Bridget Pitt, Deputy Chair of the Princess Vlei Forum, greeted the forty people who came to plant fynbos at Princess Vlei on June 16 2022 with these words.
Pitt went on to explain that the plot where they would be planting had a complicated history, like Princess Vlei itself. In July 2020, Forum volunteers and community members, together with the Kirstenbosch branch of the Botanical Society, came out of lock down to plant over 5 000 plant units onto the site, bringing it from a biodiversity of 4 species to over 40.
This was the culmination of several months work by the Forum restoration and botanical team. After extensive research into what vegetation had once naturally grown at Princess Vlei, the team created a five-year restoration plan, and sourced and cultivated plants for the site from seed or cuttings.
By May 2021, these plants were flourishing and most had survived. Then disaster struck: an operator contracted by the City to clear water hyacinth destroyed two hundred metres of shoreline, and eradicated two-thirds of the restoration site, burying it under piles of sludge and hyacinth extracted from the vlei.
Since then, the City has been working with the Forum to repair the damage. On June 16, the City provided 670 plants of 10 different species to plant in the area. While this could not return the site to the condition it was in before it was destroyed, Pitt said it was an important gesture from the City that was appreciated by the Forum, and was part of building a relationship of trust and collaboration that was essential to enable the community to participate meaningfully in the restoration and governance of fragile ecosystems in the city.
In a Facebook post about the event, Nikita said, “I loved getting my hands dirty while cleaning up the vlei regularly … When I became part of the environmental club at school it was at first an escape from everyday challenges. It later became something deeper when I joined the Forum because then I got to be part of something greater than myself.
“Ten years later my daughter got to enjoy this beautiful space, seeing how it all became something that I remember as plans and meetings and after school clean ups has now become this beautiful serene space I can take my kids to … I could not be any more proud.”
Or perhaps it was the simple but powerful magic of people of all ages, from all walks of life, coming together to grow something new and restore a small, battered patch of ground to the glory that nature intended.