Johannesburg, affectionately known as Joburg, is home to many parks and open spaces, and about 10 million trees. Some consider Joburg to be host to one of the biggest man-made urban forests in the world. Joburg’s oldest trees were planted in the 1900s and the most common planted species include jacaranda, eucalyptus, and English oak. The Wilds in Parktown and the Walter Sisulu National Botanical Gardens are two of the most prominent parks in the Johannesburg Metropolitan Area. The legacy of apartheid in South Africa shapes the distribution of trees in the city. Some townships, like Soweto, did not benefit from tree plantings until the 1950s, while the wealthier northern parts of Johannesburg have many trees. To remedy this injustice, Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo prioritizes tree planting in formerly neglected areas like Soweto.
In 2006, Joburg launched the “Greening Soweto Initiative”, a project that aims to plant 200,000 trees in the township, bringing many benefits to the residents of Soweto through the creation of jobs and wildlife habitat, the provision of shade and ultimately improvement of the quality of life for residents of Soweto. Joburg’s participation in Cities4Forests will bolster these existing efforts. Johannesburg City Parks runs its own tree nursery, highlighting its commitment to the expansion of green infrastructure and sustainable urban forestry. However, Joburg’s trees have recently come under attack by the exotic polyphagous shot hole borer, an invasive beetle from Southeast Asia, already resulting in many tree deaths across the city, and many more projected in the years to come.
South Africa is considered to be one of the biodiversity capitals of the world and hosts 299 species of mammals and 858 species of birds, many of which are heavily dependent on trees as a source of food and habitat. The invasive shot hole borer beetle truly does pose a threat to what makes South Africa unique. For this reason, an immediate response to control the spread of the beetle into South Africa’s natural and rural areas is imperative to help preserve the biodiversity of South Africa.
From gold to green
In the 1880s the Struben brothers created the Confidence Reef Mine which is considered the first gold mine in Johannesburg. From that point, its history as a city of gold began, attracting hundreds of diggers and fortune-seekers. Today, most gold mines have closed, but Johannesburg has been growing and is now one of the 50 largest urban areas in the world. In 2013, the city was ranked as being the seventh most polluted city in the world by the World Health Organization. However, it has the lowest rate of CO2 emissions among South African cities, as well as 10 million trees and over 2,000 developed parks. In one of these parks, the Kloofendal Nature Reserve, there can be found the remains of the Confidence Reef Mine. The Kloofendal Nature Reserve has a high conservation value because it is a transition zone between the city, mountains, and Savannah ecosystems. Moreover, this, and other green areas, are essential green lungs for Johannesburg. The city’s history began with gold mining, but it is increasingly ‘greening’ as more trees are planted.