The cutting down of gigantic mahogany (m’bawa) trees in Limbe to pave the way for construction of dual carriage road has raised eyebrows among activists and some conservationists who argue that the trees deserved to be preserved.
During a visit to the site, the entrance to Illovo Sugar (Malawi) Limited head office yesterday, large pieces of the hardwood from the estimated 150-year-old mahogany trees were seen lying lifeless on the ground.
Some men were also seen gathering up small wood pieces on their bicycles and much of the fence at the entrance had fallen on its knees due to the heavy weight of the trees that probably fell over it.
Writing on his Facebook page, activist Rafiq Hajat, describing the people who cut down the trees as “dubious characters in a red truck who rudely refused to identify themselves”, said the move was an appalling act of environmental degradation.
He observed that the trees, estimated to be over 100 years old, were in the way of the road works; hence, as an activist and Blantyre resident, he was haunted by several questions, including: “Who authorised this, if it was authorised at all? Who would account for the extremely valuable wood that had been extracted?”
Hajat said the trees were a symbol of the pristine beauty of the city.
But Blantyre City Council (BCC) has justified the cutting down of the indigenous trees, saying it was necessitated by the road rehabilitation works between Illovo Roundabout and Midima Roundabout.
BCC public relations manager Anthony Kasunda said in an interview yesterday the council is also very sensitive when it comes to environmental conservation and it was its wish that trees are preserved.
However, he said in the case of trees cut down at Illovo offices, there was no other way out to make the road project materialise than felling them down.
Said Kasunda: “Following a number of consultative meetings between a number of stakeholders, including BCC, RA [Roads Authority], funders of the road project, MTL [Malawi Telecommunications Limited], Escom [Electricity Supply Corporation of Malaw] and BWB [Blantyre Water Board], it was established that to make provision for the expansion of the road and also relocate the service cables and pipes, it was necessary to cut down the trees.
“You may also wish to know that there was no other option of relocating the pipes, especially the big water pipes that supply water to areas beyond Limbe.”
On the question of accountability for the wood, Kasunda said whenever a tree has been cut down for any valid reason by the council; the trees are taken to the council’s yard where they are used for “cooking” tar used in rehabilitation of city roads.
But information The Nation has sourced suggests that the owner of the plot where Illovo offices lie offered that the cables and pipes pass through the plot and, if need be, demolish a guard house to spare the trees.
The source said the action has shocked the property owners and others who value the environment.
The cutting down of trees in Blantyre City has not only taken place at Illovo as some indigenous trees along the Masauko Chipembere Highway, at Chichiri to be precise, have also been brought down.