildings along the way. Only 40 people can be accommodated throughout the trail at a time and the first trail is scheduled to start in March 2006.
|Watcher of the South
Tixo, the god of the Sun, and Djobela, the Earth goddess, made love and conceived Qamata.
When Qamata created the world, he was attacked by the Great Dragon of the Sea, who was very jealous and wanted to stop the work of creation. In the battle with the Great Dragon, Qamata was crippled. In order to help Qamata, Djobela created a number of mighty giants to guard the world. She positioned one at each of the four corners of the world – in the East, the West, the North and the biggest giant in the South.
After many, many angry battles with the Great Dragon of the Sea, the giants were killed, one by one, but they asked Djobela, the Great Earth Mother, to turn them into mountains so that even in death they could guard the world.
And so, the greatest giant of all – Umlindiwelingizinu – became Table Mountain, the Watcher of the South.
– Credo Mutwa
Visitors can expect an enthralling experience. Apart from natural splendours to take one's breath away, storytelling will cover:
Geological Time – the story of the evolution of one of the world's oldest mountains.
Plant Time – starting with the end of the Dynosaurs and the plant life that evolved at that time leading to today's fynbos.
Human Time – from Philip Tobias' "cradle of humankind", the move by modern man's predecessors from inland to the coast, and the arrival of the early San 300 000 years ago.
Where else in the world can you experience true wilderness and still only be a few minutes away from a bustling city?
The plan for 2010 is to restore TMNP to its previous balance. The removal of alien vegetation will reduce the voracious fires that have swept across the Park. In Newlands and Tokai 12 000 indigenous seedlings have been planted. Precious areas of lowland fynbos are being returned to fynbos but, says Myrdal, "the pine plantations are an asset. They provide an amenity for braaing, horseriding and dog-walking. We're not eco-fascists – it is not a matter of 'pristine at all costs' – we look for a balance."
Everything the Park does is for the benefit of Cape Town's citizens – hiking trails, job creation through the labour-intensive nature of managing the park, and training and development of those who work there, creating new opportunities in tourism. But above all, "it is a spiritual place".
Myrdal says economic sustainability is critical to the success of the Park. "We are applying for R250 million in public funding, which will show a return of R45 million a year. Tourism is the route. The mountain and the sea are the backbone of Cape Town's tourism industry. We need to increase the number of desirable activities, with longer spent in the Park, without disturbing the pristine ecosystem.
"At the moment, tour operators try to cover Table Mountain and Cape Point – with everything in between – in one day. That needs at least two days, and the more time that visitors spend in Cape Town, the better it is for everybody."
New facilities will be introduced in areas where an impact has already been made and where the wilderness character is not disturbed. Current examples are:
In a country facing so many pressing priorities and demands, the Park is not just "a nice to have". There are good economic reasons and Myrdal speaks about "growing the value of natural capital" and quotes from a UCT Graduate School of Business report on the Park's economic impact:
"It was found that the operation of the Table Mountain National Park has had a significant macroeconomic effect on Cape Town, the Western Cape and South Africa. After taking account of all multiplier effects, it is estimated that expenditure at the Park has made a cumulative contribution to gross domestic product of R377 million over the last six financial years.
"Gross Geographic Product (GGP) is the provincial equivalent of national GDP. It is estimated that between 1999 and 2004 the Park has contributed between R12.8 million and R16.2 million annually to the Western Cape GGP from operational expenditure. At the same time, contribution to GGP from project expenditure varied between R2.6 million and R11.5 million. The Park has added more than R132 million to provincial GGP over the last six years."
It is almost impossible to quantify the broader benefits the Park and the mountain chain makes to Cape Town's economy. Cape Town would not be the Cape Town as we know today, nor the desirable destination it is, without it. A big chunk of the City Council's tax base is generated by the value the Park creates; the better the Park, the greater the tourism benefits to all.
"Over centuries the mountain has stood as a symbol of human capacity for hope and freedom, whether for the Knoikhoi tribes fighting colonial domination, for Indonesian and Malaysian slaves who for generations buried their leaders and holy men on its slopes, or for twentieth century political prisoners.
It is... a sacred and precious place... To us on Robben Island, Table Mountain was a beacon of hope. It represented the mainland to which we knew we would one day return."
— Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela 1998