"I Loved everything... I attend every year because nature is part of who I am, and it's lovely to be outside connecting to my God's creation... It was inspiring. "
These were some of the comments made by Lotus High learners about the Just Earth Celebration and Procession on October 21 this year.
In the poems performed at the event, the Lotus learners commented on the calm and quiet that they appreciated at Princess Vlei. But on this day, the Vlei was filled with the sounds of drumbeats and children chanting, as 200 learners and adults joined the Just Earth Procession from Retreat Civic to Princess Vlei. The blustery southeaster added to the excitement, setting the tassels and wings of the giant bird puppets and dream catchers rippling in the breeze.
The day formed part of the Princess Vlei Forum’s ongoing programme to instil passion and knowledge about nature at Princess Vlei and beyond. In the weeks before the procession, learners gathered to paint creatures from Princess Vlei on T-shirts, and to create totem poles, with messages to promote social and ecological justice on earth, such as ‘We fight for birds of light’ ‘Make Mother Nature safer’ ‘Our goal: no coal’ ‘restore what we adore’ and many others.
Before the procession, learners gathered at Retreat Civic. Because of a roaring South Easter, the decision was made to do the performances at the Civic before the procession, rather than at Princess Vlei as was originally planned. Before the performances, the learners had an opportunity to create a headdress for the parade inspired by the Princess Vlei wetland. They also had their faces painted by the Lotus High volunteers.
Then it was time for the performances, introduced by Thimna Stokile in his colourful cloak. The nature-inspired dances were first, featuring young performers from Levana, Harmony, Buck Road and Rosmead Primary undulating like snakes, leaping like frogs and gliding like birds on the stage. As they danced, the creatures they'd painted on their t-shirts seemed to dance with them. Drummers from the same schools kept good time on their djembe drums. The dances invoked the spirits of our ancestors who would dance to connect with nature on the shores of Princess Vlei.
Next, the richly textured and evocative poetry written by the Lotus High Guardians was performed by Paige Eden , Nashiekah Louw, Deirdre Louw, Zia Booysen, Jade Witbooi, and Tracy Daniels. The poems were introduced by Toni Giselle Stuart.
The next performance was by Jungle Theatre Company of the Python and the Qunubu tree. This lively performance of Naledi Tlailane, Mario Matiya,Siyawandisa Badi and Marvin Safoor carried a strong message of the need to listen to and recall ancestral wisdom in caring for the environment and surviving times of drought. The audience watched with delight, especially when some of the audience were called on stage to help the characters with their mission to find the Qunubu tree.
At last it was time for the procession. The learners lined up outside the Civic, undeterred by the wind that was rippling the banners. Walking and jiving to the beat of the djembe drums, they set off through the streets of Sassmeer estate. The bravely held their bird totems, with their messages for a Just Earth, despite the gale buffeting around them. Sassmeer residents came out to enjoy the spectacle. The python from the play joined the procession, along with seven totem poles and three bird puppets. When they reached the vlei, the learners formed a huge circle and joined together in calling for a Just Earth.
The event was attended by learners from Levana, Rosmead, Buck Rd and Harmony Primary, Mkhanyisile Primary, Zenzeleni Primary, Azande Theatre Village Club, and Black Girls Rising.
Huge thanks to our funders City Grant in Aid and the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust managed by Nedbank Private Wealth, and to Pick and Pay Grassy Park for donating refreshments, as well as all our volunteers, teachers, facilitators and learners.
in love with nature,
we put our hands in the soil
sand and plants are in our palms:
planting at the vlei and helping at a garden
we want to bring back what was
and what used to be
how are we gonna
live without trees
when they relieve stress from our shoulders?
spread the word:
it is better to live
bring more life to beautiful earth
These are some of the verses created for a group poetry performance as part of the Just Earth project.
The poems were created by Lotus Princess Vlei Guardians in a series of workshops facilitated by Toni Giselle Stuart. Toni is a poet and performer, and part of the Hot Poets collective. Earlier this year she created a poem inspired by Princess Vlei, Great Grandmother Wetland.
The workshops started with a visit to Princess Vlei, where Toni invited the learners to open their minds and senses to what was around them, and write freely whatever came into their minds. In the workshops that followed, they synthesised these thoughts into individual Haikus and poems, then wove these together into a group poem.
At the Just Earth Celebration on October 21, Paige Eden , Nashiekah Louw, Deirdre Louw, Zia Booysen, Jade Witbooi, and Tracy Daniels performed individual poems and the collective poem to an audience of about 200 learners, teachers, parents and Princess Vlei Forum volunteers. Toni then compiled the poems into a booklet which was distributed at the school.
The poems beautifully express the sense of calm, freedom and release that these learners feel when visiting Princess Vlei. Together they represent a powerful testimony to the richness Princess Vlei brings to those who visit, and especially those who take the trouble to put their hands in the soil and work to restore its vitality.
Down load the complete anthology of the poems composed by the learners below.
Watch a performance of Toni's poem about Princess Vlei below.
In September and October, young Princess Vlei Guardians were hard at work preparing for the Just Earth Celebration to be held on October 21. Their preparations included composing and practicing dances, painting T-shirts, creating totem poles and composing poetry.
