Indigenous trees for Robben Island

The group doing a Madiba shuffle in honour of Nelson Mandela after the first tree was planted.

Robben Island Museum (RIM), took the first step to return indigenous trees to the island, planting 101 of them in a ceremony on Wednesday September 18.

The trees – a mixture of waterberry, milkwood and kai apple – were donated by Konica Minolta, and planted in partnership with green NPO Food and Trees for Africa.

They were planted in celebration of what would have been Nelson Mandela’s 101st birthday, coinciding with Arbor and Heritage months.

The tree-planting is the first step in a five-year plan to replace alien vegetation – including very thirsty rooikrans – with indigenous species.

“Over the past 300 years, Robben Island’s landscape has been extensively modified as exotic shrubs and trees have been introduced,” said RIM spokesperson, Morongoa Ramaboa.

“We aim to plant more than 10 000 indigenous trees over the next five years, creating a sustainable habitat that can also be home to seabirds, especially endangered African penguins and other species that form part of the island’s landscape.”

RIM chief heritage officer, Pascal Taruvinga, said Robben Island had the single largest colony of endangered penguins; was powered by solar panels and didn’t use the City’s water supply.

The island was declared a marine protected area in May this year.

The executive director of Food and Trees Africa, Chris Wilde, said the trees being planted had strong roots that could anchor themselves well in the island’s sandy soil.

The trees also have to
withstand the island’s strong winds.

“The plan is to build an outer layer of trees with the others inside and the outer ones will take the hit with the wind.”

Everyone got their hands dirty as they helped plant the trees, with the help of horticultural students from Cape Peninsula University of Technology.

RIM tour guide and ex-political prisoner Sipho Msomi, said the gardens and plants had been important to political prisoners who apart from appreciating their beauty, had used them to bury literature.

During apartheid, the island’s vegetation had been tended by the prisoners, he said.