Greening Soweto, a tree at a time

25 January 2008

Since the launch of Greening Soweto – a project aimed at beautifying South Africa’s largest township – in September 2006, over 50 000 indigenous trees have been planted along its streets, leading to Johannesburg’s “biggest greening revolution” yet.

Greening Soweto, a legacy project of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, aims to plant more than 300 000 trees in Soweto, to the southwest of Johannesburg.

“We are satisfied with the progress of the project,” said Jenny Moodley, spokesperson at Johannesburg City Parks, the municipal agency charged with the mammoth task of implementing it.

“It is by far the biggest greening initiative in terms of implementation,” Moodley said. “The landscape of Soweto is changing for the better.”

The city’s water, electricity and roads agencies have also come on board to ensure maximum benefit for the project, which won endorsement from the national Department of Water Affairs and Forestry as well as the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

Various partners have been working with the City to implement Greening Soweto, including Airports Company of South Africa, Talk Radio 702, Rand Water and former South African Formula One ace, Jody Scheckter.

The governments of Norway and Denmark have also contributed more than R2-million toward the programme.

Moodley said that the government, greening organisations, companies and Sowetans had responded positively to the project, with many pledging to take care of the trees way after the final whistle of the World Cup has been blown.

“It is not only about 2010,” she said, emphasising that the project will benefit Sowetans after the tournament.

Many challenges
However, like any other huge project, rolling out Greening Soweto has its own challenges – the ever-increasing price of street trees being one of them. “The cost of street trees is not as affordable as it was three years ago,” Moodley said.

A variety of trees are being planted. Common species of indigenous trees, such as frost tolerant trees, are cheaper than others. “The more common species are affordable and others are more expensive,” she said, but added that companies are “very willing” to fund fruit trees.

Nurturing is another challenge. As more trees are planted, City Parks has to increase its capacity to take care of them. “Watering and nurturing can be as expensive as buying the trees,” Moodley noted.

Space is another major concern, as Soweto has limited pavement space, with residents using it for other purposes, she said. Trees cannot be planted within 10 metres of an intersection, or within five metres of an electricity pole, vehicle entrance, road sign or storm water culvert.

Weather is also on the list of worries, as the ideal time to plant trees is early spring because it is cool, allowing the trees to establish roots in their new location. This means the city cannot just plant trees during any season, which slows the speed of planting.

“Summer and spring are more conducive for planting trees,” she said.

At least 20 000 street trees will be planted this year under Greening Soweto, with 50 000 being distributed to homes. To help reduce costs and fast track the planting, City Parks is developing a tree nursery, to grow its own trees and to supply surplus stock to communities for other greening projects and planting in their gardens.

To be based in Nancefield, Soweto, the nursery will produce up to 100 000 tree seedlings a year. At five years, the seedlings will be large enough to plant on pavements and in parks. Younger trees will be given to householders to plant in their gardens, particularly where pavements are too narrow for trees.

“There will be a greater sense of urgency this year,” Moodley said.

Much focus will also be put on awareness programmes – an estimated 15 000 learners from around Johannesburg will be taught about the importance of a clean and green environment.

To achieve some of these goals, it will establish more partnerships with companies, individuals and organisations that want to green Soweto. It will also maintain its existing relationships with external stakeholders.

“Clearly they have seen the benefits,” Moodley said. Branding opportunities linked to the World Cup and an opportunity to secure carbon credits to offset company’s carbon emissions are some of the incentives to participate in Greening Soweto. “We will increase these incentives,” she added.

As just reward for their efforts, Greening Soweto was a winner at the prestigious Liveable Communities (LivCom) Awards, organised by the United Nations, in London in November 2007, receiving a merit gold award in the natural built project category.

Source: City of Johannesburg