Respect, love, joy, kindness, gratitude, protect, calm, empathy… these are some of the words that learners painted on their t-shirts to honour the creatures at Princess Vlei.
Seventy-five learners from Rosmead, Levana, Harmony and Buck Road Primary came together to paint T-shirts to wear at the Just Earth Procession and Celebration.
Before painting the T-shirts, the learners discussed the meaning of the Just Earth logo, which was printed on the back of the T-shirts. We talked about what a Just Earth might mean for human and non-human species, and why we need social and ecological justice to make the world a kinder and safer place for all. We discussed the significance of the Khoe figure holding up the earth, and how our ancestors taught us lessons of how to live in harmony with nature and each other, many of which have been forgotten.
Learners were invited to choose an animal species which lives at Princess Vlei, and to paint it on their T-shirt. They were also invited to think of a word that they would like to give to that creature. At the end of the day, we had a parade of colourful birds, insects, crustaceans and amphibians to walk with us on the procession.
Creative activities such as this help to forge a strong emotional connection between the children and the species they are depicting on their shirts, while giving learners a sense of empowerment and achievement at their creations.
Even the Principal joined in...
In addition to painting the T-shirts, the learners were also hard at work practicing their dances for the procession. The dances were inspired by the learner’s observations of how creatures move at Princess Vlei. They were choreographed into dance pieces by our talented dancers and movement teachers, Thimna Stokile and Xoli Fuyani. In Thimna’s words, ‘When the Principal joins from the back you just know it’s a vibe.’ - this after Ms Charity, Levana Principal, joined the learners as they wriggled like earthworms and hopped like grasshoppers.
Jungle Theatre Company’s Siyawandisa Badi and Marvin Safoor taught learners how to keep time on djembe drums so that they could give the dancers a beat for their jive .
Rhymes for restoration
While the younger Princess Vlei Guardians were painting t-shirts and practicing their dances, fifteen senior guardians came together to create totem poles to carry on the procession.
The poles were topped by bird heads made by learners in previous year’s projects. Each had a pair of totemic wings with a message from the birds to the local community and beyond, and a woven dream-catcher like hoop to represent the web of life. Inside this was painted animal or plant linked to the bird.
The learners brainstormed all the issues facing planet earth, and devised messages to be painted on the wings. Their poetic inclinations came to the fore, as they devised slogans such as Stop pollution and find a solution; We fight for Birds of Light; Stop plastic, be fantastic, Just Earth for its worth, Our goal: no coal, Restore what we adore, Go on a mission to stop carbon emissions, and many others. Fourteen of these were chosen to paint on to the wings. The learners also painted the animal boards and wove the webs.
The end result was seven stunning totems to carry at the procession.
The Just Earth Project is a collaboration between the Forum, Jungle Theatre Company, Peter Clarke Art Centre. Xoli Fuyani and Thimna Stokile provide the dance expertise, and Toni Giselle Stuart the poetry input. The overall project was funded by the City of Cape Town Grant in Aid fund, while certain elements were funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, managed by Nedbank Private Wealth.
The heron moves its neck in and out, it moves stealthily to catch its prey… the hawk glides through the air … the grasshopper leaps… the snail slithers ….the bird flaps its wings… the butterfly zigzags
These were some of the observations made by learners at the Just Earth field trips in August and September this year. Seventy-five learners from Levana Primary, Harmony Primary, Buck Road Primary and Rosmead Primary attended the field trips, which launched the Princess Vlei Forum Just Earth programme. The learners attended the field trips to see how animals and plants could live with balance and harmony, and also to see how the animals moved.
After closely observing the animals, the learners created their own dances inspired by the movement of the animals. They were led by Siyawandisa Badi and Marvin Safoor, who played Djembe drums to bring rhythm, and Xoli Fuyeni who guided the dancing.
The project aims to use dance and creative media to guide learners in exploring the concept of a Just Earth - just in the sense that it is the only home we have, and also in the sense of a the vision of an earth where relationships between humans and between humans and other species are fair and harmonious.
Observing how the different creatures move at Princess Vlei gave the learners a new observational lens, and also fostered a connection with the creatures as the learners incorporated their movements into their own bodies.
Movement in a beautiful natural area is also uplifting and releases stress that many of these learners carry, despite their young age.
In the coming weeks these movements will be crafted into a dance to celebrate the diversity of creatures living at Princess Vlei. The Just Earth Project is a collaboration between the Forum, Jungle Theatre Company, Peter Clarke Art Centre. Xoli Fuyani and Thimna Stokile provide the dance expertise. The overall project is funded by the City of Cape Town Grant in Aid fund, while certain elements are funded by the Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust, managed by Nedbank Private Wealth.
There was something quite magical at Princess Vlei on 22 July, when over forty friends, family and community volunteers came together to honour the memory of George Davis.
George was a founding member of the Princess Vlei Forum, and had been involved in the Dressing the Princess project to restore indigenous vegetation at Princess Vlei from 2008, four years before before the Forum was launched. He also served on the Forum's management committee for 2 years, and together with Laurence Dworkin created a powerful documentary about the Princess Vlei project. He died in February this year, after a long illness.
