We were very saddened by the news of the passing of Mr Edward John Johnson on 18 November, aged 95. He was one of the stalwarts who assisted in the community victory to save Princess Vlei from commercial development.
Born, in 1924, Mr Johnson lived for most of his life nearby Princess Vlei. He raised his six children a three minute walk away, and would frequently go down to the vlei with them. “On Saturday afternoons we would walk down to the Vlei and I would put in a line for each child and they would catch beautiful carp…. In winter, the Vlei would run over and we couldn’t get out of our house… My children still remember these days… This Vlei belongs to our people.”
Mr Johnson was a frequent participant in the protests against the mall at Princess Vlei, and would talk to the younger ones about life near Princess Vlei in the early days. "I used to travel into town with my parents, who were farmers, to sell vegetables. They would be give me half a crown, which I usually spent on buying ‘boermusiek’ records."
Mrs Cicilia Johnson, who has spent 64 of her 88 years near the vlei, was also passionate about saving Princess Vlei, and was involved in planting milkwood trees at the vlei. She was very inspired by the natural beauty of the place, and wrote a moving poem to describe the pleasure the serenity of the vlei brought to her:
We offer our deepest condolences to Mrs Johnson, her children, and other family members. We have no doubt that the spirit of Mr Edward Johnson will continue to dwell on the banks of Princess Vlei.
by Cicilia Johnson
Grassy Park in the Cape Flats
Nothing there to see?
Endless avenues, waterlogged fields?
Not so, dear Reader to me.
My Haven of Refuge I found
Where the carp and the trout abound;
Where the Weeping Willow softly sway.
This dear Reader, is Princess Vlei.
Constantiaberg surrounds it
As if in a warm embrace,
And smiles into the water
At the image of her face.
Luscious green fields, children at play.
This dear Reader, is Princess Vlei.
Birds sing merrily in the trees
Swayed by the cool South Easter breeze.
The majestic pelicans are a wondrous sight
As they sail upon the water
Or take to sudden flight.
The setting sun now touches the glade
With Heavenly Light
And soon the Vlei’s inmates
Will settle for the night.
Reluctantly, I take my leave, of my
Beautiful Oasis –
As she folds herself in her Royal Cloak,
And Sleeps – The Princess.
We know a lot more about toad activity around Princess Vlei, thanks to the members of the Lotus Princess Guardian Club who attended the overnight Western leopard Toad Camp at Princess Vlei Eco Centre
The learners were guided in their work by the Western Leopard Toad workbook that was created by the Forum’s environmental education team last year.
The eight learners gathered at the eco centre on the morning of December 12, and began with a door to door survey to discover how many neighbouring residents had spotted toads in their gardens. A number of residents reported toad activity. This survey not only gathered valuable data on toad numbers, but also helped to spread awareness of these vulnerable creatures amongst local residents.
After a lunch break, learners investigated the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area for breeding activity, and mapped out the data onto a map. A good session of alien clearing and litter picking worked up their appetites for an evening braai.
In the evening learners had the opportunity for a night walk with the Park rangers to spot the toads, which are most active at night. A number of toads were seen.
In the morning the learners discussed how they could raise awareness about the plight of the endangered toads, and encourage local residents to help save them by moving them off roads and watching out for them while driving.
These new toad scientists will be valuable in the battle to ensure the survival of one of Cape Towns most endearing creatures.
Connecting with nature is essential to help us heal ourselves and the planet.
This was one of the many messages that the Lotus Princess Guardians took away from the 3rd Edition of the Tounché Global Consciousness Summit in Tulbagh on November 30. The word tounché (Pronounced /toon-shei/) means shift in the Yorouba language of Benin & Nigeria. The project aims to forge deep connections around the world to create an international community that can manifest healing and change.
The Princess Vlei Forum was invited to send young nature-lovers to the international summit. Six learners and one teacher assistant from Lotus High went to the event, with two other Forum members and Priscilla de Wet, a Khoi cultural activist and teacher from Primrose Park Primary.
The summit aimed to offer participants an opportunity to interact with and learn from top healers, activists and facilitators who shared wisdom and real-world experiences, aimed at restoring the harmony between humanity and nature. Attending the event were a mixture of international thought-leaders, wisdom keepers, global experts, spiritual visionaries, healers, storytellers and meditation teachers representing the diversity of the African diaspora and the world, as well as several members from local NGO’s.
