The Day of Action and Celebration on March 22 was a historic day for Princess Vlei. What had been planned as a protest to insist that the City take our demands seriously became a day of celebration after the Saturday Argus revealed the City’s intention to cancel the plans to sell the land and build the mall. (Read article)
Despite the cool weather and brisk wind, a lively and diverse crowd gathered on the Eastern bank of Princess Vlei, on the site of the proposed mall. The event featured many of the organisations and institutions that have added their voices to the call to save the vlei from destruction, as members came together to create a vision of what Princess Vlei could offer if upgraded and rehabilitated to be a nature and heritage park.
Forum members and volunteer helpers from Lotus High were hard at work from early in the morning, battling the wind to get everything ready. The wind was welcomed by Lindsay Lambert, who brought several colourful kites for children to fly. Things warmed up when DJ Real Rozzano began playing at t 2 o’clock, keeping the crowd entertained with his music and his accompanying commentary. Anybody still feeling cold was soon set to jiving by the infectious beat of Isongo.
The afternoon programme kicked off in style with a demonstration from the Ashari Karate Studio, in Grassy Park, as Hoosain Narker put his students through their paces. This was followed by a short drama entitled ‘My memories of the Vlei,’ in which members of the John Graham Primary Science Club enacted personal memories of Princess Vlei.
The formal part of the proceedings was opened by Philip Bam, who called for a round of applause for Kelvin Cochrane, the founder of the Dressing the Princess Project and of the campaign to save the vlei from destructive development. Bam thanked the many organisations and volunteers who had played a role in saving the vlei, including LOGRA who was a founding organisation for the campaign, and paid tribute to the late Father John Oliver. He also sent greetings to two stalwarts of the Princess Vlei, Edward and Cecilia Johnson, who were busy celebrating their 91st and 90th birthdays.
Bishop Christopher Gregorowski read a message of support from Archbishop Tutu. Other messages were read from Morné Du Plessis of the World Wildlife Fund and Mamphele Ramphele of Agang.
Frank van der Horst, former president of the anti-apartheid sporting body SACOS, gave an impassioned speech, condemning those who had first proposed the mall.
“We are struggling not only for this generation but future generations... there must be a cultural heritage that must continue... this place must be an environmental place in perpetuity and the people must be involved in deciding how it is going to be used.”
Van Der Horst expressed mistrust in the City’s assurances, alleging that the City’s announcement smacked of political opportunism, coming as it did so close to the elections, and suggesting that they might revive the plans for the mall if it suited them to do so.
Deputy Mayor Neilson refuted these allegations, and assured the crowd that they proposed sale of the land had been cancelled. Neilson said that in response to the community’s unhappiness with the mall bid, the City had been engaged in a process since July last year to find a settlement with the developer, and had now finally resolved to cancel the sale of the land. He said that they had sought a negotiated solution to avoid a lengthy court battle. He said that the City was now ready to talk to the Forum and other interested parties to discuss what should happen not only to the eastern bank but also to the greater Princess Vlei area.
John Graham Primary learners Temia and Cara Lipari presented Neilson with the 8000 signatures to the Princess Vlei Forum petition, and with the vision of a community-driven nature and heritage park that the Forum has developed over the years, building on the People’s Plan that was initiated by Kelvin Cochrane (read more here).
After the speeches, the eMzantsi Carnival band, featuring giant puppets of the leopard toad and grey heron, led the crowd down to the waters edge to watch the launching of the floating wetlands. One of these wetlands was created by WESSA with the help of the Lotus High students, the other was donated by Pierre Depaepe of Riverside Nursery, Somerset West. Patrick Dowling of WESSA explained the value of these wetlands in improving water quality, and providing a habitat for birds and other animals. (Read more on the Zandvlei Trust site)
Other attractions included making prayer flags at the SAFCEI stall, joining graffiti artist Mak1one in creating a portable ‘wall’ to celebrate Princess Vlei, or watching the entertaining fuzzy felt show about leopard toads by Alison Faraday from Toadnuts.
Those with an artistic interest could enjoy the many art interventions on display. Students from Michaelis Art School had spent the weeks before the day working with Lotus High students on a range of fascinating art projects, including baking salt dough jewels for the Princess at Kelvin Cochrane’s Bakery, and creating a garden of paper flowers. Logs were modified into seats with old chair backs, and swings suspended from the trees provided entertainment for young and old. There were also constructions from recycled materials interacting with the wind. Models created by the CPUT architectural students were on display at the nearby Jolly Carp, featuring designs for floating structures. (Read more on the art projects. One of the projects can be found here.)
One of the intriguing constructions on display was an Aeolian harp, created by Ralph Borland and Brendan Bussy, which used a tightly suspended cord to capture the wind on a drum skin, and created an amazing sound experience.
The weather did not make the water inviting, but Kevin Winter from Peninsula Paddle was on hand to enable those who wanted to experience canoeing. Gavin Lawson was there with a canoe constructed entirely of recycled bottles.
Chief Hennie van Wyk of the House of Korana conducted a Khoikhoi cleansing ceremony, and was available to answer questions about the vlei’s considerable cultural heritage and significance as a Khoisan memorial site.
In the later part of the day, the wind died down, enabling people to enjoy the compelling music of John Wizards. Their melodic afro-fusion sounds were perfectly framed by the dramatic sky and mountain backdrop of the vlei.
The boundless creativity and enthusiasm evident on this day bears testimony to the creativity, diversity and passion that has driven this campaign. We trust that the City will honour its commitment to work with community partners to transform the space – as the Day of Action and Celebration clearly demonstrated, there is no limit to the inspiration, vision and dedication that these partners will bring to this process.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.