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 The project was short-listed and very well received, but then consideration of the project was withdrawn due to the alleged "legal dispute" concerning the land at Princess Vlei.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
Save the Princess Video installation by Ayesha Price The Lovell Gallery, 139 Albert Rd, Woodstock
Exhibition: 2-16 November 2013, Tuesday to Friday10h00 – 18h00, Saturdays 10h00-14h00
Walkabouts: Saturday 9 & 16 November 2013, 11am
It is difficult to pinpoint what is so compelling about Ayesha Price’s Save the Princess video installation. The Installation comprises a sound track with a series of images projected in seven panels surrounding the viewer. Within a few moments of experiencing them, one is transported to a world of strange mystery and subtlety.
The flawlessly executed installation presents a flickering, richly layered tapestry of history, myth, gender, power relations and nature; figures shift ambiguously from gestures of freedom and bondage; growing and shrinking, expanding and contracting in endless cycles. The landscape in the form of the profile of the Princess speaks, eternally supplicating, a silent voice that is perhaps doomed to remain unheard or is a singing a song beneath or above our sonar radar that is being heard in circles that extend beyond us. There is a sensation of water flowing over submerged bodies, either drowning or swimming, of light flickering through trees, of the merging cycles of life and death, growth and decay. Overall it holds profound lessons of relations between hegemonic and subordinate cultures; the suppression and expression of identity; the way that nature both enables and restricts our self-expression; the critical and delicate balance between living in and living off nature.
I found it utterly mesmerising, and felt as if I could have spent several hours entranced by this experience. I walked away with a visceral sensation of those flickering shadows that still move within me. I strongly urge all who can to attend Ayesha’s walk about on Saturday 16 November at 11 am, or at least to go and experience the installation for yourself.
From Ayesha’s Press release: Princess Vlei is a wetland in an urban area and a specific site of trauma: haunted by myths, riled with urban legends, inextricably linked to the displacement of people and currently, under real threat of destruction by commercial development.
This body of achromatic digital works draws upon this site and its legend – a lake of tears- as a symbol of the degradation, disempowerment and injustice visited upon the worlds of the vulnerable by the powerful.
The artist employs sequences and layers of animation, footage and stills which allude to the cyclical and traumatic nature of remembering and forgetting, submerging and rising, entrapment and escape. Multiple projections situate the viewer in close proximity to the anxiety of impending violation and freedom/release from cycles of trauma – in a position to actively break the cycle, or remain trapped.
Cape Times October 25 2013
It was a remarkable gathering: A Catholic archbishop and a primary school jazz band, chiefs from Khoi and Xhosa tribes, a rabbi and a sheikh, a baptising Pentecostal elder and a Buddhist… a rare moment when our rainbow nation shone in all its colours.
But perhaps what was most remarkable about this gathering was that this group had come together on September 22 to defend one Cape Town’s most contested natural features – the Princess Vlei.
What has motivated these moral custodians of our city to take this stand? Why has Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu bothered to weigh in to the debate with a message of support?
Superficially, the Princess Vlei issue might seem a small issue. But it is an issue in which the greater social, cultural, historical, economic and environmental connections are so starkly and eloquently expressed that it serves as a microcosm of critical choices facing our city, our country and indeed our planet. Perhaps this is why it has caught the attention even of those who have never had the pleasure of watching pelicans coming in to land on the water, or seeing the Constantiaberg mirrored in its still surface.
Princess Vlei holds an urgent lesson, the same lesson that is being ignored by global political and financial leaders as they continue to avoid taking the decisive action needed to avert the catastrophe of uncontained climate change. The lesson is so simple: If we continue to sacrifice social justice and environmental well-being for the short-term enrichment of a minority, we will soon find ourselves in a world that is uninhabitable.
It is self-evident that building a shopping mall on a wetland does not promote environmental sustainability. What may be less obvious is the damage this development could do to social sustainability, which is equally critical to the long-term health of our society.
A socially sustainable society is one that pays attention not only to people’s physical needs, but also to their psychological and emotional needs. Critical to the psychological health of a community is access to recreational spaces where people can connect with nature, interact with each other in a relaxed way, or find solitude and peace. For those living in over-crowded homes with no gardens, such solace can only be found in natural public spaces. In this context, these spaces become the pressure valve that enables people to cope with the stresses of social and economic hardship in densely populated environments.
