Recently, we have been encouraged by certain comments suggesting that the City may be reconsidering whether to go ahead with the sale of the land at Princess Vlei to the developer.
In a radio interview on the Voice of the Cape Breakfast Show on 7 January, Deputy Mayor Ian Nielson said, “We are concerned about the decision taken 15 years ago, circumstances have changed, people’s views on what Princess Vlei should be have changed and we believe we have to explore different options now, we can’t simply proceed without full exploration.”
In an article in the Weekend Argus (January 12 2014), Ald. Nielson further said, “I will admit we have been fairly quiet on this matter, but I think now is the time to engage on a broader scale”.
We are delighted to hear that the City is considering alternatives, and again invite the City to consider the vision we have developed for Princess Vlei. This vision has emerged over years of consultation with the community and other relevant role players. The Princess Vlei Mall debacle arose through lack of consultation with the community and through a short-sighted appraisal of a valuable natural feature and heritage site. We trust that any further consideration of what should be done at Princess Vlei will be transparent and fully consultative with all interested and affected parties.
Up to now, the matter has been shrouded in mystery. For the past two years, our efforts to engage first with MEC Bredell (when he was still relevant) and later with the City have been met with little enthusiasm. Initially they were just ignored. In 2012, after the City declined to address our concerns, a complaint of fraud was laid with the Hawks against two of the developers by Kelvin Cochrane. The City then claimed that they could not engage with us because of this complaint, notwithstanding that the matter is not Sub Judice, Princess Vlei Forum is not the complainant, and the only parties actually implicated by the Hawks investigation are the developers.
This investigation has been cited as a reason to deny us a meeting with the Mayor; deny us the opportunity to present our vision for Princess Vlei to the relevant subcouncils; and deny our project recognition by the World Design Capital. It is unclear as to why the Hawks investigation precludes any discussion with or representation by Princess Vlei Forum, but does not inhibit ongoing negotiation with the developers who are the subject of the investigation – Ald. Nielson has made it clear that these negotiations continue.
It is also unclear who is party to these negotiations. The original company that was party to the agreements, Insight Property Developers Cape (1991/001666/07) was deregistered in 2010. We are confused as to why a different company should be able to lay claim to any agreements that were made with the original company.
This matter has dragged on for fifteen years, during which time the City has done little to manage or maintain the area - most improvements have been effected by volunteers. We urge the Mayoral Committee to come to a swift resolution on this matter, lay to rest the spectre of the mall development for once and for all, and work with us and other community partners to transform this site into a heritage park we can all delight in.
In both the Argus article and the Voice of the Cape article, Ald. Nielsen mentioned that the developers in question had spent “millions”. We would like to know what exactly the millions were spent on, and which company spent them.
We would also like to point out that the value of what would be lost should Princess Vlei be destroyed would greatly out-weigh the one or two million the developer spent. For example, the floods in Cape Town last year displaced several thousand residents, and, according to the Mayor as quoted in the Cape Times, cost the City over R3 million. Expert predictions suggest that with global warming such extreme weather occurrences will increase in the future. By compromising natural water systems which can mitigate against flooding, such as Princess Vlei, the City may be considerably increasing it’s own disaster management expenses. This is not even considering the heritage value and biodiversity value.
In April this year we submitted a bid for the project Imagine Princess Vlei to the World Design Capital 2014. The project was short-listed and very well received, but then consideration of the project was withdrawn due to the alleged "legal dispute" concerning the land at Princess Vlei. On March 22, we intend to celebrate this vision in the form of the People's Plan, and present it to the City. Below is an update of developments concerning this project. We recommend also this interview with Ralph Borland.
‘The idea that we could use this neglected space and use it for the benefit of the people who live here I think is an ideal expression of what World Design Capital is all about’ Ralph Borland, Professional designer and WDC curator.
Imagine Princess Vlei is an ongoing dynamic project to develop a vision for the space through a process of ongoing community engagement to visualise and transform the space, and to manage and sustain it into the future.
It originated with local community conservationist Kelvin Cochrane, who was instrumental in creating the Bottom Rd Sanctuary on the banks of Zeekovlei. Cochrane entered into an agreement with the City in 2008 to effect a similar transformation of the space at Princess Vlei. He launched a programme called Dressing the Princess, which set out to restore the original vegetation and install the necessary infrastructure to create a nature heritage park. An important aspect of this project was the involvement of local schools in an adopt a plot scheme, where they would do clean ups and plantings
Cochrane’s project was dealt a blow in April 2012, when MEC Anton Bredell approved the rezoning of the area, reviving the development bid.
The Princess Vlei Forum was formed to co-ordinate efforts to stop the mall and protect the vlei. An important part of the Forum’s mission was to deepen and enrich the Cochrane’s vision through a process of community engagement.
In April this year, we submitted a bid for this project to be part of the World Design Capital 2014 programme, under the theme of “bridging the divide”. The project was shortlisted, and listed as one of six that “demonstrates the calibre of projects being sought in the second call for submissions”. (Press Release, Priscilla Urquhart of the Cape Town Design NPC , the implementation company of World Design Capital Cape Town 2014 appointed by the City of Cape Town. )
In January this year, Media manager for World Design Capital 2014, Priscilla Urquhart, said that because of the dispute between the potential developers and the City of Cape Town, Imagine Princess Vlei had been set aside for now.
