The Princess Vlei community has been greatly saddened by the loss of George Davis, who passed away on 27 February this year after a long illness.
George was a founding member of the Princess Vlei Forum in 2012, but his involvement in Princess Vlei goes back to 2008. In this year, while working at SANBI, he assisted Kelvin Cochrane in launching the Dressing the Princess initiative. This project was a partnership between the CoCT, Cochrane and SANBI, to restore indigenous fynbos at Princess Vlei, thereby (in Cochrane’s words) restoring dignity to the vlei and the people it served.
George served on the Princess Vlei Forum management committee for two years, and on the World Design Capital subcommittee, which made a successful bid for a community design project at Princess Vlei. He offered a helpful hand at all Forum events, and documented much or its work on camera. After his retirement from SANBI in 2012, he worked as an associate on the CareTakers Project, a documentary film project that was a partnership between STEPS and SANBI. The CareTaker series focused on the connection between people and the environment. As part of this series, George created Dressing the Princess, which narrates the efforts to restore Princess Vlei and save it from a shopping mall development.
Siya Myeza, who worked with George on creating a film based in Niewoudtville, said at George’s memorial service, ‘The environment and the people are intertwined, and you need gentle eyes and a very listening ear and quite an inquisitive mind to unpack those stories meaningfully, not in an extractive way, but in a way that brings dignity, that surfaces the nuances and histories that are embedded in the mountains and the people who stay there. George managed to do this.’
George well understood the intertwining of people and the environment, and was a pioneer in evolving a community based approach to conservation in South Africa. His work at SANBI was initially focussed on botanical ecophysiology and ecosystems research, but became increasingly focussed on urban ecology and other systems in which humans are a significant factor. His work included implementing the Working for Wetlands initiative to restore wetlands in Cape Town.
As far back as 1991, George was part of a forward thinking group of individuals who founded the Environmental Monitoring Group, and he continued his involvement with it for 25 years. The EMG sought a vision for conservation which moved beyond fencing off natural areas for the benefit of the wealthy and privileged, and connected to an emerging global movement of environmental rights. This vision saw environmental policy that was people-centred and rights-based, which would enable communities to engage with the natural world around them, not just to extract resources, but to benefit from its spiritual and restorative power.
George was also a member of the Project Advisory Group to guide Cape Flats Nature. This organisation, created through a partnership with the CoCT and SANBI, recognised that natural spaces located in the economically challenged areas of the Cape Flats needed to develop an approach to conservation which enabled communities to actively engage in protected natural spaces and to benefit from them. As part of his work George assisted in the writing and production of Growing Together, a guide to community-based conservation in urban areas.
George is remembered by all who knew him as a humble, deep-thinking man, a good listener, a visionary, always willing to help, with a McGyver-like capacity to find innovative solutions for technical challenges. He was a scientist, an activist, an artist, writer, musician, photographer, and filmmaker. His legacy will live on in his films, in his stories, in the many projects he initiated, and the many hearts he touched. He will be sorely missed.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.