Princess Vlei has long served this purpose. People from the ages of eight to 80 have remarked that what they value most about the vlei is that it gives them a feeling of peace.
In the words of Mak1, a graffiti artist who grew up in Cafda: “No matter what happened economy-wise or family-wise, Princess Vlei was one place people went and had a good time… the sun would set, and I remember the fires and the braais going on, music playing, people were happy.
“You knew when you went home there’d be skelling about no money for this or that, or not enough to eat, but while we were here at the Vlei, people had a great time. Among all the negatives… the Vlei was the one memory that shone through, and you knew if you could focus on that, you could survive, you could make it through.”
People in the community speak of Princess Vlei as a place given by God, a place that is free. There is a sense that God (or nature) has generously provided such beauty and tranquillity without expecting anything in return. This generosity helps people to feel wealthy in a more profound sense, to forget that they are deprived, or poor, or lacking. The water sparkles just as brightly for a single mother from Parkwood as it does for a wealthy Constantia resident. Probably a lot more – Constantia residents are treated daily to lush views in their garden, or at any of the holiday locations they can afford to visit. Most people living near Princess Vlei have no gardens and no car.
A shopping mall, on the other hand, can make all but the super-rich feel poor, with its display of goods that few can afford to buy. A shopping mall entices people to spend beyond their means. A shopping mall diverts money from small traders, breadwinners in this community, into the profits of big business. A shopping mall may create jobs, but it kills local enterprise.
The value of Princess Vlei to the community is clear and widely acknowledged, a value that would be greatly enhanced if the space was developed as a nature and heritage park.
Yet all indications now are that the city is set to go ahead with the sale of the land to the developer. What is driving this intention?
In his keynote address at the Princess Vlei Forum prayer meeting on September 22, Bishop Geoff Davies quoted the story of Jesus chasing the money-lenders out of the temple. “Is not the whole world God’s temple?” he asked. Has not God brought life to this planet? Hasn’t Princess Vlei been a temple for generations of users?
“Yet we have made this wonderful planet of life, this temple of God, into a den of thieves. We do everything to make money… We rape the environment, so we have rhinos facing extinction, so that people can make money. We have open-cast mining, polluting air and water and destroying the soil, all to make money.”
At the heart of the Princess Vlei story is the tale of two cities: An uncaring city driven by commercial development at the cost of social and environmental sustainability, versus a caring city that balances economic needs with long-term social and environmental health. The DA claims to be running a caring city, and its policy frameworks do embrace this vision.
But recently, city leadership seems to be ignoring its own policies. Lately, as in the case of the Wescape development, the Philippi Horticultural Area farmlands and Princess Vlei, Uitkamp at Durbanville, and the Two Rivers Urban Park at the confluence of the Black River and Liesbeek Rivers, the city’s decisions seem to favour bids for private development over community interests, even those which contradict its own policies or advice by its own professionals. This trend threatens to push us towards the first city, a city driven by short-term gain rather than long-term vision, a dangerous, uncaring city where even the privileged cannot build walls high enough to keep out the misery and anger beyond them. Social and environmental sustainability are not luxuries. A city that is not socially and environmentally sustainable is a city sowing its own seeds of destruction.
Perhaps these developments fill the city’s coffers, but they carry social and environmental costs that in the long term far outweigh whatever wealth they generate. No doubt our city’s leadership make difficult choices every day. But the decision to save Princess Vlei is not a difficult choice. The gains of another shopping mall, particularly to the disadvantaged neighbouring communities, are negligible, if they are there at all. The loss of this iconic wetland and recreational space is irretrievable and incalculable.
We should be able to trust the city to conserve these precious natural resources and communal spaces, but increasingly it is falling to civil society to defend them, sometimes at considerable cost. The struggle to save the Sea Point waterfront cost some R2.7 million, financed by generous individuals from the relatively wealthy Sea Point community. Princess Vlei, once affectionately named “Claremont Beach” is a “seafront” and traditional gathering place for the many local residents who cannot afford the transport and time to travel to the beach. Must the schoolchildren, the unemployed, the pensioners and other hard-pressed community members from around Princess Vlei struggle to raise funds for a similar court action to defend one of their few accessible recreational spaces?
