The establishment of the National Botanical Institute (NBI) through the amalgamation of the National Botanic Gardens (NBG) with the Botanical Research Institute (BRI) was an example of the spirit of change sweeping the land. The new organisation had to break from deeply ingrained dichotomies between the BRI (Pretoria, conservative, well funded, research oriented and perceived to be predominantly Afrikaans speaking) and the NBG (Cape Town, liberal, resource starved, garden oriented and predominantly English speaking). The creation of the NBI, whose Board now reported to the Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, provided for an expanded budget and additional professional and support posts. The first post to be advertised was that for a new Chief Executive Officer to lead the amalgamation and restructuring of the new organisation. The Board of the NBI was guided in its selection by the consultants who had led the BRI/NBG amalgamation process. They laid emphasis on a new kind of leadership – a break from the academic traditions of the NBG and the BRI – and a change to a business-management orientation.
Huntley’s connection with Kirstenbosch datedfrom his school days in Durban, when he won the J. W. Mathews Floating Trophy in 1960, 30 years before his appointment as CEO of the NBI.
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden Map Distances Photo Gallery
The Board wanted someone free of BRI or NBG loyalties or prejudices, a manager rather than an academic. Their choice was Brian John Huntley. Born in Durban on 20 February 1944, Huntley went on to study at the University of Natal. He spent 15 months on the Prince Edward Islands as botanist to the first Biological-Geological Expedition to the remote sub-Antarctic islands, and worked as ecologist to the Angolan National Parks from 1971 to 1975, before returning to South Africa and to the position of manager for Ecosystem Programmes of the CSIR and, later, the National Research Foundation.
In January 1990 Huntley was appointed CEO of the National Botanical Institute. His links with Kirstenbosch dated from 1960, when he had won the J.W. Mathews Floating Trophy – a national essay competition for schools initiated by Kirstenbosch in honour of its first Curator. The topic was invasive alien plants and their impact on indigenous vegetation. His first research paper, in 1965, appeared in the NBG’s Journal of South African Botany. He had also worked as a student at the BRI’s Natal Herbarium, and for several years had offices in the National Herbarium, Pretoria. Both organisations enjoyed his respect.
With the establishment of the National Botanical Institute in 1990, a new logo was sought that would reflect the unique beauty of South Africa’s botanical treasures. The bird-of-paradise Strelitzia reginae – an endemic of the east coast – was chosen. First collected and dispatched to Kew by Francis Masson in 1774, it had soon become a world-wide garden favourite.
Following the inauguration of President Mandela on 31 May 1994, NBI management proposed that a very special plant be named after the first President of the new democracy. Many recommendations were received, but the choice of a rare yellow colour form of Strelitzia reginae won the day. Kirstenbosch Curator John Winter had collected the plant in the 1970s; through careful selection, a hybrid with a splendid golden flower was produced.
Kirstenbosch was honoured when President Mandela paid a special visit to the Garden on 21 August 1996; he was presented with a portrait of ‘Mandela’s Gold’ painted by SANBI artist Gillian Condy. President Mandela planted a tree to mark the occasion, noting: