‘Wood mafia’ slowly destroying Magaliesberg mountains

‘Wood mafia’ slowly destroying Magaliesberg mountains

An aerial view of Magaliesberg. Image: Magaliesberg Biosphere website

Despite being a UNESCO heritage site, illegal loggers are plundering this biological and archaeological asset.

The picturesque landscape of the Magaliesberg mountains in Hartbeespoort are being ravaged by illegal loggers who cut down in the protected biosphere.

Kormorant reports that loggers are cutting down trees in a biological heritage site, called the Magaliesberg Biosphere.

There are currently 40 sites in Hartbeespoort selling wood from indigenous tree species on the side of the road.

Those that sell the wood around the Hartbeespoort Dam are poor, and are allegedly being exploited by the ‘wood mafia’. In addition, the wood vendors are said to not be aware that the wood they are selling is illegally harvested.

They are also forced to sell wood in the sun all day, and have no access to bathroom facilities. They are also not being taught any skills, and are only selling wood to feed their families.

Despite residents’ pleas for many years, the department of environmental affairs and other role players have failed to intervene, with residents fearing that soon there will be nothing left of the biosphere.

Non-profit organisation Magaliesberg Biosphere coordinator Belinda Cooper says that despite local residents reaching out to the organisation, they are powerless without government intervention.

Cooper said the complex socio-economic issues involved in protecting the biosphere, while also uplifting the surrounding communities, needed to be dealt with in a sustainable manner, and that more policing efforts needed to be enforced in the area.

An added challenge is that the Magaliesberg biosphere stretches over two provinces, Gauteng and the North West, which requires inter-provincial interventions that have not yet come to fruition. She said the organisation had ideas regarding how the biosphere could be better protected, as well as employment opportunities for poor communities, but that a lack of funds was severely hindering any progress thus far.

The issue also cannot be left to be dealt with by members of the public, but at the same time, police do not consistently raid the area and confiscate illegally logged wood enough for loggers to stop cutting down indigenous trees.

Another threat to the indigenous trees is the polyphagous shot hole borer beetle, which SANParks recently said was most commonly spread by firewood.

The beetles spread primarily when firewood is purchased in a region where they are rife and taken to a different place, allowing the beetles to invade trees in the new area.

The 2mm beetles, native to Southeast Asia, were first detected in 2017 in Pietermaritzburg, but has since spread to Durban, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Knysna, George and Hartswater.

It is not clear whether the beetle has invaded the Magaliesberg region.

The Magaliesberg was declared a world biosphere reserve by the United Nationals Education, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in June 2015. Magaliesberg is home to over 46% of Southern Africa’s bird species, and has immense archaeological value due to its proximity to the Cradle of Humankind.

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