"We need to draw a line in the sand, and say to the developer, ‘Jy is mal! We don’t want a mall!’"
These words from Goodhope Breakfast Show host Guy Mcdonald summarise the feelings
of the crowd who had come to celebrate Arbor Day at the Princess Vlei by planting 50 trees donated by Zaitun Rabani, Director of the Botanical Society of South Africa, and 150 fynbos plants.
The event was hosted jointly by the Princess Vlei Forum; the Biodiversity Education and Empowerment Directorate of Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden; SANBI; and the students and teachers of John Graham Primary School and Lotus River High School
After a welcome by Philip Bam, chair of the Princess Vlei forum, and Muslim and Christian prayers, the learners were instructed on how to wield a spade safely. Most of them needed no instruction, as they are already seasoned planters, responsible for much of the fynbos now gracing Princess Vlei. Their enthusiasm was summed up by the words of Joshua Roybin (12) from John Graham Primary. “We just love the feeling of planting something.” His friend Ceathon Hendricks (13) agreed, “The outdoors is very important for children, especially nowadays when a lot of kids just play on their Xboxes. Planting has such emotional value for us, because you can see what you’ve planted, and when you come here again you can see how it is growing.”
Benny Pietersen, a teacher at Lotus River High, has been bringing students to plant at Princess Vlei for four years. “It has such positive spin-offs,” he said. “It teaches the kids leadership skills, and teaches them to take ownership of their environment, and to invest in it.”
Faldiela Chotia from the Western Cape Education Department agreed. “Spaces like this is vital for these children, many of whom come from areas plagued by gangsterism, drug abuse and poverty. It is hugely beneficial for them to come and experience the beauty and tranquility.”
While the children were busy, a number of community members and well-wishers came to offer support. Amongst them was Rachel Adams, grandmother of the cricketer Paul Adams, who announced that she had “come to protect our vlei”. Her nephew, Clarence, said that he and his friends had grown up near the vlei, and has many happy memories of sand boarding, boating, picking the abundant water lilies for waterblommetjie bredie and catching fish for supper. “This is a landmark from one of the cradles of human kind,” he said. “It is very important that we conserve it.”
After planting, the learners listened to short speeches from the various guests. The speeches kicked off with Kelvin Cochrane, from the Princess Vlei Forum, who thanked the learners for the contribution that they have made over the years to make the “people’s Plan” a reality.
“When we plant a tree, we are planting a lifestyle ... if you look across the road and see the urban build up, it tells us is that we need space to walk, for people to engage with, so we want to create a Kirstenbosch here at princess vlei. The vlei is part of our heritage, and it important that all of us take responsibility to redefining it. Let’s hope and pray that there will never be a mall on the princess.
Fadly Agiet from the Western Cape Department of Education said that by celebrating Arbor day, the children were joining a world community. He reminded them of the words of Chief Seattle, that what you do to the earth you do to yourself, and commended them for doing something for future generations. “What you have done today is increased your handprint on earth and decreased your footprint.”
Fadiela Chotia thanked the children, and challenged them to speak to their friends and get all the schools in the area involved in the Princess Vlei.
“More schools should hold their events here, their walks, market days and other events. It is very important for the community to be consulted on developments, as they impact on every one. As the Education Department, we would like to take hands with others and mobilize all schools to protect the vlei.”
Simone van Royen from the Botanical Society saluted the efforts of all to sustain and protect the vlei, which she said is “near and dear to all of us”. She commended the efforts of the learners, especially Learner “Chantal, who planted seven trees”, and said she was looking forward to driving past the vlei and knowing that in the years to come she and her family would still be enjoying these trees.”
Guy McD0nald from Goodhope FM, who received an enthusiastic applause from the crowd. He said that he was delighted to be there as he had “witnessed something momentous”. “It is so important for the youth to take a stand, and everyone of you has embraced a commitment to the future of this place. We need to draw a line in the sand, and say to the developer, ‘Jy is mal! We don’t want a mall!’
Roleen Elma, from SNBI outreach programme, and herself from Grassy Park, said that she’d been attending Arbor Day events for many years, but this event was really outstanding. “How often do we stop and look at a living thing that is not human? That is my challenge to you, try to take note of and appreciate a non-human living thing every day.”
Nikita January, from the Environmental Club at Lotus River High said “The reason I have personally chosen to be a part in saving the princess is not only because of its natural beauty but also because of the environmental benefits....we are dependent on the vlei, the trees and plants that the vlei provides a safe haven for. The very oxygen we are currently breathing is purer than elsewhere because of the natural contribution the vlei makes to our environment.
Uninformed or money hungry capitalist people are eager to get rid of this vlei. Why destroy something that was given to us freely? We live with this mentality that by building a mall we are doing good, creating jobs and preventing certain transgressions that take place at this vlei but have we ever stopped to think about the indigenous plants and animal species found here.
The event was rounded off with an enthusiastic performance from the Grade Four class of “The Primitives” dance group, led by their teacher Andrea Sefoor, before the children enjoyed a well-earned snack. Biscuits were donated by Simon Mantell, an enthusiastic supporter of the Save the Vlei Campaign.
The Arbor Day event illustrated yet again what a powerful role the Vlei can play in building community, apart from the social and physical benefits of living near a sustained and conserved natural environment. The message from all of the children and others attending was unmistakable: “This vlei as a natural site where we can enjoy the view and tranquility is priceless to us. We do not want a mall here!” Let us hope that those trees they planted will still be growing for many years to come.