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A Walk in the Park

Even a slight change of location changes perspective.  My temporary abode is located a mere kilometre down the suburb of Oranjezicht from where I used to live, but the area has an altogether different character.  Living is more compact here.  The area abounds in small blocks of flats, semi-detached houses and what are Victorian ‘gems’ in estate agent-speak.  Not that compaction lends the denizens any friendlier a mien; they are just as detached and Capetonian-couldn’t-care-less as their more sparsely distributed up-suburb neighbours.  Nobody knows anyone, neither do they want to know anyone, nor do they want to be known to anyone.  It’s as if to greet someone would pollute them with some abstract contaminant or deprive them of winning the grand prize in an inconvertible currency.  In the buildings and in the streets, people parade the deadpan faces of their inner cares as if painted by a sullen expressionist.  It hardly bothers me anymore as I’m not here for much longer, given my transitory state as a deracinated person of no ubiety.

Pride of place on this end of the burb is De Waal Park, a walled-off green stretch much frequented by the locals.  It has just celebrated its 125th anniversary.  De Waal Park, named after a 19th century mayor of Cape Town, is still called this for the moment.  De Waal Drive, which used to be named after his namesake Nicolaas de Waal, is now called Philip Kgosana Drive.2  I surmise it is only a matter of time before a new renaming decree is passed, eradicating yet another vestige of the country’s racist colonial past and replacing it with a more ‘inclusive’ non-corrupt non-racist post-colonial post-apartheid politician’s name.3  You can’t stop the march of history.  But for the moment, De Waal Park remains De Waal Park.  I had been whizzing past this park in my car for twenty years but had only been in it perhaps twice during that time.

The park now being closer, I have taken to going for daily walks through it in the early morning or the late afternoons, times at which the sun’s rays subtend the same low angle above the horizon on opposite sides of the sky.  The ambient light intensity at these two times of day is the same, but the moment-by-moment change in intensity is different, giving the times a different feel.  What we perceive at any instant is not just the apparent world before us, but rather a combination of it together with a subliminal awareness of what has gone just before.  In the mornings we have to do with an intensifying awareness of daylight, whereas in the afternoon every instant is dimming, hence the difference in feel.4

Now, the park:  It is defined by trees and dogs.  The dogs run the show with unleashed abandon, no question, and humans there are subservient to dogs.  There’s nary a cat in sight.  Dogs, dogs, dogs, you name the breed, it is there.  In the park, you exist by having a dog, it is your passport to the clan, your motto to the world.  A dogless human counts for nothing.  It’s as if the human is defined and given status by the dog in the park.  Some humans flaunt their status symbols, inspiriting them to go sniffing and licking around as vicarious attention-seeking ploys.  Look! Have dog, do exist!  Other humans go further.  They’re the types that subscribe to Bark magazine and dress up to match their dogs.  There’s the Madam in the white dress with brown patches just like her dog, the hairy man in shaggy clothes with his bearded collie, the lugubrious woman with her mournful basset.  Then there are those who merge at an even deeper level with their dogs in a psychological matching of sorts: the perky woman with her pointed nose scurrying to the pace of her poodle; the stern-looking, in-your-face man with his bulldog.  Some have even come to look like their dogs over the years, one-in-being with their dogs.5  At any rate, the dog stakes their claim as park-person.

Not being owned by a dog, I trespass around the park like some intruder, a foreigner in a canine country.  I move along the paths at a steady pace and get in a good stride with dogged deliberation.  I don’t tarry.  I avoid picknickers, yogis, chess players, skateboarders, the children’s play area and never dare the enticements of the public toilets.  My tired eyes have seen enough in public toilets.  I do not frequent the baristas at the Edwardian gazebo nor do I sit on benches, not even the red bench.  My park outings are solitary promenades – I’ve finally learnt this detachment thing.  But the other day, by quirk of circumstance, I ended up going to the park with a friend and his dog.  The experience proved entirely different.  The outing was all about the dog.  Instead of a sprightly saunter, we trudged after the dog who dictated the pace, the route, my friend’s attention and the conversation.  We followed the dog all over the place as it ran about, sniffing, peeing, poohing, being patted and generally fussed over by bench-sitters.  Despite prominent ‘The Dog Poo Fairy Doesn’t Live Here’ signs and plastic poo-ch pouches being freely provided for people to scoop up after their dogs, dog turds bestrew the lawns like landmines in a war field.One treads with caution.

It’s not as if I don’t like dogs, despite my being a little wary of them.7  I like watching Sandy Coleman’s dog classes from a distance.  These can be very absorbing.  After observing them over time you get to distinguish between the beginners and advanced classes.  You also admire the dog-human interaction and how some dogs are quicker at picking up on a task than others.  Away from the discipline of the dog school there are a few iconic specimens that are difficult to miss.  I always look out for Finn, an eager white-and-gray Great Dane who often sidles up to me on my walks.  He has a presence and at fourteen months, is already huge and is still growing.  One cloudy day, Finn’s man tells me that Finn is off to the vet to be neutered.  He doesn’t want to mutilate Finn, but no kennel will take him in without the operation, and Finn needs the kennels from time to time.  Then there is Tripod, a sweet-natured, three-legged border collie whose minder pushes him around the park in his wheelchair every day.  All-in-all, the park is a dog-lover’s paradise.  It is so dog-worshipping that the area around the central pond – the pivotal point of the place – is a dog burial ground with flagstones depicting the mugs of finally muffled mutts.8

For dogless me, there are the trees.  Around 630 specimens of 140 species both indigenous and exotic cover the six hectares of the park.  The ‘tree man’’ of De Waal Park is a certain Tielman.  Upon enquiry, members of the clan tell you that Tielman with the hiking sticks and the black Labrador is the guy to speak to if you want to know about the trees.  I track Tielman down just before dusk on a clear April day, picking him out from description in a loose gathering of dog-people around the Victorian fountain.9

“Mr. Tielman, I presume.”