In the words of Bishop Davies, “This is not just a moral issue. It is a deeply spiritual matter. How we live together – with God, one another and the rest of creation is a deeply spiritual matter. We have come because all religions call for justice and righteousness – for fairness. So we now call on the authorities to seek justice for the people and the planet. If they allow the development of a shopping mall at Princess Vlei, we know that they are bringing conflict and perpetuating injustice.”
Let us call on the city leadership to revitalise their vision of a city that cares for all, that protects the interests of the marginalised and the vulnerable, and to pursue this vision honestly, and assiduously. We owe this to our citizens, and to our children.
Mak1 is an acclaimed graffiti artist who grew up in Cafda and is passionate about Princess Vlei. Bridget Pitt interviewed him while he created this picture of the Princess....
Once I saw the Princess...
I came here this evening to represent the beautiful princess. I’ve tried to draw an image of what I think she’d look like if I ever get to meet her at the Vlei... I think I did see her when I was a kid.
My grandmother banned me to swim in the Vlei because she warned me about the mermaid that lives there and that drowns kids and I was like yeah yeah, whatever So I would swim there but close to the edge, with one leg on the shore.
But I think I did see the mermaid, although maybe it was just hunger and sun stroke It was a really hot summers day in December, in the school holidays....You know when you are playing outside time goes so slow, and you’d walk through the Vlei from Cafda... you’re nine/ten years old... so me and a bunch of my friends walked there and were swimming there amongst the reeds... I think I blacked out... I probably needed some bread!
My grandma had told us stories of this mermaid who lives in the Vlei, but my image of what a mermaid is and what I saw there was completely different. Maybe it was just a floating reed. I was young, shocked, hungry, I don’t really know what I saw... before I went home I had to stand in the sun and wait for my pants to dry, otherwise my grandmother would see that I had been swimming.
I never told my grandma about seeing the mermaid because I was not supposed to go to the Vlei without my parents.
I’ve been close to Vlei for a long time, we used to have amazing times here, growing up. We used to come and braai there... we kids would play around in the water, making baskets, you know the sort of things kids do. They had this train with a tunnel, it was such an amazing thing to go into the tunnel, it was probably only about 2 metres, but it was like who-oo... I don’t know why they took it away... it was such a lekker thing... they want to take everything away to take away the Vlei, but the Vlei still looks strong, still looks good.
The Vlei memories shone through the bad times...
The memories of growing up near the Vlei inspired me to paint. Because no matter what happened economicwise or familywise, the vlei was one place people went and had a good time, the sun would set, and I remember the fires and the braais going on, music playing, people were happy.
You knew when you went home there'd be skelling about no money for this or that, or not enough to eat, but while we were here at the vlei people had a great time. Amongst all the negatives, all the things that ill-treat a lot of people in this area, coming here to the Vlei was the one memory that shone through, and you knew if you could focus on that, you could survive, you could make it through.
The Princess has much to teach us...
They definitely should not build a mall here, it should be national park which people can appreciate without someone wanting anything back. If you go to a place that’s man-made, there is always something you have to give back, or something that they want in return. The Vlei doesn’t ask for anything... you can imagine being around here at the time of the Khoisan when the animals were roaming... so it is a link to that time. In the system we live in, everything that is given to you expects something in return, I give you this, you give something back, but the Vlei just gives joy for nothing in return... And you can teach that thing, that generosity of the vlei, to generations to come....
The Vlei can teach kids you don’t have live tied to that way, that thing that you have to step on some-one else to get what you want, if you live in community where you give without expecting something back, everyone can grow.
There is much around kids now, ... there are so many influences ... they need a space like this, they need that kind of stability offered by the Vlei.
Not just the kids, the old people too, when they come here they can remember being kids, remember being being barefoot ...You need to walk barefoot, to be close to the ground you walk on, close to your heritage. But you can’t walk barefoot in a mall, if you have no shoes you’re not allowed in.
On his painting...
