The mighty Sunland baobab in Modjadjiskloof has fallen

23 April 2017 - 02:00 By BONGANI MTHETHWA

In its prime it made it to the front page of the Wall Street Journal and featured on the television show 'Ripley's Believe It or Not'.

Thousands of tourists have come to see this natural wonder in Limpopo.

But in keeping with its majestic presence, the gigantic Sunland baobab in Modjadjiskloof bowed out with a mighty crash on April 13. In its glory days it was 22m tall, and with a circumference of 47m it had the widest girth of any tree in South Africa. Now it is half its original size.

The spectacular collapse brought heartache to fruit farmers Doug and Heather van Heerden who have cared for the colossus since buying Sunland, their 110ha farm, in 1989.

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"It sounded like a Boeing 747 starting in the garden for five minutes before there was a mighty crash. My little house shook and it woke everyone up," said Heather.

In 1993 the couple built a pub and wine cellar inside the tree which, according to some estimates, is 6,000 years old. The drinking hole attracted visitors from all over the world and once hosted a party for 60 people. Now the tree bar has lost its roof.

It is not the first time a part of the baobab has broken off. In August last year, a third of its trunk collapsed.

"Doug and I are absolutely devastated by the collapse of this ancient, beautiful legend. Never ever did we imagine that it would fall in our lifetime," Heather told the Sunday Times.

They believe the tree toppled because of old age.

At least seven out of 10 of Africa's largest baobabs have collapsed. Last year the Chapmans baobab in Botswana, considered a national monument, crashed to the ground.

Baobabs are protected by the National Forest Act and the Sunland baobab is listed as a champion tree by the Department of Forestry.

The trees are protected because of their size, age, and aesthetic, cultural, historic and tourism value.

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Despite the collapse of part of the tree, Heather believes the legacy of the Sunland baobab will endure.

"We're hoping that it will grow again. Although this champion tree is a shadow of its former self, it is still magical and awe-inspiring," she said.

Email the author of this article, Bongani Mthethwa, at mthethwab@sundaytimes.co.za

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