Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Sophiatown Heritage Tree

“I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues”
Dr Seuss

The sad sight of a huge, dead, oak tree trunk, that can be viewed in the parking lot of the Trevor  Huddleston Centre in Sophiatown, bears witness to the necessity of conserving our national heritage through the protection of the magnificent ancient trees that have played such an important part in our country’s history.

The 100 year old Sophiatown oak in Bertha Street, was the first tree to be declared a Champion Tree, after local residents caused a furore and asked a local councillor to do something when the owner of the property adjacent to the tree wanted to cut it down.

According to the owner of the property the tree was a nuisance as it was messy and he wanted it removed so that he could construct a wall.

On further investigation, it was established that this majestic English oak tree (Quercus robur) with a 4m trunk, had huge cultural and historical significance.

Before the forced removals in Sophiatown between 1955 and 1963, gangs used to meet under this tree and political activists such as Father Trevor Huddleston and Beyers Naude used to hold political meetings here.

During the forced removals, two people who did not want to leave Sophiatown committed suicide in protest, by hanging themselves from the huge oak tree’s branches.

The councillor contacted the minister of Water Affairs and Forestry, Buyelwa Sonjica, who immediately afforded the tree temporary protection under the law while investigations continued.

Unfortunately, by this stage the resident in question had already removed huge sections of the magnificent oak tree leaving only a 4m high trunk, (about a third of the original height of the tree), topped by thick stumps.

In 2004 The Sophiatown Oak was declared a Champion Tree by DWAF, the first tree to be protected by  law and the forerunner of many other trees that would receive similar protection under this important initiative.

The Sophiatown Heritage Tree never fully recovered from the indiscriminate mutilation that it received and died in 2009.
Sophiatown Tree Before 
Sophiatown Tree After

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