Dr Ian McCallum of Marina da Gama, analyst, poet, author, lecturer and Wilderness Leader, was the keynote speaker at an event – ‘Landscapes and Identity’ - hosted recently by Princess Vlei Forum in Grassy Park on 29th April. The theme of the evening, that identity is tied inextricably to place, threaded through all the presentations.
Linda Daniels, storyteller and broadcaster, stressed that storytelling is a way to restore memory and this in turn can restore both individuals and communities. She played the audience broadcasts of colourful stories from local residents, stories of mythological creatures such as dragons and mermaids woven in with childhood memories of family picnics, fishing, playing and observing the animals and plants that live at the vlei. Linda is currently collating local stories from the community surrounding the Vlei - anyone interested in sharing their story can contact Linda or the Princess Vlei Forum.
Patrick Dowling, Regional Head of Environmental Education at WESSA, whose talk was entitled Princess Vlei and the Wetland Kingdom, spoke about the connectivity of the wetlands in the area. Despite massive human impact through canalising, diverting and draining (even creating, as in the case of Little Princess Vlei and Rondevlei) Patrick believes that it still possible to restore them. For example, Zandvlei as an example, provides a functional a nursery for fish stocks; and Zeekoevlei is also the healthy sustainable condition. In the past a number of our vleis were seasonal, fed by both aquifer and rain. Today they are largely permanent water bodies requiring careful maintenance.
Dr McCallum stressed that in his work, when most people are asked to recall their childhood, they will almost always describe a moment or a place in the natural environment. This identifies them, places them, and can be the starting point for healing. The rapid changing of landscapes brought about by industrial and urban development can cause fragmentation and loss of identity - there is a sense of psychological discontent when there is a change in the geography of one's childhood.
However, humans have to able to connect with local natural environments to be able to identify with them. He told a story of a young man from Vrygrond who had been led on a walk up the mountain that he faces each day. Muizenberg Peak. On the way home he was asked if he could see the mountain from his home. His answer was “No, my house is too small.” But in fact, although his house was small, he had a clear view of that mountain. Until that day he had felt no identity with it, not even a recognition that it was there.
Dr McCallum also spoke about the moral issue of conserving nature. 'People often suggest that nature needs to "pay its way" to be conserved, but nature has paid over and over, and it is time to give back... Conservation without moral values cannot sustain itself, and unless we reach people through ethics, beauty, spiritual values or whatever, we are going to lose our wilderness areas'
At the end of the evening, Cicilia Johnson who recently turned 90 years old, read her beautiful poem about Princess Vlei. The full poem can be read here.
Examples of how Princess Vlei is inspiring young creative minds were evident in the models and drawings done by the CPUT first year Architectural Technology students. The students were asked to create a floating structure inspired by the natural and cultural heritage of Princess Vlei.
The discussions held clearly showed how important natural landscapes are in holding personal, cultural and community identity, and how important it is for people to have access to these landscapes in forming and reconnecting with their individual and collective identity. Princess Vlei, with its rich history, is a landscape with a vital role to play in the identity of thousands of CapeTonians. It's continued preservation and rehabilitation is vital to enable it to play this role.
Over one hundred learners from local schools were treated to an exquisite windless autumn day at Princess Vlei when they came to Meet the Birds on April 25th.
The event was co-ordinated by the Princess Vlei Forum, the Children’s Art Centre, and Frank Joubert Art Centre as part of the Flight of Dreams programme. It was attended by learners from South Peninsula High School, Zeekovlei Primary School and Hyde Park Primary School.
The learners were welcomed by Emile Jansen from Heal the Hood, who told them about the history of Princess Vlei. They were then divided into three groups, to attend the three programmes in rotation.
Volunteers from the Cape Bird Club took children on a walk to spot interesting birds, with the help of a bird identification chart from Rondevlei reserve. "It was a pleasure to do the Bird Walks with the children from the different schools, and we enjoyed seeing the interest the children displayed in learning to identify the birds and answering the many questions they asked. We would like to help the Princess Vlei Forum with similar events in future," said Anne Gray of the Cape Bird Club.
Interesting birds spotted included Blacksmith Lapwings, pipits, purple heron, and a pelican. Find out more about the birds of Princess Vlei here.
City of Cape Town conservationists were organised by the Cape Town Environmental Education Trust (CTEET) to give the children a good understanding of why wetlands are so important for our environmental health and water resources, and what life forms are sustained by these critical ecosystems. Children had the opportunity to hold a corn snake and examine a leopard toad close up. Taryn van Neel of CTEET said, "We are all part of the food chain, and destroying one natural habitat area would definitely impact negatively on different species. Thus we try and make children, parents and all people in the community aware of the importance of our natural environment. These kind of events not only target students but the community, and benefits us all presently and for the future."
Ayesha Price from the Children’s Art Centre helped learners to create observational drawings of the landscape in charcoal. She showed the children how to create texture by rubbing on a rough surface such as bark or a rock.
The programme ended with a musical performance by Collin Meyer, Quinton Matthews, and Bradley Van Sitters from the Khoi and San Active Awarness Group (KSAAG). The performance gave the children an opportunity to learn about traditional KhoiKhoi instruments, and to learn a song in the Khoekhoegowab Language.
The event highlighted again the value of Princess Vlei as an educational resource for local schools – the Hyde Park Primary learners were able to walk to the site. Hyde Park teacher Ingrid Solomon said, "The kids thoroughly enjoyed it. All the teachers as well. I even bought up the courage to touch a snake... When they did the art work I was amazed at the talent some of them had. Once again what was highlighted for me is how our present Education Department is failing our children as far the creative arts is concerned having removed the specialised teachers from the school."
The event was part of our Flight of Dreams programme to make children aware of wetland habitats, and to celebrate and honour the birds of Princess Vlei and other local wetlands. The programme will culminate in a Carnival Parade on 27 September this year.
Thanks to Anne Gray, Celia Wolfe, Anne McCloud, Penny Dichmont and Gillian Barnes, Cape Bird Club; Cape Town Environmental Education Trust; Emile Jansen; Kelvin Cochrane and Golden Bake for supplying and making cheese rolls; Collin, Quinton and Bradlley for supplying the music; and Gavin Lawson for taking photographs. Go the Cape Bird Club website for a wonderful account of the day.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.