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Acacia to re-locate to Australia?
At the International Botanical Congress (IBC) in Vienna in 2005 a decision to ‘conserve’ the name Acacia for the Australian species outraged many of us. The challenge being mounted against the hijacking of the name is based not only on misrepresentation, and a sleight of hand voting mechanism engineered in Vienna by the chairman of the nomenclatural committee, but on legal and moral grounds as a case of stealing African Intellectual Property Rights*. This proposed name change goes well beyond the botanical taxonomic community because it has global significance, not least of all for the African tourism industry. The decision is being challenged by many organizations worldwide, inlcuding BotSoc on behalf of all South Africans.** Strangely enough, the nub of the re-typification proposal was not taxonomic. Supporters built a case around the fact that there were far more species of Australian wattles than ‘true acacias’. Conserving the name Acacia with a new type from Australia allowed the name Acacia to be used for the bulk of species in the genus, i.e. the 1000-odd, largely Australian wattles instead of for the 160-odd true acacias. When taxonomists recognized that the Australian and African acacias should belong in separate genera, the wattles would otherwise have had to go by the generic name of Racosperma. (The wattles had already been published as belonging to the genus Racosperma by Les Pedley some years ago, so there was no confusion as to where they should go once separated from the rest of Acacia.) There was no good reason why the type should be moved. The debate, therefore, about divisions within Acacia is quite independent from the central issue – that of the type being moved from Acacia to the wattles, based simply on the fact that the latter group is bigger. The re-typification initiative took little heed of the social, cultural, ecological, economic, demographic and historical concerns that needed to be debated prior to a vote for or against the re-typification. The next episode in the saga takes place at the IBC meeting in Melbourne in 2011. The challenge being mounted is based on IBC procedures and not on the broader issue of stealing of intellectual property rights from dozens of countries and billions of people. So if the Taxon** challenge fails we can then take the matter to the International Courts. That would be messy and we hope the IBC will see sense and reverse the Vienna decision and avoid international embarrassment.

Cartoon by Tony Grogan.

Visit and register your vote! Eugene Moll, Veld & Flora Committee * Professor Jan Glazewski (University of Cape Town law Department and a BotSoc member) co-authored a paper questioning the validity of the Vienna decision, which was also read at an international conference on legal issues, so it is now ‘on the record’. ** A multi-authored paper on the illegality of process when the Acacia name was ‘changed’ has been submitted to the journal Taxon. It remains to be seen whether the editors will publish this paper, as some support the Australian manoeuvre.