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Every person has been urged to plant a tree during Arbor Week, with a particular focus on bridging the green divide between Joburg's northern and southern parts.

The Champion Tree at Wits Univesity is over a 100 years old
The Champion Tree at Wits Univesity is over a 100 years old

JOHANNESBURG'S reputation as the biggest man-made forest in the world precedes it; with over 10 million trees throughout the city, it comes as no surprise that it holds this title. It will also come as no surprise, then, that Arbor Week is a big deal, especially for City Parks.

As a way of ushering in this week, which runs from 1 to 7 September, City Parks hosted a launch and simultaneously celebrated the eucalyptus tree on the lawns of the University of the Witwatersrand West Campus on 30 August.

This eucalyptus has recently gained acclaim, as it was named a Champion Tree by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in March 2010.

The academic deputy vice-chancellor of Wits, Professor Yunus Ballim, welcomed guests, saying: "This is a very special tree. It is believed to be the oldest in Joburg, at over 100 years old. It is 44 metres tall with a canopy 38,7 metres wide.

"This tree watched over historical events, such as the Miners' Strike in 1922. It has patiently watched over human folly, so it is fitting to mark Arbor Week under a tree that has seen all of that," he said.

Theresa van der Merwe, the whip of the section 79 committee for community development, gave the keynote address on behalf of the member of the mayoral committee for community development, Chris Vondo. "I am truly honoured to be standing under this majestic and awe-inspiring, massive tree," she said.

Urban forest
Johannesburg was well-known for being the most densely treed, man-made forest on the planet, she said, but this statistic favoured the more affluent northern suburbs of the city. "This Arbor Week, City Parks, the custodians of public open spaces in Joburg, has therefore issued a green call to action to schools, communities, business, government and the media to get involved in tree-planting activities.

Acting City Parks MD Geoff Cooke leads by example
Acting City Parks MD Geoff Cooke leads by example

"We are hopeful that together with your support, we will be able to transform these dusty streets into cascading, tree-lined corridors of greenery," she added.

Trees and plant material continued to be under-valued, and as such each person had a moral responsibility to plant a tree this Arbor Week, Van der Merwe said. It would serve as a way of preserving our past and advancing our future.

"I am calling on all of us to make the pledge this Arbor Week to live our best life, by adopting green standards and living green … It is fairly easy to make these minor changes by planting a tree, decreasing your water and electricity use, recycling your e-waste such as electronic gadgets, and buying responsibly," she said.

In line with the organisation's mandate of managing the City's parks, cemeteries, open green areas, conserved spaces and street trees, City Parks has just completed the planting of an additional 200 000 street trees, and is planting a further 100 000 trees to resolve historical environmental imbalances between Joburg's north and south.

Forests for people
Each year's national Arbor Week campaign is spearheaded by the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. A different theme is chosen every year, with "Forests for people" the theme this year as it is the international year of forests.

Let's all plant a tree
Let's all plant a tree

Under this theme, the department has identified three trees of the year: the Pavetta lanceolata tree, which is also known as bride's bush and Christmas bush; the Pappea capensis tree, which also goes by the names jacket plum, bushveld cherry and indaba tree; and the Nuxia congesta tree, commonly referred to as the common wild elder or brittle wood.

According to the department, trees are an integral part of our natural environment. They help to reduce air pollution, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, prevent soil erosion and reduce evaporation of water from the ground, to name only a few of their functions.

"So many people don't seem to realise the importance and value of trees," reads its website. "We need to value trees and should consider first what other options we have before destroying them."

Arbor Day was first celebrated in the United States in 1872 when J Sterling Morton moved to a treeless Nebraska. He partnered with the local agricultural board to set aside a day for planting trees; as he was also the editor of Nebraska's first newspaper, he was able to garner public support for the initiative.

It was then named Arbor Day after the name of Morton's home, Arbor Lodge.

Arbor Week
South Africa began celebrating the day in 1983, and it quickly gained prominence and widespread support. "Collective enthusiasm for the importance of this issue in South Africa inspired the national government, in 1999, to extend the celebration of Arbor Day into national Arbor Week," the Department of Water and Environmental Affairs states on its website.

Joburg is the largest man-made forest in the world
Joburg is the largest man-made forest in the world

Johannesburg and City Parks have turned the week into an extravaganza, with previous years' events including 15 000 learners planting 6 000 trees in 10 minutes and Nelson Mandela joining residents to plant the Mandela tree in Thokoza Park in 2008.

This year promises to be as big as others, with City Parks pledging to plant 10 000 trees during September. It also falls during the participation process of the City's Growth and Development Strategy (GDS) for 2040, which is dedicated to creating a city that is smart, liveable and environmentally friendly, among others.

"The challenge to the gatekeepers of the city's green lungs is to claim our space, both literally and figuratively, and to ensure our voices are heard," Van der Merwe said.

"This vision of a Joburg that will be able to cope with the environmental pressures of the 21st century will only be realised if we work as a collective now, to prepare for a better tomorrow."