The Princess Vlei Forum greatly welcomes the announcement that the City has cancelled the plans for a mall at Princess Vlei. Deputy Mayor Ian Neilson made the announcement at the Forum’s Day of Action and Celebration at Princess Vlei on March 22, turning the planned protest into a party. He assured the crowd that the plans were not shelved, but cancelled, and further that he looked forward to working with community in developing the area in a way the people wanted.
This represents a significant victory for civil society. It is a testament to the power of collective imagination, the power of memory, and the tenacity and determination of those who recognised that the value of this space far out-weighs the value of a shopping mall. The communities most invested in Princess Vlei have limited financial resources. At times it seemed impossible that we would win against the march of profit. But as one resident remarked to us “If our people stand together we can win this thing.” Princess Vlei represents what can happen when citizens take ownership of their city, and collaborate to ensure that what they value is respected.
The struggle to save Princess Vlei has been a long one, originally inspired by local resident Kelvin Cochrane over five years ago. He initiated a project to rehabilitate Princess Vlei called Dressing the Princess, and encouraged local schools and community members to get involved. For him, it went beyond the rehabilitation of valuable fynbos – by beautifying the area, he was restoring dignity to the neglected and marginalised communities on its banks.
The campaign was taken up by the Lotus River and Grassy Park Residents Association, the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance, the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa, and other organisations, and the Princess Vlei Forum was formed to spearhead opposition to the mall. The People’s Plan, inspired by Cochrane’s vision of a nature and heritage park at Princess Vlei, became the basis of a community campaign to develop an alternative vision of the space. Last year, the PVF submitted a proposal for a community driven process to design this park to the Word Design Capital, which was shortlisted. It was excluded however from the final list because of the Mall proposal.
In the past five years, the Forum has held several events at the vlei, including community plantings, educational events, carnivals, parades, art events and many others. We have mobilised thousands through print and online media and petitions – 8000 signatures were handed to Neilson on Saturday. We have consulted through workshops, surveys, and interviews, and have developed the people’s plan into a people’s vision for a nature and heritage park. This was handed to the Deputy Mayor on March 22.
The Deputy Mayor’s statement is welcome. But we need more than verbal assurances. In 2011, it seemed as if the issue was won, but victory was snatched away from us when MEC Bredell overturned a decision by council on the rezoning. We are therefore calling on the City to: