Conservation & Environmental Matters


------ Forwarded Message
From: Phillip Owen <>
Date: Wed, 19 Oct 2005 11:02:47 +0200
To: <>
Subject: Appeal to DWAF: Impact of Timber Plantations on Water Supply of
Schoemanskloof Community


Geasphere supports this appeal from members of the Schoemanskloof
community to the department of water affairs and forestry.
We recommend that an regional SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment)
should be conducted, in order to assess the accumulative impacts
associated with large scale Industrial Timber Plantations.

"Grootmense moet nie met die water mors nie - die kinders moet dit

Philip Owen

To: Ms Barbara Schreiner
Senior Executive Manager: Policy & Regulation
Department of Water Affairs & Forestry (DWAF)

Dear Ms Schreiner


I write to you on behalf of the Schoemanskloof Farmers’ Association and
community members of Schoemanskloof which is a valley well-known for its
scenic beauty, situated between Machadodorp and Nelspruit.
Schoemanskloof also used to be known for the numerous waterfalls and
streams gushing down the mountains, contributing to the Crocodile River
which snakes through it. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case –
virtually every spring and stream in this valley has dried up – many
have been dry for years now. The situation has reached a critical stage
and we are writing to you in the hope that you may be able to
investigate the situation and help us, having heard you speak a few
months ago on the early morning programme of SAFM.
During that radio programme, you stated that new measures being
implemented by DWAF are designed to prevent farmers from pumping out of
rivers excessively in order to protect precious water resources for the
broader community. We wholeheartedly support the notion that all South
Africans should have access to clean water and the farmers amongst us
would like to submit to you that we would not be pumping out of the
rivers, at huge cost and inconvenience to ourselves, if the mountain
streams upon which we used to rely were still running. However, since
the establishment of timber plantations on the mountain tops above us,
the streams and springs have steadily dried up. We know that we are in
the midst of the most severe drought this region has experienced since
1959, according to information from the Komatiland Forest Company, but
springs which formerly continued to run through droughts, are now dry
for the first time in living memory. People who were used to a constant
supply of clean running water are now having to resort to drinking,
washing and bathing in dirty river water – dirty because it is released
from the Kwena Dam above us – the Crocodile River, too, is not that
clear stream it used to be. None of us would choose to use this water
if we could avoid it.
We are also aware that the effects of global warming must be taken into
account but feel that the presence of plantations on what used to be
sponge areas and grasslands cannot be ignored by the timber companies or
by DWAF. If you were to visit this area and speak to members of the
local community who were born or have lived here for a long time, you
would hear them say, one after the other, that the water has dried up
since the trees were planted – there is no question about it. It is no
coincidence that the springs have dried up for the first time and timber
has been planted across our mountain tops since the 1970’s (we are still
getting exact dates from the forestry companies) – it would take years
for those trees to grow and have the impact which is finally evident
now. It is also no coincidence that in other areas we have heard about,
where timber has burnt down or been cleared, springs have started
running again.
Representatives of the Schoemanskloof Farmers’ Association have attended
meetings with SAPPI and KLF for about two years now, with no tangible
results other than increased dialogue which will lead to better
coordination with regard to fire fighting, etc. The forestry company
representatives have acknowledged that timber is a stream-flow reduction
activity but, at the same time, have asserted that they have licenses
from the government to carry on with their activities. So, while they
empathise with our plight, their respective Boards have a legal right to
turn a profit, leaving the local forestry managers a very narrow mandate
within which to work with us – they can only assist as far as
controlling the spread of alien trees and weeds is concerned, repairing
local roads their trucks have damaged, and so on.
While these companies may have a legal right to carry on with their
activities, does this actually make it the right thing to do when they
are aware of the detrimental effect they have admitted they are having
on the local environment?
The problem of their plantations situated on top of our water sponges –
our primary wetlands - remains.
We are sure that our problem is not specific to Schoemanskloof. Most of
the views of the Mpumalanga Lowveld no longer exist because every
available metre of the mountain tops have been covered by plantations in
the last few decades, not only impacting on desperately needed water
resources but also obliterating the views which the area was famous for
and to the detriment of its potential for tourism.
We have heard that in South Korea the mountain tops are treated as
sacred spaces - sacred because the life below depends on the ability of
the mountains to feed from above. No developments – agricultural or
building – are allowed on the tops of the mountains in South Korea. As
a result, there is no shortage of water and agricultural and
aquacultural developments and communities are able to thrive. We
earnestly plead with DWAF, through yourself, to consider such a policy
for South Africa, where local communities and not corporate shares,
mostly foreign-owned, are protected in terms of access to water
resources. Whereas we fully acknowledge that DWAF has inherited a
problem from the previous government in this regard, we sincerely hope
that steps can be taken to regulate the forestry industry, severely if
necessary, to help restore the ecological status quo in terms of water
resources which were historically available to all.
The farming community of South Africa produces products that are
consumed locally and exported, with obvious benefits to the country’s
revenue as a whole which begs the question as to where the revenue,
effectively pillaged from our mountain tops goes when one considers that
the bulk of share-holders of, for example, SAPPI, are not even resident
in South Africa. Indeed, SAPPI’s Head Office is situated in London. In
addition, we produce essential foodstuffs - the bulk of the country’s
food – one cannot eat wood. And we do not create other environmental
hazards such as chemical pollution as farmers seem to be more harshly
regulated than the timber industry. You are probably well aware of the
impact of SAPPI’s Ngodwana Mill on this section of the Lowveld – local
doctors have had to deal with numerous respiratory problems and, again,
it must be bad for tourists to experience the pervading stench when
touring this area.
We are not asking for timber plantations to be banned outright as alien,
invasive, species but we are begging for the timber companies to be
forced to take a more ethical stand – not to plant on our mountain tops
but to plant at least some way down the mountains so that the sources of
our streams are protected (if they can be re-established) and to keep
their trees well away from our streambeds in order to allow free
drainage to below. In our opinion, the timber plantations marching
across the tops of our mountains represent the rape of Mpumalanga from
many points of view – humanitarian, scenic and agricultural.
If the government is not able to assist us in this regard, the ecology
of the area will be irreparably damaged. This valley is home to
endangered species found in riverine forest and montane grassland such
as endemic cycads, the Red Duiker, a host of rare birds such as the
Knysna Lourie, Trumpeter Hornbill, and Narina Trogon, and certain fish
species found only in this area such as the Southern Kneria (commonly
known as the Shellear). Many farmers, including the oldest goldfish and
koi farm in the country for which I work, will go out of business.
Collectively, we employ many people in this valley. In addition, many
families of the local community will remain dependant on the river for
water, making them vulnerable to water-borne diseases, such as typhoid.
(I include myself here – my home relies on a water supply which is
stream-fed – the stream has been dry since April and we have had to cart
river water up the mountain since then.) Our staff have complained for
months that various maladies they have been experiencing are as a result
of the river water.

