BIG trees have fallen

By Chris Chapman

The passing of three forestry icons within days of each other has rocked the South African forestry industry to the core. News of the passing of Jaap Steenkamp, Piet van Zyl and Benno Krieg has come as a shock to stakeholders already struggling to keep the wheels of business turning in the wake of civil unrest in KZN and Gauteng and a country-wide Level 4 lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

All three are well known and respected leaders in the forestry sector who take with them a wealth of knowledge and experience.

Jaap fulfilled so many roles, but was perhaps best known for establishing and leading the SA Forestry Contractors Association for over three decades. He was also a well loved lecturer in the NMU forestry programme, businessman, inventor and developer of innovative pitting and planting equipment now widely used across South Africa and beyond.

Benno was a very knowledgeable and capable forest engineer who was largely responsible for transitioning Komatiland Forests’ forestry operations from motor-manual to fully mechanised systems, and went on to make an impact at Bostek and Hitachi.

Piet van Zyl was CEO of York Timbers, a leading, integrated forestry business with extensive plantations and sawmill operations in Mpumalanga.

I didn’t know Piet personally but have listened to him speak at forestry functions and field days over the past few years, and he always demonstrated a deep understanding of the issues, challenges and opportunities facing the forest sector, and struck me as being a solutions-oriented person with a ‘can-do’ attitude. In addition to his role at York he played a leadership role within the wider industry environment.

Back in the pre-COVID days when we still had forestry field days, symposiums and conferences, one couldn’t help but notice Jaap and Benno. They were both very knowledgeable and always had a lot to say about almost every aspect of forestry. They were often the ones asking presenters searching questions that helped us get to the heart of the matter, keeping everyone on their toes in the process.

All three of these guys have made a huge contribution to the development of the forest sector in South Africa, and the benefits of their work will continue to reverberate through the industry for many years to come. They had so much knowledge and experience, and thankfully have passed some of that knowledge on to others who will continue the good work.

Our heartfelt condolences go out to their families, friends and colleagues.

Three big trees have fallen in the forest.