“I’m totally against the mall being developed at Princess Vlei. As a teenager, I love malls, but we have enough to keep us going. We need nature − without nature, we would have no life." Nikita January, Lotus River High.
Women elders from the local community and three local old age homes gathered to plant three Milkwood trees to honour strong South African women, past and present. The most honoured guest was one-hundred-year-old Sophie Norling, a passionate nature lover from Retreat.
Sophie Norling led the ceremony by planting the first Milkwood tree, which was planted in her honour. The other two Milkwood trees, planted by 82-year-old Joan Evans of Plumstead and 88-year-old Cicilia Johnson from Grassy Park, were in honour of the Khoi Princess, and Saartjie Baartman. August 10 this year marks the 10th anniversary of the return of Baartman’s remains to South Africa.
The women were then hosted at a tea party at LOFOB hall in Grassy Park, where they were treated to snacks and tea provided by Menngos, an organization devoted to promoting local small enterprises. Menngos also supplied posies from local flower growing projects in Lavender Hill and Retreat.
At the gathering, Sophie Norling and other guests were invited to share their memories of the area around Princess Vlei. Mrs Norling spoke about raising her children at the Langvlei in Retreat, and describe how much she valued the natural beauty of the local vleis. She thanked God for blessing her with a long life, family, and a long happy marriage to her husband who died in his nineties. Her daughter, Mrs Denis Variend, described the many hours her family had spent picknicking on the banks of Princess Vlei.
“I am very passionate about saving the Princess Vlei, because that is where my kids grew up,” she said.
Eighty-nine-year-old Mr Pietersen has lived near the Princess Vlei for his whole life, and remembers swimming in the vlei and taking his horses to cool down in the water. He recounted the popular legend that the Khoi Princess had, on her death, become a mermaid who would lure young men to their death if they swam in the wrong part of the vlei.
“When we grew up, there were Proteas growing everywhere in this area. We used to pick them, and eat veldkos from the bulbs – in those days we did not know we were damaging the environment.” He described how Zeekovlei dried up from a drought in 1932, and how a Mr White would give the local children rides in his aeroplane.
Mr Johnson, who also grew up near the Vlei, described how he would travel into town with his parents, who were farmers, to sell vegetables. He would be given half a crown, which he spent on ‘boermusiek’ records.
Mrs Cicilia Johnson, who has spent 64 of her 88 years near the vlei, recited a poem that she’d written to express the pleasure that the serenity of the vlei brought to her:
“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.”
Students from Lotus River High School and Cedar House School were there to serve the food. Nikita January, from Lotus River, explained that she is part of an environmental group at the school, which has been extensively involved in projects to rehabilitate and save the Vlei from unwanted development.
“I’m totally against the mall being developed at Princess Vlei.” she said, “As a teenager, I love malls, but we have enough to keep us going. We need nature − without nature, we would have no life. Being in nature is very valuable for children, it brings a feeling of serenity. We are very committed to saving the Princess Vlei.”
Philip Bam assured the guests that the Forum would engage the community in fighting to protect the Vlei. “Those of you who love the Princess Vlei, who grew up there, know that we will fight to save the Vlei. No mall, no taxi rank will be built on our beloved Vlei.”
The Princess Vlei Forum is determined to fight for the right of our communities to decide on how our city’s natural resources can best be protected and preserved for future enjoyment by all. We have developed a People’s Plan to show how the Vlei could be developed to honour the historical, cultural and environmental significance of this natural wetland, and to serve our community for generations to come. This Woman’s Day event is an example of the type of community service the Vlei can provide if it is properly protected and sustained.