‘I tell my children the story of the Princess as a bed time story, I want to bring them here just so that they are grounded, and grounded in their heritage.’ Emile Jansen.
Getting grounded in our heritage was literally what our planting on Mandela Day was all about, when twenty-five people came together to create a heritage garden at Princess Vlei.
The plants are to bring companionship to three trees that were planted there four years ago to honour three strong women significant to our KhoeKhoe heritage: The unnamed Princess in the legend of Princess Vlei; Saartjie Baartman, and Krotoa. All of these women suffered abuse at the hands of invading coloniser forces, as indigenous people and as women. All of them left a powerful legacy of the spirit of resistance that endures against hardship and oppression.
The tree planted in honour of the princess is of particular significance, as it is a sapling of the ‘Treaty tree,’ a 500 year old Milkwood in Woodstock which was:
Emile Jansen is a founding member of the Forum, and performed at the first big protest event hosted by the Forum ten years ago on June 16, 2012. His organisation, Heal the Hood, works to encourage children from areas such as Lavender Hill and Retreat to learn about and develop pride in their Khoe heritage, through his work with Heal the hood. This project uses hip hop, music and dance to develop a strong sense of identity and self-confidence in local youth. Emile is also leader of the Mixed Mense group, which composed the song ‘Cry me a river’ to tell the story of the struggle against the proposed mall at Princess Vlei.‘
'We must keep working to realise our vision for Princess Vlei, because it is one of the few success stories of the people standing up against a mall.… It’s ironic, because the colonialists came here to build a refreshment station, then they wanted to build a mall here at Princess Vlei, now they are trying to build a virtual mall [the proposed Amazon development on the Liesbeeck] …We have to invest in these struggles for our children.. young people need to realise that our role in nature is to let it be, and to assist it to revitalise itself.’
Another person with deep roots of connection to the vlei is Anthony Martin, who was there with his two grandchildren.
‘My grandfather used to irrigate his gardens from this very vlei,’ Anthony told us, ‘and he grew quite a few crops, potatoes, carrots, peas, until the council wanted grounds to build that caravan park, and he had to vacate the area…My aunt told me how they used to bundle up the crops and sell them to the community, even the people from the other side of the track used to come and buy They also had a few milk cows here and made their own cheese and butter….
‘I was born in that house, which was built in the old style of masonry, no bricks. We were one of the last houses with thatch in this area. We moved to Steenberg when I was three to a council house, but I carried on visiting the house. I would sleep in the pantry because it was one of the coolest places… I wish we had known more about this history, and how connected we are to this part of the world, even to the soil itself.’
Mandela Day was another expression of how Princess Vlei is more than just a community of plants and animals, it is a community of people, whose lives, identities and histories are interwoven with the other species that live there. It offers us a vision of how we can live in the world where we recognise our kinship and interdependency – with each other, with the birds, the insects, the chameleons, the otters and the beautiful and generous fynbos that sustained us for millennia.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.