By Gary Stewart
It was with great sadness that we heard of Bennie Rabinowitz’s untimely death earlier on this year on May 9. Bennie was a long term supporter of the Princess Vlei Forum and the campaign to stop the all development of the banks of the vlei.
He was a man of seeming contradictions, at once being a wealthy property developer, whilst also funding and actively campaigning to preserve numerous treasured public open spaces around Cape Town, including Princess Vlei. Notably, he was Chairperson of Seafront for All (SEAFA) which successfully campaigned to protect the Sea Point Pavilion from commercial development, and also funded the challenge to the Oudekraal development which preserved Muslim burial sites on the Atlantic seaboard.
Bennie supported the Princess Vlei campaign in the very early days, in particular providing legal support to challenge the city’s proposal to build the mall. His involvement was an essential driver in keeping the mall development at bay, whilst the campaign mobilised public support, putting political pressure on the city to eventually withdraw the mall development proposal.
As a young man he studied at UCT, and was award the very prestigious Rhodes scholarship to do postgraduate study at Oxford. Later in life he would use his affluent position which his education had afforded him to fund a number of students’ pursuit of higher education.
He was an early funder of the Weekly Mail, the pre-cursor of today’s Mail and Guardian newspaper, when such activity put him at odds with the dominant Apartheid state. As the society changed, he engaged the local political establishment, being unafraid to challenge them when he thought they went astray.
Bennie loved to invite members from his very wide circle of friends and associates to lunches at the Cape Town Press Club, or dinners a good local restaurant, particularly his beloved Mario’s in Green Point, and would happily chat about local gossip, civic issues and also the big social and political issues of the day. He took great pride in his social activism and had an undeniable generosity of spirit.
He could so very easily have spent his life in the bubble where many fortunate people find themselves. But he went beyond his comfortable life and actively sought to improve the lives of many around Cape Town in countless ways.
Bennie chose his own path. He chose to fully pursue the opportunities which life had accrued to him and then use his position to better understand the society around him, using the resources at his disposal to actively improve the society in a meaningful way.
Bennie’s was a life well lived. He is sorely missed.
‘My name is Ziah Booysen … my experience here was very interesting as I have always wanted to know more about plants. Ever since I starting coming to Princess Vlei I fell in love with plants… It’s nice to actually learn more about nature.’
Ziah is one of 30 learners from Levana Primary and Lotus High who braved the cold and rain to do planting in our new restoration plot on the Northern shore (Briana Extension). This area of Princess Vlei has the right soil to restore critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos which is critically endangered because urban development has destroyed most of the areas where it can grow.
The learners were planting twelve bags of seeds which had been collected and prepared by Alex Lansdowne and his restoration team. The seeds included Protea scolymocephala, Protea Rebens, and mix of annuals. Altogether, about 100 litres of seed were put in the ground. The seeds were protected by branches arranged in circles, called ‘arrays’.
Restoration consultant Alex Lansdowne explained to the learners: ‘My team and I collected a whole lot of seeds from grasses and proteas and Ericas, and put them in a tent. Then we made a big fire. We took the smoke from the fire and pushed the smoke through a pipe in to the tent. So we tricked the seeds into thinking that there’s a fire. Because fynbos seeds need fire. If there is no fire, they don’t grow.
‘If we plant the seeds now, by December the will be only this big. And in December we will be in the middle a hot and dry summer. Now imagine if you are a tiny little plant, and you have those hot dry winds in February, you will die. If you grow plants in your garden you’ll water them in summer, but we can’t water these because they are wild plants. So we are going to help the plant by building a shelter for them called an array… so that next summer, when it is hot and dry, the plants will have a little bit of shade, and if there is a little bit of rain the array will help to catch it
In all twelve bags there are probably about a million seeds of about twelve different species.’
The learners worked in groups to scatter the seeds, rake them into the soil very carefully to avoid plants that had been planted by other learners on June 2. They then gathered branches and leaves from the eucalyptus trees which had been felled on site to enable restoration, and used these to create the sheltering ‘arrays’.