Stacey Stent, George's life partner, spoke about George's passionate commitment to the conservation of Princess Vlei, as well as the many other conservation projects that he was involved in. "I have observed a common element in all his work, which was his concern that humans sustain a positive balance with the environment, so that they do not present a threat to biodiversity."
Stacey quoted an interview with George, in which he said, “Humans need to be listened to when they want to live cooperatively with their environment, and humans who don’t want to need to stand back and listen.”
While it is traditional to plant trees to honour those who have passed on, George was passionate about fynbos - and so it was appropriate that we were planting proteas and watsonias. About 15 species and 500 plants were put in the ground. Amongst these were 25 Aristea dichotima, a plant once flourishing at Princess Vlei but not seen since 1910. This plant will not be seen at Rondevlei or further south, as these vleis are too salty.
Also honoured in the planting was Father John Oliver, who died ten years ago in July 2013. Like George, Father John was a founding member of the Princess Vlei Forum, who was instrumental in setting up the organisaiton. He too was passionately committed to saving the Vlei from commercial development.
It was a bright sunny day, a relief after all rain. The planting was greatly enhanced by the beautiful harmonies of volunteers from the Centre for Creative Education, who invited the other planters to join in the chorus of “Stand bright in your corner, where you are.”
George and John both “shone bright in their corners”, and their brightness continues to shine at Princess Vlei. It shines in the plants, birds and insects that flourish in the space where a mall was planned, and in the many children and community members who gather to enjoy the beauty, and to plant and nurture fynbos each year. We greatly miss them, but their spirit lives on.
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
‘We will promise to keep you safe. We must stop hunting them and polluting the water and air
Don’t cut down trees because it is where most of them live
Protect the birds from danger and preserve biodiversity, and make the eco system stronger
Protect the birds because they are vital to our ecosystem. Stop pollution, it is hurting our birds.’
These simple but far-reaching messages were expressed by our young ‘time travellers’ who visited Princess Vlei from 2123. Thirty-eight learners, from Levana, Harmony and Rosmead Primary Schools, took part in the imaginative game, where they were 'time-travellers' from 100 years in the future, from a world where birds had been driven to extinction. Their task was to find out about birds: what they needed, what threatened them, and how to protect them to ensure that they did not go extinct.
The time travellers were met by the ‘Spirit Guide’ (aka Bridget), a spirit with wisdom gathered from all the ages, who told them how the first indigenous people who lived near Princess Vlei lived in harmony with nature and looked after the plants, the insects and the birds. ‘So we must learn from the wisdom of the indigenous people, and keep searching for ways to live in harmony with earth and other creatures.’
The Supreme Time Lord (Brendan Bussy) explained that to the learners that they had travelled from a world where everything was different, and Princess Vlei was just concrete with no birds, insects or plants. Their important mission was to discover everything they could about birds, and to craft messages for the people of 2023 to ensure that there were still birds in 2123.
He warned them that they had to come running back to the time travelling ship when they heard the siren (a vuvuzela) as if they didn’t get through the time portal before it closed, they would be stuck in 2023
The time travellers made many observations to help them understand birds better. A highlight for many were the two Gymnogenes, or African Harrier Hawks, spotted in the gum trees near the Jolly Carp.
They also noticed many things that could hurt birds, such as “garbage that people leave behind. Birds think its food and eat it and then they get sick and die.”
Reflecting afterwards, learners said they would be sad to live in a world without birds because
They are majestic creatures
There won’t be any lovely bird songs to wake me up
They are cute
They are a national animal and their colours make us happy
They are part of the environment and they make biodiversity more complimentary and beautiful
They provide food and keep the ecosystem flowing
Autumn and winter are the planting seasons at Princess Vlei - and we have certainly had some great rain to help the plants along. Here are two of the planting events ...
Earth Day Planting
Seven Earth enthusiasts gathered on Earth Day, April 22 to ‘kick off’ this year’s planting season at Princess Vlei. The volunteers, assisted by Neil and the restoration team, braved the rain and cold to plant 300 plants and bulbs, and 800 oxalis seeds, in the Briana Crescent restoration plot on the Northern Shore. This plot has acidic sandy soil, allowing us to restore critically endangered Cape Flats Sand Fynbos.
The following plants were put in the ground.
On May 4, 46 learners from Floreat, Levana, Harmony and Lotus gathered to plant in the seep area between Princess Vlei and Little Princess. In 2021, community volunteers helped to clear alien trees from this seasonal seep between the two vleis. Within months, the area started coming back to life, with many indigenous species now being given space to grow. Recently, a new Red List species, Psoralea repens, was discovered there.
The learners were adding to the biodiversity in the area by planting over 200 Elegia Nuda, as well as Psoralea glaucoma, Erica subdivaricata, Erica Verticillata and Berzelia abrotaoides. The elegia nuda are part of the restio family. There are 480 species in the restio family - and 330 grow in the Cape Floristic Kingdom. They are very helpful plants, offering shelter to seedlings, a hunting ground for chameleons which can easily hold onto the slender stems, and food for small rodents.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.