Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on by Simon Pooley (auth.)

By Simon Pooley (auth.)

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Extra resources for Burning Table Mountain: An Environmental History of Fire on the Cape Peninsula

Sample text

This, together with the development of the settlement and farming – with attendant attempts to regulate fire use – probably reduced burning below the northern and eastern slopes of Table Mountain. However, we know from contemporary descriptions that large mountain fires higher up on the eastern and northern slopes of Table Mountain were a seasonal commonplace throughout the period of Dutch rule. These fires were attributed to the carelessness of slaves and to vagrants. Lack of labour, tight controls by the VOC and infertile soils meant many of the first European farmers at the Cape turned to livestock farming, learning to burn the veld to replenish grazing from the Khoikhoi.

Mentzel also provides one of the first descriptions of a major bush fire on Table Mountain. Referring to Peter Kolb’s book about the Cape (of 1719), he confirms that he too saw Kolbe’s ‘carbuncle’ and ‘crowned serpent’ on Table Mountain at night. He explains that these are descriptions of bush fires, which he attributes to the spontaneous combustion of dry bushes by solar rays concentrated on Table Mountain through reflection off Devil’s Peak and Lion’s Head. The burning bushes resemble Kolbe’s ‘carbuncle’, and where a fire spreads upwards from bush to bush, a ‘crowned serpent’ appears.

The Scot combined scientific argument with missionary zeal and Victorian moral disapproval. He drew on examples of deforestation and desiccation attributed to fire observed among the Tswana, north of the Cape Colony, and in Barbados and Jamaica. Brown was well aware, and professed himself saddened, that veld burning was not just an African and Boer practice but also one applied by British settlers. )’. He lamented the destruction of indigenous species, describing mountain slopes near Wynberg (now a southern suburb of Cape Town) covered with silver trees (Leucadendron argenteum), yellow pincushion (Leucospermum conocarpodendron) and other fynbos shrubs, which had been ‘burned and blackened, killed by fire’.

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