Finally, we append two documents to support our case:
1. Some first-hand accounts from some members of the local
community who have experienced the water supplies drying up since the
mountains were covered by plantations – we are in the process of
collecting these statements.
2. Statistical evidence from local farmers.

We look forward to hearing from you in this regard and would gladly
accommodate you if you were willing to visit us to see first-hand what
we are talking about.

Yours sincerely

Dee Malcomess & John
HR & Admin Manager: Falls Fish Farm Chairman:
Schoemanskloof Farmers’ Association

(013) 733-4179
(013) 733-3331
082 789 8407


>From Nappy Lawrence Mashaba – ID 780622 5340 085(translated from
I am 28 years old and was born on the Farm owned by Dr Falls at the top
of the mountain. When I was young, there was much more water in the
streams of Schoemanskloof. I remember that there were many times that I
could not go to school because the stream had swollen so much that it
was like a river – this was when I was between 6 to 11 years old –
between 1983 to about 1994. Since then, the streams have become smaller
and smaller, and are often completely dry.

Signed as a true statement, read, translated and understood:
Lawrence Mashaba

>From Dewald van der Merwe - ID 581118 5005 084
My dad moved to Schoemanskloof in 1969 and then there was enough water
in the streams & fountains to allow flood irrigation on all the farms.
The fountains in the mountains provided sufficient water for the animals
and to feed the streams below.
After the invasion of timber plantations we had to sink boreholes in the
mountains for the animals and the streams decreased rapidly. Dry spells
like we are experiencing now show the full impact of what the timber
plantations have done to our water supplies.
Where there used to be many farmers irrigating this area from Bambi to
Pattanek (an area of approximately 300 ha), there are now only two and
they are battling to irrigate only ± 60ha of land.
Also, the water flowing into the Crocodile River from the Zondagskraal
spruit reaches Tony North's farm and then just disappears - it doesn't
reach the Crocodile. It is so bad that people on Tony North's place
don't have water for primary use - for drinking.

Signed: Dewald van der Merwe

>From Nganga Samuel Mhlabane – ID 541024 5399 080 (translated from
I am nearly 51 years old and have lived and worked in Schoemanskloof
since I was a “piccanin”. There was always a lot of water coming down
the mountain. We did not have to take pipes from the mountain streams
to get enough water – we had plenty of water and it all came from
furrows leading from the mountain streams. There have been many times
when there has been no rain or very little rain but the streams always
ran – they never dried up. Now they are all dry. Since the trees were
planted on tops of the mountains, the streams have dried up. Those
trees are all sucking our water up – they do not let it come down to the
bottom of the mountain anymore.

Signed: Samuel Mhlabane

>From Dee Malcomess – ID 530818 0170 088:
I am 52 years old and have been coming to Schoemanskloof regularly to
visit friends who farmed here since I was 19 – i.e. since the early
1970’s. My private name for this valley was “the land of lace and
water” because it was full of twisted trees, curling this way and that,
like lace, and wherever you looked, water. There were waterfalls and
streams pouring down the mountains. We did a lot of hiking, being very
keen on the bush. What is significant, that I remember clearly, is that
we never had to carry water because, no matter where you were, you
didn’t have to walk more than 10 minutes to find running water – all of
it running, clean and drinkable. Since the timber plantations arrived,
the entire ecology of this area has deterioriated and I am convinced the
plantations are to blame.

Signed: Dee Malcomess

>From David Lovell – ID :
I purchased a property in Schoemanskloof (as part of a cc) in 1999. Two
dry dams are on the property and both used to hold water permanently,
according to the previous owner. My late neighbour, Mr Jan de Clerq,
stated that one of the dams was kept full by a shared water supply which
also filled a dam on his property. When SAPPI planted pines on the
ridge above the farm, the water started to dry up over a number of
years. Our spring completely dried up for the first time in early 2003,
before the worst of the current drought cycle took hold. Today the
water courses are totally dry, including all our springs and we now have
to rely 100% on a borehole.

Signed: David Lovell


This is the sawac@geasphere mailing list. To Join or Leave, contact