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.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.