The Tokai Section of the Table Mountain National Park has seen its fair share of incidents. Several attacks took place over the last few years, especially between 2013 and 2015 and who can forget the devastating fire of 2015? But thanks to the efforts of local voluntary group and NPO, TokaiMTB, this part of the Park is now much more secure and is about to become even safer.
TokaiMTB, working closely with South African National Parks (SANParks) and with the support of other local groups, has launched several initiatives to help lower the prevalence of criminal activity and to ensure prompt action is taken when an emergency occurs in the Park. In 2016 the group launched an emergency contact number which saw a significant reduction in the response time to incidents in the area.
Deon de Villiers, Table Mountain National Park liaison of TokaiMTB says, although there were other emergency contact numbers already available, they were routed to a centralised call centre. “This often meant a big delay in dispatching a rescue team closest to the position from where the call came and with vital knowledge of the layout of the area,” de Villiers explains.
After two serious incidents in February and March 2018 the group decided to step up security. “Now with the support of SANParks honorary rangers, TokaiMTB conducts regular patrols of the Park and its seven hotspots, not only on the weekend, but during the week too,” says de Villiers. All safety marshals wear identifiable branded clothing and hi-viz vests to allow quick visual identification to support deterrence,” he says.
TokaiMTB is also a member of The Table Mountain Security Action Group, which is comprised of several public volunteer groups including, Wilderness Search And Rescue, Table Mountain Watch, MTB Club SA and most neighbourhood watch groups bordering the Park. The Table Mountain Security Action Group has facilitated several organised hikes and climbs throughout the year bringing SANParks, private security and civic society together to work for users’ safety.
The group has also been working tirelessly on a personal safety program that aligns the City, SANParks and emergency response groups. “We have to keep the details of the technology we’ve helped test for the program under wraps – to ensure the safety and efficacy of the system – but all tests so far have been highly successful in showing how we can further reduce the time between incident and alert, to get the message out to available first responders.” says de Villiers.
TokaiMTB started as a group of volunteers who were keen on developing and maintaining the bike trails in Tokai. But given the attacks in the area and the lack of funding and general support within law enforcement, the NPO’s goals have expanded into assisting SANParks with the task of actively maintaining the safety and security of Tokai’s park users.
“The October attacks in Newlands again caused disruption to people’s recreational movements. We’re not seeing much movement among government structures to help prevent and manage these types of incidents that prey on the sanctity the natural environment offers. Until the plans that are being put in place take effect, it’s our belief that civic society take the lead on providing useful safety and security systems in our recreational areas. We need businesses and individuals to get behind initiatives such as ours,” says de Villiers.
As an NPO, all TokaiMTB’s work is currently voluntary and most of its resources come in the form of donations.
“Accessibility is a big issue when it comes to emergencies,” says de Villiers. “As much as one can reduce the response time to an emergency, there’s also a rate to how quickly an emergency can be attended to,” he adds. A recent donation by Gnu World Media, a digital marketing firm in Cape Town, will do much to help solve this problem. Gnu World donated a Merida Big Seven 500 electric mountain bike to the organisation last week. The bike was converted into an e-bike by a local electric bike specialist, Chilled Squirrel, and will be used for safety patrols and maintenance inspections on the Tokai trails.
“Motorised vehicles are limited to where they can access and how fast they can travel around the Park. We hope the e-bike will ensure that anyone in danger or injured – especially those in hard-to-reach places – will be helped faster than before,” says Andrew Ziffo, director of Gnu World Media.
Chilled Squirrel has also donated their expertise to the cause and have offered to service the bicycle for a year. The owner, Matt Leve, says the company is excited to give back to the community.
The e-bike has other uses too. Mark Smith, Guest Relations of TokaiMTB, has been a key player in the NPO’s initiatives. In January, Mark fell ill with a life-threatening kidney condition. After being admitted to hospital for an emergency operation that saved his life, he’s faced a multitude of tests to identify the cause but to no avail. His condition improved in August and he has returned to take up several patrol shifts while slowly recovering.
The e-bike will assist him in regaining his fitness and most importantly, get him out the house and onto the mountain more often. “As Table Mountain users know all too well, nature has healing qualities of its own and if the e-bike can help speed up his recovery in some way, then we are even more elated Gnu World found us!” says de Villiers.