My design here is influenced by what you find in nature, like the lines on leaves and the contour lines, the lines of tadpoles in the mud, so I feel this encompasses how I imagine the Princess, and its also linked to the imagery of Khoisan Rock paintings. The blue is the sky and the water, the other colours are earth colours. I used spiritual colours to show the connection through earth. I’ve painted it on a groundsheet, so its got footprints and whatever marks were on it.
I’m just painting what I feel about the place, without being too cheesy - you want to keep youth interested so you have to find ways to talk about it, don’t want to go too off too far.
On growing up...
I grew up in Cafda. My Mom’s family is from Steenberg, my Dad is from Cafda, we eventually moved to Mitchell’s Plain although we waited ten years for a house there ... in travelling between these areas, you got to see a lot of different neighbourhoods.
So I was kind of stuck between the two families... you know, in Cafda they drink beer, Steenberg they drink tea. Dad is very Khoisan looking, my Mom more English, with long English hair. At one time my Dad was actually banned from my mom by the family...
When I grew up, my hair was crew cut, that was the order of the day, no matter what you said, jou hare moet kort wees... At one stage my mom made her hair into an afro with curlers and a perm, but my dad could only grow an afro.
A remember my grandmother in the kitchen ironing her hair for church... she'd put brown paper over it... I can still remember the smell of the hair burning... that was before WELLA came in. When WELLA came in the whole house smelt... you’d be like, who died? All these weird things we took to because of the system.
The politicians have claimed that Princess Vlei is not a well used space. Perhaps they would have changed their mind if they’d come on Heritage day, and seen the hundreds of picnickers who’d come to celebrate the holiday in the traditional manner, with a braai at the vlei. And all of them were not impressed with the plans to build a mall on the vlei.
People came from all over the peninsula to enjoy the sunshine, open space, and gleaming stretch of water beneath the benign gaze of the Elephants Eye. One family reunion had over 150 members.
“We come here because it is central – we come from Hanover Park, Lavender Hill, Steenberg, Mannenberg...” A family member told us.
“I was baptised here when I was nine years old, now I am 45.”
“This the only place we have were we can come together and stand together,” an elderly family member from Lotus River said. “We are poor people, what must we do to keep this place?
A 67 year old man from Delft said that he came all the way here because this is a nature park, and he likes to watch the birds.
“We won’t allow people to take the vlei over, nobody will take it over look at the creation we have here, God gave it to us, it is not the government, God gave it to us, no shopping mall will be erected here, the rich just want to get richer, they want to kill the birds breeding here.
“I don’t want to see a building here... we need a park with trees and place for children to play. Zeekovlei is not safe, but here it is safe because you can see the place from the road.”
Roger Nel from Westlake said: “They can’t build a mall here, we don’t have enough recreational areas for our people. This is nice for the family and the children. It is safe here and close to home. The Mayor is forgetting the people ... there is democracy but you don’t have a say in what you want. The mayor has a big house, but we don’t... this is for our children. This must stay a nice happy recreational area for our kids and for ourselves. This has been our place for so long... how can they take it away and do this to our children? If any politician wants the coloured vote then they will not take Princess Vlei away from us.
“A mall is not necessary and will kill the other businesses here ... it doesn’t make business sense. Retreat road also has an array of business... they will bring a monopoly.”
His wife agreed. “We must all stick together... we must stand together on this, this is our children’s future... no one can take this land. God is on our side, if we pray together and stay together they will not take this place away ... this is the land of God, they do not have the right to build a supermarket here”
Pastor Ray from the Gospel Ministers Centre said “This is a nice calm safe place for your children, they must use the money rather to build a playground and add more toilets ...this is a nice place for children to meet their friends, there is no crime here.”
A 62 year old woman from Grassy Park said, “I used to bring my kids here when they were little babies, when you come from work you are so tired, but this is a place you can bring children, you can relax. This how I raised my children – we used to watch the baptisms here on weekend. Now I come here with my grandchildren
“I don’t agree with a shopping mall, then there will be no place for us to come... They are taking away our heritage. This is where I was raised, I want to pass it on to my children and grandchildren. This place has been standing for how many years, if they must put up a mall, what will happen to our heritage? This is very unfair, they must leave Princess Vlei the way it is, they shouldn’t take it away from us. We’ve all grown up here and come to love this place. They must leave it for our children.”
