Let business operate in interim in forest

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THERE have been press statements issued by various parties regarding the termination by SANParks of the Storms River Adventures/ Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours’ licence to operate its own product in the state forest (“Blow to Storms River over closure”, April 15).

It appears SANParks is presenting its case as a fait accompli, using red tape, legal speak and self righteous justification for its actions, but no-one seems to be stating the obvious – it does not have to be this way.

That SANParks feels obligated to put out a tender/PPP process for activities in this area of forest is its prerogative and – as it would have it – in accordance with the law! The tender process has not even been started – a tender process for a zipline activity or eco adventure activity in this section of state forest will take a lot longer to process than a tender for, say, a restaurant operation.

There are huge engineering; safety and environmental implications; investigation and verification of the capacity, validity and capability of any new operator to start, maintain and sustain a viable and ethical operation; and the environmental impact of a newly designed and installed product will have to be assessed. It would be impossible for this process alone to be finalised before the end of June.

If SANParks insist that Stormsriver Adventures/ Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours ceases to operate at the end of June in that area of forest, all infrastructure will quite rightly be removed at the end of June as it is the intellectual and moveable property of the operators. Any new operator – once tenders are fairly and transparently adjudicated, and all conditions are satisfied – will then take at least eight months to get a new system engineered, installed, tested and fully operational.

During this time the current operator’s staff will have lost their jobs, families and peripheral businesses in this area will be negatively and adversely affected, the greater community will be impoverished and collateral damage to Brand Tsitsikamma, tourism products and related retail businesses will be devastating. This village will slowly die – all because of the intransigence and high handed attitude of SANParks in not allowing Stormsriver Adventures to continue to operate until such time as the tender has been started, processed and awarded.

At that time, should Stormsriver Adventures/ Tsitsikamma Canopy Tours not be successful in winning the new tender, at least it will have had the opportunity to assist staff in finding new employment, make alternative arrangements to relocate its business or whatever it can achieve in line with its long term social responsibility to the communities of Tsitsikamma.

The staff are still reeling from the emotional and psychological shock of the announcement. People who have gained self respect, self worth and value in a company that respects them and nurtures them. and empowers them to higher achievement are fearful, angry and sad.

SANParks, come out of hiding, come to the table, engage in some open and public dialogue, stop hiding behind your so-called legal obligation to offer tenders for a new product, justify your actions – if you can – and get real. Have the courage and transparency to answer the questions being asked of you.

Your actions serve no rational or logical purpose – business wise or in humanitarian terms. Show us that you care about your community, that you have the ability to listen and adapt, that you have the capacity to exercise compassion.

There seems to be no moral, rational or business logic in your motivations. Next to the magnificent Tsitsikamma Coastal National Park – of which you are mere custodians – the Tsitsikamma Canopy Tour is the major drawcard to this area and provides a substantial and well documented amount (I believe in the region of R750000 per annum) to the coffers of SANParks by way of concession fees.

Kitty Frey Hopkins, Storms River

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