'It was a day of new experiences for the Lotus Learners. As Nicole Anthony remarked, ‘There are so many people involved and I didn’t even know that there are so many things that the people are doing… it’s actually a big thing, how you can connect with nature…’
The program opened with an interview with Simon Jongenotter, originally from THE Netherlands but now the Chef/co-creator of Zest Ubud, the food at Bali Silent Retreat, food forest custodian and founder of the New Earth Cooking School. All the Lotus Learners were very inspired by his philosophy. In the words of teacher assistant Curtley Fortuin, ‘I enjoyed Simon’s speech about how he would collect everyone in his work place and make them all happy, and see if someone is sad, or someone is angry, and then everybody help that person in the workplace, and that really was interesting because a lot of bosses won’t take that interest in a worker … “
Curtley was also inspired by Simon’s message to connect with your inner child. ‘when Simon was talking about finding your inner self, your little wild child self, because that child was free, and that child didn’t care about what anyone else thinks Because now that we are grown up, we always think about what other people think … that’s why if we find our inner self we will be more free and carefree about anything and we will still be mature but we will be less worried about what other people might think
Simon’s talk was followed by a panel discussion with Annette Muller, an international model turned Green Witch; Portia Dianne Lee (USA), founder of DBA Day Seven Wellness Center, a non-profit wellness center focused on providing our global community with access to proven and practiced strategies helping to heal and contribute to the human collective’s overall emotional and spiritual wellbeing; and Melissa Bartholomew (USA)Racial justice and healing practitioner, Racial Justice Fellow at Harvard Divinity School (HDS), and an Instructor in Ministry at HDS, Doctoral candidate & part-time faculty at Boston College School of Social Work.
The panel spoke about the need to heal the inside and the outside, and to re-establish our connections with the earth and each other; and reflected on the deep woundedness inflicted on the natural and human world by colonialism and racial injustice. In the words of Portia Lee, ‘If a land has no collective atonement the trauma is still in the body and in the world. When something happens that trauma can be triggered.’
After the Panel discussion, the group from the Princess Vlei Forum was invited to say a few words. Bridget Pitt spoke about the history of Princess Vlei, and the intersection of painful historical narratives rooted in the space, and the ways in which the Forum tried to use the space to bring healing to the community. Damica Fortuin said ‘I am a member of the princess Vlei Guardians, well I basically realised that people fail to recognise how we neglect nature, the guardians help to minimise pollution, we clean up the vlei, we plant.’
Nicole Anthony said, ‘Princess Vlei really showed me how important nature is and also drew me closer to nature, and helped me to accept nature… because not many people see what we see, in the way of how important nature is. So we try to get Princess Vlei to be how it was in the beginning and show the importance of the birds and animals at Princess Vlei. So we are the custodians of nature, and we are the guardians of Princess Vlei’s future.’
Curtley Fortuin reflected on his own journey, from a young boy who cared nothing about nature and would kill snakes for fun, to becoming a nature warrior. ‘In grade 8 I met an interesting teacher, Mr Isaacs, who drives us all and drives the school. I got punished, and he said I must go work in the garden for two weeks, and that changed me. I saw two of the most interesting birds, I saw a pintailed wydah, and I thought, wow, this is different, because where I come from, we don’t see that, because I grew up in the kind of Ghetto area of Cape Town; and then I saw a Southern double collared sunbird and that was the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen. Then I was asked by an environmental organisation called CTEET to be an international ambassador for them because of the work I’d done at the school and the trees we’d planted in the community. They paid for my studies to go and study nature conservation. So now I love nature.’
People were very interested in the project, and particularly taken by our t-shirts.
Next on the programme was a poem performed in isiXhosa by a member of the #Langaformen, a group dedicated to combating gender based violence by working with men and boys. This too had a very profound impact on the Lotus team. In the words of Damica Fortuin, ‘basically they were saying that they would never abuse women and women should be respected, so I think for us young girls, we should discuss how we should be treated, and we should respect ourselves, and see how men are supposed to treat us, and stand up if we see someone getting abused don’t just keep quiet.’
The morning ended with a healing session, lead by Silfath Pinto (Benin), a mindset reprogramming and energy healing practitioner. Silfath also made a deep impression on the Lotus learners. Jody Maans spoke about how she enjoyed the breathing and movements. ‘There’s a lot of stuff to take in in our lives … and the stretches and stuff that she showed us, like the morning stretches, that’s how you release it.’
Jae-Lee Marthinus was touched by a technique to put your hands on your heart to shield it from harm. Reflecting on how she could take this knowledge into her life, she said, ‘if I get into and argument with my friends, I will just lay back and cover my heart with my hands.’
