Botanical Society of South Africa - Kirstenbosch Branch
Know, grow and protect South Africa's indigenous flora

Chairman's Report: 1 April 2017 - 31 March 2018

Most of this content has already been shared with members either at branch meetings or via emails. However, it is important that this report should record the events of the year and I will be as brief as possible.

 Council and the Executive Director have decided that the objectives of the Society are best achieved by centralising all powers and control at Head Office. This has now been done and is the current status quo.

 There is no legal basis for this. In a newsletter to members in December, the President announces that:

 The Council also collectively took an in-principle decision that there is a common understanding that the BotSoc is the Legal Entity. No branch of the BotSoc has any autonomous status and all branches operate under the Council powers and guidelines…

However, many branches and members around the country believe that the Society’s objectives will be best achieved by empowering members through their branches and harnessing their expertise, energy and enthusiasm under the overarching umbrella of the Society, with Council providing the policy directives and the necessary professional backup through Head Office.

 We are well aware that the Society is facing a new set of challenges in our evolving social environment, the need for transformation and of the imperative to spread the message wider and bring those previously excluded into the BotSoc fold. Achieving this will require dedicated work on the ground and we are convinced that enthusiastic members through their branches are best equipped to tackle this task in their respective areas. A Council or Head Office cannot order enthusiasm and motivation.

 What has been the practical impact on Kirstenbosch Branch?

  •  Head Office under direction of Council took over the Bookshop with some R500 000 worth of stock that had been managed by Kirstenbosch Branch. Not only was it a major source of revenue, it was also a place where plant and book enthusiasts would congregate. A proud display to tourists of the prime quality of work by local authors and botanical artists.
  •  The retrenchment of the 3 staff members employed by the Branch became effective. The support for the Kirstenbosch Garden volunteers collapsed leading to them to register as SANBI volunteers – a major loss to BotSoc. However, we wish to thank SANBI for their support.
  •  The lack of skilled and experienced full-time staff, resulted in the cancellation of the Plant Fair – not only a major fund-raising event for the Branch, but an iconic event for all passionate fynbos gardeners.
  •  Resulting from instructions to Nedbank, it took the Branch more than four months of intense effort before we could re-establish access to the Branch’s bank accounts.
  •  Head Office has still not paid the membership levy of R39 per member due to the Branch.
  •  All the above has impacted adversely on the ability of this Branch to provide full services to members and fulfil the mission and objectives of the Society.
  •  And two months ago, branch chairpersons were instructed to no longer communicate directly with members.

 Despite these adversities and all the stumbling blocks that have and continue to be put in our way, the committee have succeeded in:

  1. Making the Council and members aware of the poor service delivery and maladministration at Head Office. We know that Council have recently appointed a forensic investigator and we will cooperate fully once we know what the mandate is.
  2.  Many questions around the 2016 and 2017 Financial Statements have been highlighted. To date these reports have not yet been approved by members.
  3. However, by far the most significant achievement has been to submit a Requisition for Council to convene a Special General Meeting in order to propose and vote:
  • That the current constitution be annulled, and
  • That the new, proposed national constitution be adopted, and
  • That a proposed “standard branch constitution” be adopted
  • That the term of current Council members end on adoption of the new constitution, and
  • That an interim Council will hold office until a Council is elected by members at the next national AGM.

 

This SGM has been called for 17 August at University of Western Cape, registration is at 17h00 and the meeting commences at 17h30.

 To achieve the above, the following was done:

  1. A sub-committee was appointed and we assembled a team of top attorneys who volunteered their services free of charge. We consulted as widely as possible in the timeframe available. The constitution carries many checks and balances against the abuse of power and returns the focus to a member-driven Society
  2.  A group of respected individuals with skills were approached to stand as an Interim Council to oversee the implementation of the new constitution, commission a review of the financial statements and report back to members. This includes Messrs Brian Christie, Dave Henry, Bongani Mnisi, Drs Bruce Mckenzie, Eugene Moll and Sershen Naidoo, and myself.

 This interim Council will only hold office until the next AGM is called and members can elect their new Council.  Current Council members have been encouraged to avail themselves for nomination at their respective branches for this new Council.

 The proposed constitution has now been circulated to all branches and is available to all members.

 The most important contribution that can now be made by members is to decide if they want to SUPPORT a member driven organisation or be dictated to under the existing constitution.  The feedback we have received to date from members is that they wish for a member-driven organisation. But to achieve this, members will have to vote!

 This SGM and voting process will be covered in detail under point 7 on the Agenda.

 Why such a drastic step?

 Q. Members have asked why we could not just sit down with Council and reach an amicable outcome.

Since their appointment in November/December last year, this Council has stonewalled every attempt we have made at engaging with them. The Rebuttal to Setting the Record Straight clarifies this in detail.

 Q. Members have expressed concern about the engagement with other branches.

Whilst we have kept other branch chairpersons informed of progress, there was great urgency to change the constitution. One of the first items for the Interim Council will be to liaise with the other Branches and offer assistance in the drafting a constitution suitable to their needs. The lawyers have also offered their assistance.

 Why the urgency

At the September AGM, the branch chairpersons present were informed that changes to the Constitution were imminent. One such change would be to direct that Chairpersons may no longer communicate directly with members, but that all communication would have to be funnelled through Head Office.  Being unable to communicate with members without fear of censure, spells disaster for BotSoc branches and members alike.

 There were other ominous developments. At the Branch Convention last year, we were told that SEESA had been appointed to propose changes to the Constitution.

 Here are two of the proposed amendments, and I quote

 (2)  The Council shall be vested with the following powers:

 (a)   To administer, manage and control all the affairs of the Society including its presently acquired and its future assets (and to invest and re-invest the same as it deems necessary).

 In other words, all the funds raised by Branches, bequeathed to Branches and existing assets that may reside at Branches, will be for the control of Council – not the members.

 Secondly, (please bear in mind the Society has in excess of 13000 members), in respect of Annual General Meetings, the proposed amendment reads:

 The quorum at an Annual General Meeting shall be thirty (30) members with voting rights. If a quorum is not present the meeting shall stand adjourned until such time and place as the President or in his/her absence the chairperson of the meeting may determine when those present shall form a quorum.

 That means, if a meeting is called in George and attended by 7 members, the President can decide that a quorum is present and business can be concluded?

 I must emphasise that these are proposed amendments. However, the fact that SEESA was appointed and these were the amendments presented to the branch chairpersons, left us with great concern for the future of BotSoc

 In conclusion, the single most positive thing that emerged from the past financial year, is that there is now absolute clarity that the current constitution has allowed control and power to be centralised in the hands of the Council and Head Office.

 If members wish to be part of a member-driven Society, they need to support the adoption of the new constitution in its entirety.

 Thank you for your attention

 Marinda Nel
Chairman, Kirstenbosch Branch