Cape Town – The altercation in which cyclist Nicholas Dlamini’s arm was broken was one of many instances of rangers abusing their power, according to the deluge of letters park users have sent to the Mountain Club of SA (MCSA) Cape Town Section.
Local MCSA chairperson Martin Hutton-Squire said it had been “inundated” with letters from hikers, climbers, cyclists and runners who use SAN Parks, detailing experiences.
The club put out a public call for submissions following the incident last week in which Olympic hopeful Dlamini had his arm fractured by a ranger after he was caught cycling in the Silvermine section of Table Mountain National Park without a permit.
“Altercations between members of the public and park rangers are, unfortunately, far too common,” Hutton-Squire said. “It is regrettable that it took the possible destruction of a young South African cyclist’s career to bring attention to the bigger issue.”
He said in the original agreement in which the parks were formed in Cape Town in 1998, there was to be an independent body to review and monitor their management, but this had never materialised. The result was that rangers were not adequately trained in how to deal with the public – made evident by the public complaints.
“From the responses, which vary from stories of verbal and physical attacks to arrests and fines due to frivolous claims, it is clear many park users have fallen victim to the poor training and unclear mandate of the rangers,” Hutton-Squire said.
“Many users have aired their frustration regarding the response from park management when a complaint is lodged, and many complain that no evident action seems to be taken, and that the situation is not improving.”
Environmental Affairs Minister Barbara Creecy called for SANParks to suspend all the rangers involved.
Dlamini has engaged international law firm Norton Rose Fulbright.
SANParks announced that the matter would be subject to a full, independent investigation by McRoberts Attorneys, and would not comment while the legal process was under way.
When MCSA put out a call on its Facebook page for users to submit experiences, it garnered over 400.
Lyle McLeod said: “Got threatened with violence after they grabbed my handlebar while riding uphill. I was on a gravel road going up to Constantia Nek. If not for other cyclists coming up, I’m sure there would have been an altercation.”
Claira Ord was threatened at Constantia Nek, where no permit is required for hiking. “We were accosted by six or so rangers who jumped out of their vehicle at the start of a walk up Constantia Nek a few years ago,” she wrote. “They were very aggressive and threatening. Told us we would be fined R500 for being there. The whole system is a joke and the rangers are a law unto themselves.”
Juanita Geraghty added her experience: “I was aggressively manhandled by 3 SANParks rangers a number of years back down at Noordhoek Beach one evening. My dog had been hit by a car and had been spotted heading towards the beach. I went down on my kid’s four-wheel motorbike to look for him. Beach was deserted. Was given a fine and when I wouldn’t get off my bike, I was forced off. There were witnesses involved.”