“Tielman Haumann,” he replies leaning back on his hiking sticks, suspiciously squinting at dogless me for a few seconds before recovering from the affront.  “… and this is Milo, the Labrador,” he says, pointing to the dog.  Milo totally ignores me.  Note that Tielman doesn’t introduce me to his hiking sticks.  I told you dogs were important around here.

I ask Tielman about the trees.  He said he would send me information about them, but if I had the time, we could walk to the start of the park’s tree tour where he would induct me into it.  Generous man, lots of information!  He started the tree project around twelve years ago.  If he had to get paid for the work he did on the trees in the park, it would cost hundreds of thousands of rands, he said.  To identify the trees, he had over the years contacted many tree experts who tend to specialise in tree types.  This can take time.  Some tree species can only be distinguished from ones almost identical to them when they flower.  There are trees that, if they fail to flower for some reason, cannot be identified.  Trees were continually being planted in the park as some are always being blown over.  Nature takes its course; trees break and die.  I could attest to that, having after a gale, gone around the park gathering small fallen branches for my fireplace.  I take care to do so incognito behind my Covid mask lest people think I’m detracting from the common weal instead of conscientiously clearing kindling.  And what fabulous fires do those branches make!  Woods burn at different rates and with different smokes and I light fires in expectation of the fragrances that will emerge on the day.  Will it be aniseed, chicory or sandalwood essences that will fume out into tonight’s cool air?

Tielman says that the park’s soils consist largely of clay.  This prevents trees from putting down deep roots, which means they have a shorter lifespan in the park than where soils are better.  The trees thus need to be replaced at faster rates than usual.  Toppled trees and new plantings are in evidence in places.  Only the previous week, the Friends of the Park had planted a black ironwood, a wild pear, and two sausage trees.  We continue along the tree tour.  He asks me what my favourite tree in the park is.  Tree No. 8, I say, an English elm (Ulmus procera).  Was number eight my favourite number?  No, my favourite number is number seven.  It was getting dark but Tielman passionately carried on in the gloom, taking me from tree to tree and lighting up their identificatory labels with a torch, explaining away.  The last tree to which he took me was Tree No. 10, a swamp cypress (Taxodium distichum) touchingly dedicated to the memory of his parents Paul and Martha Haumann (1912-2012).  It was now dark and time to leave for home.  I thanked Tielman, he had been splendid.

“Tielman, I would like to find out more about the park.  I know about the Friends.10  But I was once told that if you want to get a deeper insight into a person, a business or a venture, ask what their biggest three problems are.  Seeing you are so intimately involved with the park, what are the three biggest problems in this park?”

“The biggest problem in this park” said Tielman with a resigned directness, “is dog poo.”  It’s also numbers two and three, I think…

Notes: (to ‘A Walk in the Park’)


  1. Without intending to be condescending in the slightest, I ask my friends to whom English is a second language to note that ‘A Walk in the Park’ is an idiomatic expression meaning ‘a task or activity that is easy or effortless to accomplish’. It is idiomatically similar in meaning to ‘A Piece of Cake’.
  2. David Christiaan de Waal (1845 – 1909) was mayor of Cape Town from 1889 to1890. Nicolaas Frederic de Waal (1853 – 1932) was the first Administrator of the Cape Province (1920 – 1926).  Philip Ate Kgosana (1936 – 2017) became the regional chairman of the Pan African Congress at the age of 23.  On March 30 1960, he led 30000 people in an anti-pass laws march from Langa into the city centre along part of the road now named after him.
  3. The University of Cape Town has just removed the name and statue of ex-prime minister Jan Smuts from its campus after a name-changing campaign. A few years ago, Cecil John Rhodes’ statue was removed amidst the rioting and protesting of the #RhodesMustFall
  4. This has nothing to do with the great 18thC Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant’s contention, in his Critique of Pure Reason, that time and space do not exist out there in the world but are impositions of our mind on the world. Those of you of a physicalist persuasion might take issue with Kant, but sharpen your pencils when taking him on for his arguments can be quite compelling.  As virtual reality becomes more veridical with each leap in technology, so Kant’s star shines ever brighter.
  5. Gerrard Gethings, an animal photographer, photographed 25 pairs of humans and their dogs that look alike. See .
  6. “If aliens are watching us through telescopes, they’re going to think the dogs are the leaders of the planet. If you see two life forms, one of them’s making a poop, the other one’s carrying it for him, who would you assume is in charge?” – Jerry Seinfeld.
  7. When I was a boy, I witnessed a rather huge, placid dog we as children knew well, suddenly start growling on the lawn where my five-year old sister and her friend were playing with it. I do not know what they did to the dog, but totally out of character, it suddenly growled and decided to attack.  Luckily the dog’s owner was there.  As it lunged to devour my sister, the dog’s owner grabbed it by the collar and hauled it away, straining.  I was really shaken by that.
    On another occasion, an exercise run took me past a woman and her dog on the pavement walking in my direction.  The dog did absolutely nothing, not a bark nor a growl as I approached, but just as I passed them, he suddenly snapped and sunk his teeth into my calf.
  8. Do you want to have your dog immortalised by having his ashes buried around the fountain, with a flagstone for a tombstone? A donation to the Friends of De Waal Park ‘secures’, as they say in the real estate business.
  9. The Victorian fountain in De Waal Park is a natural artesian well and feeds the Lower Reservoir No. 2 in Oranjezicht.
  10. The Friends of De Waal Park was formed in 2008 to assist the City Council in maintaining the park. Their website is at  The Wikipedia entry is at