Altogether, twelve of these arrays were created by the learners.
While the Levana students were busy with this, the Lotus High learners gathered with Lisakhanya Mathiso and Ruby Sampson from the African Climate Alliance, to learn about the climate and other environmental crises facing us, and how young people can get involved. This is what Ruby and Lisa said about this discussion:
‘We started off discussing what the students knew about climate change and environmental issues, and how the climate crisis effects their everyday lives. There was a deep discussion about climate issues and solutions; from flooding in Cape Town because of the recent storms, to the restoration of ecosystems through planting trees and indigenous plants (which they were doing later that day). The group discussed the possibile renewable energy solutions for South Africa; such as solar, wind, water/hydro and even nuclear power.
‘We also spoke about the strain that the climate crisis can take on the mental health of young people, with the weight of solving it on their shoulders. After this heavy conversation we all jumped up and began a fun game about gratitude, by sharing the thing that brings them the most joy in life - and we had a good laugh! The session ended in reflection, where the students shared personal experiences, finding strength and comfort in each other.’
After this session, the Lotus High learners also planted out the seeds and created sheltering arrays for them.
Huge thanks to the learners and teachers of Levana Primary and Lotus High, the African Climate Alliance, and Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust managed by Nedbank Private Wealth, the Kirstenbosch branch of the Botanical Society and the Botanical Educational trust, for supporting our restoration and educational work.
Huge thanks also to Gill Palm Taylor of Briana Crescent, who helped us with hot water for the learners' hot chocolate after one of our flasks broke.
It's wonderful to be able to give a home to wild plants which have lost theirs. This is what thirty-one Princess Vlei Guardians from Lotus High and Rosmead Primary did on June 2, as they replanted sedges and grasses which had been rescued from a field in Muizenberg. The plants would otherwise have been bulldozed to make way for a sports field for a school. Species included Hellmuthia, Ficinia and Ehrharta.
In addition to these, 22 Psoralea glaucina (Blouteebossie) and 250 Anthospermum aethiopicum were planted. The Psoralea glaucina is on the red list of endangered South African plants.
The guardians were working at our newly established Briana Extension restoration site.This site was created earlier this year by clearing several small invasive eucalyptus gum trees, with the help of Top Fell tree fellers, sponsored by the Kirstenbosch Branch of the Botanical Society. It is impossible to grow fynbos under gum trees due to their allelopathic properties. Felling the trees will enable us to restore the critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos that would nave naturally occurred there before human interference.
An additional 35 species will now be reintroduced to this area, of which at least 5 are on the Red List of Threatened Plants. We will also plant indigenous Keurbooms (Virgillia oroboides) which would have naturally occurred in this landscape. Clearing of these trees will benefit the hydrological and soil health of the broader site and the adjacent wetland.
This is what some of the learners said about their experience:
We’re planting indigenous plants to save animals and birds so that we have a better world. We like animals and birds and plants because they are part of our nature, they are part of our history (Bazile Nkoyi, Onitha Wgangafu, Mihlali and Linomtha, Rosmead Primary)
I am planting to create a good ecosystem (Lamla Mabhoynua, Rosmead Primary)
I am digging holes for the plants to give their roots space to grow longer so that we can have a healthy environment. If we didn’t have a healthy environment the earth would no be so beautiful and you wouldn’t have oxygen to breath. Fresh plants for Fresh air! (Noliwe Nduru, Rosmead Primary)
I’m planting plants because they are special and they also have a right to live and we need to save nature
Today we are rebuilding Princess Vlei from all the breakdowns it had, we are just trying to help it and plant fynbos and to help the environment and all life on earth. Out oxygen comes from plants, so if we don’t have plants we are going to die (Bradwell Harvey, Lotus high).
I’m here to day to rebuild princess vlei because of the damage that people caused here from dumping and all that … I want to restore Princess Vlei because I love plants (Ziah Booysen Lotus high
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.