Written by Nick Grabe
Reading a heraldic newspaper article in mid-January about the wood carver’s plight set my mind thinking of the plight of our environment.
My first intro into the Hazy, Sabie, and Graskop area was in 1977 as a young man taking his family on a vacation to this area. We bought wooden curios here; from serving spoons and dishes plus those annoying “pick me up to dust me” ornaments that become a pain to the charlady in our home. These ornaments were made from Kiaat wood and wild olive, my favourite.
These trinkets and wooden art forms are carved not from old dry “pickup” wood but freshly hewn trees. This is when the wood is malleable and soft enough to be carved and moulded by primitive hand tools. Only the lampstands are made from dried roots and old weathered branches and are still OK for now but nature demands that they be left in the veldt to decompose for soil enrichment.
Over the years the size of the available wooden objects have decreased considerably and brought me to an environmental standstill. Upon enquiring from the carver what the problem was the answer was simple: “We can’t find suitable trees in large sizes anymore.” For the first time, I saw the problem for what it is. Now I started taking note and included the environment in my Health and Safety studies.
Upon a casual interview with a few of these roadside carvers the conversations were along these lines: How many trees do you cut down every year to make these curios? “About 200-250 trees a year.” How many trees do you plant a year to replace them? “What you mean plant, sir? They grow in the veld and not my garden so I don’t need to plant new trees because God has been planting them long before I came here.”
This has been the typical response to the problem. In the early 1950s, this area around Hazyview was known as Kiaat due to all the Kiaat trees growing in the area. Two years ago I was involved in a project outside Hazyview town and to do the construction work we had to remove a few trees and the government sent an environmental inspector and I had to point out the exact trees we planned on removing and then with what and how many trees we were going to replace them with and where they were to be planted.
As a wood curio carver, I can illegally go into the veld and remove any tree I want without any consequences but as a legal construction company that pays taxes and contributes to the formal economy, we are bound, correctly so, by many laws that make a total mockery of the written laws due to the inequality of persona. The average wild olive tree here in the 1970 s had a diameter of 50cm and today a maximum of 20cm. I do not want the laws to be removed but that they need to be enforced with the same vigour for all the role players countrywide.
One of these days, pretty soon, the veld would be void of these magnificent indigenous trees. We all need to wake up and smell the coffee. The curio carver has to move on to something different in the foreseeable future to enable him to eke out a living. We all had to adapt over the ages of time to the way we do things and make a living.
Change is an inevitable, non-negotiable part of any forward-moving future.