Back then, the aims of the society were to encourage South Africans to take an active part in the development of the newly-established National Botanic Garden at Kirstenbosch, to raise funds for the garden, to organise shows of South African flora and to provide information to the public, deputy director Dave McDonald tells Engineering News. To mark the anniversary BotSoc has published a special magazine highlighting the society’s successes and achievements since its formation. Today, BotSoc has 20 000 members in its 16 branches throughout South Africa, with the Kirstenbosch branch, in Cape Town, being the largest with more than 8 000 members. Membership of the society is open to all who support its present aims and mission.
“Mindful of the role of South Africans as custodians of the world’s richest floral heritage, it is our mission to win the hearts and minds and material support of individuals and organisations, wherever they may be, for the conservation, cultivation, study and wise use of the indigenous flora and vegetation of Southern Africa,” McDonald says.
He reports that the society has enjoyed enormous success in achieving its objectives.
This success is attributed to the dedication and drive of the society’s members, who act mostly as volunteers in programmes at the various national botanical gardens throughout South Africa. The society has also been closely involved with developments in these gardens and has contributed millions of rands over the years to infrastructural developments, McDonald reports.
In the last two years, BotSoc has been heavily involved in the development of the new National Environmental Management Bill, the Biodiversity Bill, and the Protected Areas Bill.
It has been instrumental in organ-ising civil society to understand the impact of the new law and to respond effectively.
“Although the process of soliciting comment and fine-tuning the bill was rather flawed and frustrating, it appears that the final versions have been substantially improved, thanks to public input,” researcher Mark Botha says.
He states that the society succeeded in having the concept of threatened ecosystems adopted. This will allow the minister of Tourism and Environmental Affairs Valli Moosa to define, on scientific grounds, innovative means to regulate potentially destructive land use within these ecosystems. “For the first time, this provides South Africans with a national context to decide where to situate large development projects so that they have the least environmental impact, and goes beyond the limited environmental-impact assessment process,” Botha says.
He adds that the Protected Areas Bill includes the required recognition for protected areas that might be created on private or communal land, and has provisions to remove obstacles to the creation and management of protected areas under this form of ownership.
McDonald notes that BotSoc still has some hurdles to overcome as a society existing in the new South Africa.
Historically, BotSoc has been made up mainly of white South Africans. Principally, economic, cultural and educational barriers have inhibited other people from becoming members, even though the society has always been open to all, McDonald explains. With a need to grow and to be relevant to the broader public without losing sight of its goals and mission, the society now faces a distinct challenge to gain new members and to retain them in the present competitive and difficult economic climate. It is even more of a challenge to present an appeal to people in communities not traditionally exposed to nongovernmental organisations of the nature of BotSoc, McDonald points out. Analysis of the situation suggests that it will be some time before the mix of people forming the membership of the society will change.
This will hopefully evolve while the society still manages to remain relevant to changes in South African society, he says.
The different branches of the society have celebrated its 90th anniversary in different ways, McDonald reports.
For example, the society’s Kwazulu-Natal coastal branch had a bumper indigenous plant sale at the beginning of September, while the Kirstenbosch branch had a special tea for all the Kirstenbosch volunteers in June. The society also had a stand at the Cape Town Flower Show at the Cape Town International Convention Centre in September. This was followed by a week of lectures at Kirstenbosch on topical subjects, including a review of the history of BotSoc, McDonald reports. The society also held a special honours and awards function where it awarded nine medals and awards in September, the month dedicated to tourism and environment in South Africa.
The medals and awards were for excellence in fields such as flora conservation, combating alien invasive plants, promotion of South African flora in the media and excellence in botanical publications.
The awards were presented by the newly-elected president of the Botanical Society, Dr John Rourke.