Pompom weed. Picture: THINKSTOCK
Pompom weed. Picture: THINKSTOCK

THE Democratic Alliance (DA) has accused Gauteng agriculture and rural development MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza of passing the buck on pompom weed by arguing her department could do nothing about the encroachment of pompom weed, an invasive alien plant, because doing so was the purview of the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

Pompom weed (Campuloclinium macrocephalum (Less.) DC.), an ornamental South American herb belonging to the daisy family, Asteraceae, was "rapidly becoming the most serious threat to the conservation of grasslands in South Africa", the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) said on its website.

"The Gauteng agriculture department needs to prioritise the problem of the invasive plant species before it is too late," DA Gauteng agriculture and rural development spokesman Thomas Walters said on Friday.

"Species such as pampas grass and pompom weed are prime examples of invasive plants disrupting the ecological balance of the highveld.

"In reply to my written questions, Gauteng agriculture MEC Nandi Mayathula-Khoza argues this is a problem for the national Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

"While overall statutory responsibility does reside with national government, the province is both an owner of nature reserves and custodian of waterways. It furthermore has control over how it can apply to Expanded Public Works Programme projects to deal with the scourge," Mr Walters said.

"Simply passing the buck between departments and different levels of government like the MEC is doing is like fiddling while Rome is burning."

Pompom weed is a declared weed (category 1 plant) according to the Conservation of Agricultural Resources Act, and it is illegal to "harbour, plant, propagate or sell pompom weed. Landowners are therefore compelled to control pompom weed by whatever means is deemed appropriate," the ARC said.

Mr Walters said Ms Mayathula-Khoza should lobby national government "more energetically" to "apply itself successfully to the issue", ensure that all land, especially nature reserves, had effective management plans in place to neutralise the problem, and "orientate Expanded Public Works Programmes in rural areas to deal with the problem more effectively, with the additional benefit of providing environmental training and jobs to rural unemployed."

Ms Mayathula-Khoza’s department said pompom weed had been imported by mines to stabilise mine dumps, and was "still one of the most suited and well- adapted plants to stabilise mine dumps". It was not the subject of any study, or planned study, on its environmental impact in Gauteng.

The national co-ordinator for the South African National Biodiversity Institute’s early detection and rapid response programme, Philip Ivey, said he had not heard of pompom weed being used to stabilise mine dumps, and the plant favoured grasslands and wet areas.

In Gauteng it was categorised under proposed National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act regulations as a plant that was so well established it was "not one we can eradicate, but it is one we must manage". There was hope in that the ARC was working on biological controls for it. These would likely be available fairly soon.

The national strategy on pompom weed was to contain populations outside Gauteng using chemical control, and to use integrated management of chemical and biological control — when it became available — on Gauteng’s dense populations, Mr Ivey said.

Gauteng Expanded Public Works Programme alien eradication projects did remove pampas grass, the department said.