This was some of the feedback from the twenty six people from twelve community conservation organisations who attended the Princess Vlei Forum’s Growing Community Conservation Workshop held at Zandvlei on 27 August. The workshop was organised in partnership with Friends of the Liesbeek.
Dr Winter reflected that working with the City on the Liesbeek River had often been fraught, but the water crisis in 2016 had brought about a significant shift in attitude. The City had realised that Day Zero could only be averted by the City working in partnership with the community, leading to their slogan changing from This City works for you to Making progress together.
He spoke about the importance of having a theory of change in formulating the strategy for an organisation. He said that for change to come about you needed a partnership of four critical elements: Local government, Civil society, Academia and industry. He praised the recently established Mayoral Advisory committee on water ways and wetlands as a significant ship in facilitating this partnership.
Dr Winter also reflected on the changes in Cape Town over the past 50 years, with the population quadrupling in size. The provision of housing had been driven by a 40X40X40’ model - 40m2 in size; build 40 km from places of work and amenities, and costing the residents R40 in transport fees. This short-sighted approach to ow income housing has largely expanded into the Cape Flats - it has reinforced poverty, and damaged biodiversity and water ways - it has come at a considerable environmental cost as well as a heavy social cost. Poverty is a major threat to the environment.
Nick Fordyce, Chairperson of Friends of the Liesbeek, introduced Denisha Anand as an ethnobotanist who turns into a giant plant when the moon is full. Anand spoke about the history of the struggle to save Princess Vlei from the shopping mall, and the work done since to restore and revitalise the site. She described the overwhelming issues facing her when the Forum employed her to manage the GPVCA in 2016. ‘I just cleaned, for a year. There was so much littering, pollution and mess on site.’ She described how, after consultation with City officials in the biodiversity branch, she realised that the site needed a proper restoration plan, and encouraged the Forum to raise funds to contract Alex Lansdowne to create a five year plan, which the Forum is rolling out.
Lansdowne described five essential ingredients for a good restoration plan: A technical appreciation and knowledge of the process, drawing on the expertise of academics and professionals as necessary; Healthy conflict and debate to facilitate creative problem solving; Money and good fundraising strategies; Networking to get recognition of the project, which would help bring in funds; People - involve the community in every aspect of the project, and have fun doing it.
After a delicious spread of fynbos tea and edibles provided by Zayaan Khan, participants split into focus groups to discuss partnerships with the City; community engagement; fundraising; and restoration.
In the plenary session, it became clear that poverty is indeed a major challenge to all the groups present, most of whom were grappling with how to deal with informal dwellers moving into conservation areas. It became very clear from the discussion that conservation cannot happen in a bubble, and that the struggle for ecological and social justice are inextricably intertwined. Fundraising is an ongoing problem, and negotiating relationships with City officials.
Most participants felt that it had been a valuable experience, and that they would welcome further workshops, perhaps focussing more narrowly on this and other issues that were identified. The Forum looks forward to hosting such engagements in the future.
We would like to thank Dr Kevin Winter, Denisha Anand and Alex Lansdowne for their inputs, Nick Fordyce for chairing the workshop, Zayaan Khan for the catering, and Zandvlei Trust for the venue. A big thanks as always to Hans Hoheisen Charitable Trust managed by Nedbank Private Wealth for funding this work.