“It is in the best interests of all parties involved that we rather await the outcome of the dispute. It hasn’t been rejected or even not considered. It’s just being held at the moment.” (Argus, 5the Jan)
We have continued with the project regardless, developing our vision through various ways such as:
We believe that Imagine Princess Vlei resonates strongly with the goals of the World Design Capital 2014 in that it is a uniquely transformative design project that can use design to build bridges, heal the past and contribute to a sustainable future. We are delighted that this potential has also been recognised by the WDC curators, many of whom have been very encouraging. We hope that some way forward can be found to enable Imagine Princess Vlei to achieve recognition and support so that we can in turn support the worthy intentions and efforts of the WDC2014 intitiative.
We urge the City to lift any obstacles to this recognition. Should the City decided against building the Mall at Princess Vlei, we trust that they will be guided by this vision which has evolved through careful thought and hours of community engagement.
Our WDC 2014 bid may be downloaded below:
Guest Blog written by Sh. Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant to celebrate Wetlands Day 2 February 2014. Read Sh.Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant's statement on Princess Vei here. Or find out more about RAMSAR and World Wetlands Day.
The last year has seen a great debacle on the possibility of the destruction of Princess Vlei near Grassy Park due the proposed building of a shopping complex adjacent to the vlei. Princess Vlei and many other wetland sites will come under the spotlight when the world will have a preservation of wetlands sites day on 2 February 2014.
Value of Wetlands
Wetlands consist of floodplains, marshes, bogs, deltas, swamps, peatlands, estuaries, river catchments and lakes. Wetlands vary enormously in size, from tiny village ponds to lakes, bogs, marshes, rivers, and the largest inland delta in the world is the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Wetlands have a rich biological diversity as they provide habitat for a wide variety of species, some of them can live nowhere else, and also provide feeding, roosting and breeding sites for a range of other species They are one of the most biologically productive ecosystems in the world, by allowing nutrient recycling. Wetlands support a variety of fish and birds which can be a source of food and they also provide different types of reeds for building materials and handicrafts from which people can fulfill their basic needs and make a living.
A wetland regulates stream flow. It acts as a sponge, slowing down flood waters, storing water when it rains, and then releasing it slowly during the dry season, helping to ensure steady river flow. Special wetland soils such as peat acts as highly effective water stores and filters. Peat is able to hold 1,000 times its own weight in water, which makes it valuable in a semi-arid country like South Africa. Some wetlands also play a role in recharging groundwater.The vegetation in wetlands slows water down and helps reduce flooding and it also reduces soil erosion. Wetlands are uniquely designed to purify water through natural processes; they act like the kidneys of the landscape.
Destruction of Wetlands
Wetland habitats are one of the ecological systems which are most heavily impacted and degraded of all, worldwide. The only factor to which this degradation can be attributed is human interference and mismanagement of what is, essentially, one of the most important elements for life on earth.
Wetlands are being destroyed by human activity, such as infrastructure and also roads that impede on water flow. Conversion of swamps, marshes, lakes and floodplains for agriculture, housing and industrial schemes has led to the world's wetlands shrinking. There are also severe ongoing impacts from pollution and erosion in catchments, excessive water abstraction, loss of vegetation and climate change. In some major catchments, up to 60% of the wetlands are already lost or severely degraded because of mining, agriculture, timber plantations and urban development.
Surplus fertilizer run off into the wetland causes algal blooms or rapid growth of algae in the water. The result is that too much algae depletes all the oxygen in the water thereby killing the plants, fish and animals that live there.
Our Role as a community
It is important that we try our utmost to save as much of the still existing wetlands on earth. If we do that we will be save our ecology system and at the same time care for many of the plant and animal life. This we can learn from the teaching of Nabi Muhammad (SAW) when he was asked about caring for animals he replied:” Yes , there is a reward ( to that one who makes a service) to any living animal.” (Muslim)
On the other side we must not be involved in the destruction of our valuable wetlands which could eventually lead to our own demise, beside the destruction we can cause among the animals and plants. Once again we can reflect on the teachings of Prophet Muhammad [SAW] said: " If you kill a sparrow senselessly, it will hasten to Allah on the Day of Judgment saying : O Rabb! So and So killed me for play and not for use!"(Nasai) this concern the indiscriminant killing of animals. As for the destruction of trees The Prophet Muhammad [SAW] said: "He who cuts a lote-tree [without justification], Allah will send him to Hellfire." (Abu Dawud)
As South Africans we can also take the Ramsar convention as our guide to protect our wetlands. The Ramsar Convention which was adopted in the Iranian city of Ramsar in 1971, is an intergovernmental treaty that provides the framework for national action and international cooperation for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. South Africa became part of the RAMSAR treaty on : 21 December 1975. South Africa presently has 21 sites designated as Wetlands of International Importance, with a surface area of 554,136 hectares.
Sh. Dr Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant
Head of Environmental Desk Muslim Judicial Council