Another 55 year old woman from Grassy Park said: “Sometimes I take a walk here, if there is no transport, I can just come down here, I have been coming every Sunday since I was three years old. If they build a mall, where will we go? There are not rich people in the area, here you can just pack you bags and walk down here.”
Perhaps the message of the people is best summed up by young Ziya from Lotus Primary: “I enjoyed my day here and we don’t want yous to build a mall because the children have fun and play here”
Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu has added his voice to the thousands calling for the preservation of Princess Vlei.
In a statement released to the Princess Vlei Forum, the Archbishop said:
“I would like to express my support for the campaign to save the greater Princess Vlei area from the inappropriate development of a shopping mall, and for its protection in perpetuity as a nature and heritage park. Princess Vlei is a valuable place for citizens to come to be close to God and nature, to find peace and to build family and community. God has carefully crafted our universe; let us stop destroying our beautiful world for the sake of short-term profit. Let us use our laws to safeguard our natural and cultural heritage.”
The Princess Vlei Forum would like to call on Executive Mayor of the City of Cape Town, Alderman Patricia de Lille, and all those in authority, to pay heed to this call, and finally put a stop to the proposed development of a mall at Princess Vlei.
We welcome the recent recommendation by the Mayor’s office to withdraw the decision to rezone the space to allow commercial development on the Sea Point Promenade; to retain it as public open space and to protect it from commercial development. However, this decision comes in the wake of a protracted and expensive legal battle, financed by our taxes and by civil society. We are anxious to avoid similar expense in the fight to save Princess Vlei. Public-private funding could be used so much more constructively to transform this site into a world-class nature and heritage park.
On 28th August 2013, in reference to the decision made to maintain Sea Point seafront as Public Open Space, Alderman Patricia de Lille, said:
“Where we have the legacy of Apartheid spatial planning, we must grab all of the shared spaces we can to foster a new sense of community… As part of our commitment to being a Caring City that considers the views and wishes of all of our residents, I strongly advise Council to keep the space open for the enjoyment of present and future Capetonians. I hope that we will be able to set an example for creating combined spaces in the future by preserving those that we have in the here and now.”
Situated on the border between formerly white and ‘coloured’ areas, Princess Vlei is ideally located to build bridges between communities of different racial groups, both geographically and historically. It links us to the indigenous people who first lived in the Western Cape; it has long been a site for baptisms by churches from all of Cape Town’s black communities; and it is a much-loved gathering place for communities from surrounding areas. Before the Group Areas Act, landowners of all races lived on its banks. Through the work of the Princess Vlei Forum, people of all races, ages, and cultures have been brought together for recreational activities, prayer meetings and to plant fynbos and trees for future generations on the banks of the Vlei.
On Sunday September 22 at 2 pm, a Multifaith Prayer Meeting – with representation from Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Rasta, Bahai, Judaic and other faiths, as well as Khoisan cultural groups - will be held on the banks of Princess Vlei.
The vision of Princess Vlei Forum is driven by a desire to create a space that will build bridges and heal the past. This vision was presented in a proposal to the World Design Capital 2014 board, a proposal that has been shortlisted and put forward as a model design for a community driven project.
We call on Alderman de Lille to stand by her comments in her speech, to honour her commitment to creating a Caring City that considers the views and wishes of all of its residents, and to work with us and the community to make this vision a reality.
There was an exquisite rainbow over the vlei on the morning of Father John’s memorial service on 20 July. It was a fitting tribute to a man so committed to social and environmental justice, so embracing of social, cultural and ecological diversity, truly an ambassador for our rainbow nation in the most profound sense of this concept.
Anyone who had the privilege of hearing John Oliver speak about environmental issues could not have failed to be moved. He spoke so eloquently about his love of the earth, which for him seemed so inextricably bound with his love of God; he spoke too of the spiritual, physical, and emotional distress caused to humans by the ruthless and destructive exploitation of earth’s resources; he spoke of our separation from nature as a type of apartheid, bringing all the devastation and sorrow that apartheid always brings.