After lunch, there was an interview with Gary Dourdan (USA), a highly acclaimed film and TV actor, artist and musician who turned his back on a celebrity life to reconnect with nature and his ancestors. Gary spoke about the need to cultivate lightness. Curtley Fortuin found his input extremely inspiring. ‘When Gary talked about how his daddy wasn’t rich or anything and then from a car wash his daddy became a multi millionaire and that really took me in because it shows you can do anything. I also loved Gary’s life story as well, and about how he still connects to his ancestors and still speaks to them and connects to them, and how he connects to earth. That also really inspires me.’
Gary’s interview was followed by a panel discussion with Catherine Constantinides (South Africa) International climate and human rights activist, Archbishop Tutu African Oxford Fellow and Mandela Washington Fellow; SARAH COLLINS (SOUTH Africa Inventor, CEO and equality innovator, Fortune Magazine’s Top 10 Most Powerful Women Entrepreneurs, Oprah’s African Heroines, Fair Lady’s prestigious Woman of the Future Award and 2019 Forbes Africa’s top six wealth creators on the continent ; and Thebe Ikalafeng (South Africa), Founder & CEO Brand Leadership Group, Founder & Chairman Brand Africa who has worked on over 100 brands across Africa, and has been to every country in Africa.
Gary then delighted the group with a musical performance. Damica Fortuin said, I loved this one song that Gary was singing, called “God is a woman” … its basically showing that a woman is independent and a man actually needs a woman … a woman … she nurtures you and she feeds you so its basically showing that a man needs a woman to be successful. People think a woman is weaker than a man but women actually have the real strength.’
Speaking afterwards, the Lotus learners reflected on the message of the need to connect with nature, not only to save planet from environmental destruction, but to save ourselves from mental distress and depression. Nicole Anthony said, 'we need to connect with nature by planting more plants will make you more connected because now that you have planted this plant you are going to look after it because you planted it so that actually means a lot to you ... you put it into the ground to be part of nature … and cleaning up because, the dirt and stuff, nature don’t want that and we don’t want that for nature; and we can connect by talking to to people about nature, give them advice and tell them what nature has done for you … so that they can also connect to nature and see the importance of it …and just sitting there and looking at the plants.”
Curtley reflected that connecting with nature can get more difficult when you get older. “It’s very funny also how when you’re younger you connect more with nature even though you don’t know anything about nature but when you grow older you start to disconnect with nature even though you know so much more about nature… you want to connect, but you don’t have that connection you had when you were younger and you didn’t know what nature does for everything … so that is really interesting.
He felt that people can connect with nature from the inside by learning about and ingesting healing plants, rather than turning to drugs to make you feel better.
The day certainly brought many shifts these learners, and to all of the Princess Vlei team. We would like to thank the organisers and sponsors for giving our young nature guardians this remarkable opportunity. Read more about the event and the project here: https://www.tounche.com/south-africa-20
Princess Vlei has long been home to hundreds of Western leopard toads every year – but there was some unusual toad activity there in the past few days.
On November 28, forty children from Levana Primary and Primrose Primary stepped into the toad’s flippers and explored Princess Vlei from the perspective of a toad.
The learners spent some time learning about the life cycle of the toad, and discussing what kind of habitat toads need to be happy and healthy and breed successfully. Learners discussed what belonged in a toad habitat. It was agreed that snakes belonged, but plastic pollution did not. Both are harmful to toads, but snakes are part of the eco-system and help to create the habitat that benefits the toads. For example, the snakes eat the moles, which helps the fynbos, and the fynbos attract pollinating insects which provide food for the toads. Children also learned why the western leopard toad is now endangered, as a result of habitat loss, domestic pets and being run over when they are crossing roads to return to their breeding sites.
Learners then explored the vlei from the perspective of a toad looking for a good breeding site.
A highlight of the day was the opportunity to explore the vlei from the water as well as from the land. This was thanks to Andrew and team from Gravity Adventures, who taught the children how to manage a canoe, and provided boats for the children to experience the water themselves. For many, this was their first time in a boat. They were nervous, but exhilarated by the experience.
Afterwards, some learners were so inspired by the life of a toad that they decided to take to the water themselves.
A few days later, the Primrose Park learners returned to explore the life of a toad through art. They created wonderful toads from clay – each one with a great personality. They painted plates to create a habitat for their clay toads, and were careful to include everything a toad might need such as a water plants to hide their tadpoles from predators, and tasty dragon flies and other insects.
Thanks to this experience, we have forty new toad guardians who understand how and why to protect these wonderful creatures.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.