At his memorial service, people paid tribute to the extraordinary work that he did in the fields of interfaith communication, healing domestic abuse, social justice, ending gun violence and many others. It is astonishing that he still found so much time and passion to put into Princess Vlei and nearby Blommersvlei Park.
But it makes sense that these two humble community conservation projects would resonate so strongly with him. John was a champion of the neglected, the abused, the downtrodden, and Princess Vlei is an embodiment of all that he stood for: a jewel of natural beauty beloved by many of the poorer communities around its banks, but overlooked and undervalued by those in power who seem to see it only as a site for shopping mall.
On Sunday 21st we did a planting for Madiba day, and planted a Camphor tree in Father John’s honour, which was blessed by Bishop Gregorowski. In dedicating the tree, Philip Bam described John as “God’s gardener”, who tended to God’s garden wherever he found it.
As we stood praying with Bishop Gregorowski, the wind blew through the grass, bringing so many images of Father John – canoeing in the waters, taking part in a baptism at the vlei, dancing in the traffic with a “hoot if you love the Princess” sign, gently calling us to order in unruly meetings, planting, digging, clearing litter, praying, bringing passion, vision and guidance to so many events.
We will miss him terribly, and our thoughts are with his family who have suffered a devastating loss. But he will always be with us. And if our vision that he shared with such passion, of a nature and heritage park at Princess Vlei comes to fruition, his spirit will always be found there.
Mayor Patricia De Lille spoke movingly at his funeral about John’s dedication to building a compassionate city. She affirmed her commitment to this vision in taking John’s legacy forward. How wonderful if she would express her commitment by giving a reprieve to one of John’s most beloved places, the Princess Vlei.
25 July 2013
By Mea Lashbrooke
For further tributes to Reverend John Oliver see www.bottomroadsanctuary.co.za and the tributes on SAFCEI and A Rainbow for Father John.
Father John, resident of Zeekoevlei, has played a leadership role at the Princess Vlei Forum since its inception, gently but firmly guiding this diverse group of citizens. He seldom missed a meeting and he attended and contributed to every function – protest or hike, information session or cultural event, delegations to Officials and to Interfaith groups – during the recent years of campaigning to Save Princess Vlei. Father John responded “Yes” to every request.
The consistency that characterised Rev John Oliver was the result of a deep commitment and profound understanding of what was right and what was wrong. Our very own ‘green Reverend’ understood the crucial link between social and environmental justice.
Until the moment of his death in the early hours of Thursday July 4th 2013, Father John’s plea for a change of heart rang loud and clear. He ached to see this change grow amongst God’s people. It was this that informed his intense engagement with the complexities, discrepancies, injustices and endeavours for a better world. He never let up. His unceasing work at saving Princess Vlei from commercial development was only one of many vital areas to which he dedicated his skills throughout a long career of stewardship of people and planet.
Father John will no longer be seen paddling in the vleis he loved, hiking the hills, campaigning amongst the people with regard to cherishing the natural world, engaging with youngsters and the aged, students and intellectuals, politicians and people of faith on matters close to his heart. He understood the urgency of action in today’s world. He was a man of the people, he was a man of the environment; and his great desire was to connect the two.
In the words of Nikita January, a young woman who feels passionately about the need to preserve Princess Vlei, “Father John gave others the knowledge and understanding they needed to have the same peace he did.”
Mariette Daubenton of the Green Team, Christ Church Constantia, has written, “Somehow the rest of us must continue Father John’s work at Princess Vlei, as a memorial to John.”
The Princess Vlei Forum is documenting messages from those who came into contact with Father John through his work at Princess Vlei and who wish to send their thoughts on Father John and their condolences to his family. These can be sent to email@example.com. The material will be collated into one document for John’s wife Emma and their two children, Sarah and Joseph as a tribute to a man who has been widely loved and respected.
We at the Forum grieve with the family of Reverend John Oliver. We grieve with the people of South Africa who knew and loved him, and deeply regret this loss to nation.
Letter from Mariette Daubenton
On behalf of the Green Team at Christ Church Constantia and the Diocesan Environmental Group (DEG), representing the Cape Town Diocese of the Anglican Church, I am writing to express my sadness, shock and disbelief at the passing overnight, of Reverend John Oliver.
I met him at various DEG and SAFCEI functions, always with his trusted camera, in his skilled hands, at the ready. At a meeting at the Edith Stevens Wetland on the 21st April last year, John had been invited to address the gathering of representatives of Eco-congregations from around Cape Town. I remember him wandering in, relaxed, and although we had been a little dismayed at our low attendance figures - and how sad to waste John’s time on 25 individuals! - he was not at all put out, picked up his guitar and proceeded to accompany us as we rewrote words to “He’s got the whole world in His Hands”. By the time John had guided us towards the end of the song, we all felt inspired, regenerated, with a new vision around how we were going to explore ways of making meaningful changes in our immediate environments.
Eloquent and engaging, I have heard John speak on a number of occasions on the issues facing Princess Vlei. Not only was he passionate about protecting the vlei, he also spoke of the Forum’s plans with a deep reverence for God’s Creation and the threat we face to our own existence as humanity if we fail to bridge, at all levels, the gaps between ourselves and the environment that nurtures and sustains us.
My deepest condolences go to Emma and Joseph and Sarah. I cannot begin to imagine how deep their pain and confusion must be and I am praying that they are able to release John to God’s loving arms with trust and peace.
The Princess Vlei Forum has lost a skilled ambassador and a dedicated supporter, and we have lost a voice who could be heard making sense of the challenges facing humanity in social and environmental arenas.
May God grant him peace.
Press Statement 04/03/2013
The Princess Vlei Forum has taken note that MEC Bredell has signed off on the conditions pertaining to the Princess Vlei mall development, and passed the matter back to the City of Cape Town (as reported in the Cape Times, February 28, p.3)
We find it extraordinary that the processes around this development are continuing, despite not only the vociferous and passionate opposition to this development, especially within the local community, but also in the light of the serious irregularities that we have uncovered.
The developers involved in the case appear to have misrepresented themselves on two occasions. The gravity of this issue, and the apparent reluctance of the authorities to take this matter seriously, have prompted PVF member Kelvin Cochrane to lay a charge of fraud. Cochrane was advised of this course of action by the Commercial Crimes unit, and laid a charge with the Bellville police station on 21/02/13, which was later transferred to Cape Town.
The charges pertain to the directors of the original bid company, and of the company, which is now engaging with the City and Province on this matter. Documents in our possession show that:
It seems unlikely that this individual and company will be able to fulfil these criteria.
We would also like to point out that in the document from Bredell’s department pertaining to the conditions, it is stated that “no parties requested an interview”. We would like to point out that the Princess Vlei Forum and the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance (GCTCA) repeatedly requested interviews, and have in their possession letters from Bredell denying the interviews.
The entire handling of the matter has been distressful and disingenuous, and in now way demonstrating the principles of accountability and transparency that our Local Government leaders promise. Considering the multiple reasons put forward by community members and other stakeholders, and the City’s own stated planning objectives, the bid should never have gone this far. Huge amounts of money have been wasted on it, which could have been used to upgrade the vlei into a facility we can all be proud of and preserve the Public Open Space that the local community need and have helped conserve.
We trust that the City will respond openly and honestly to these concerns, and will not continue to associate itself with this tainted deal.
The city has been awarded the Design Capital hosting in 2014 as a statement of faith that it will use this opportunity to uplift neglected areas, and to use design projects to transform lives. The Princess Vlei offers a magnificent opportunity for such a design project; a beautiful natural feature; proximity to socially depressed and deprived areas; a rich cultural history; a strong spiritual value for the religious groups who baptise there; a flow with sporting and recreational facilities desperately needed by the youth; a powerful heritage connection with the Cape’s first citizens.
We appeal to the City to recognise this extraordinary opportunity, terminate finally the bid to destroy this precious asset, and support a WDC design initiative. We are currently involved in putting together such an initiative, which will harness not only professional expertise, but also embark on an extensive programme of community engagement. Local community members, from young school children to wise old centenarians, have demonstrated a profound vision for the vlei, and we intent to capture these in proposing an urban nature park that could be a jewel for Cape Town for generations to come. We are ready to collaborate with the City to create a world-class space.