Several generations of strong women came together to Princess Vlei on August 9 to plant trees and to honour our women heroes, past and present.
The event was organized by the Princess Vlei Forum in celebration of National Women’s Day and the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. About 80 women from local communities came together to plant 30 indigenous trees, donated to Princess Vlei.
The Princess Vlei has long been associated with women and the indigenous people, as expressed in the legend of the Princess. This is the story of a KhoeKhoe woman who was violated by Portuguese sailors from the d’Almeida party, in 1509. Her tears formed the vlei.
Mary Jansen, a longstanding community and cultural activist was the MC for the event, and was presented with a book to honour her contribution to the fight for social justice and for the recognition of indigenous people’s rights. Jansen is a Chief in the Cochoqua Tribal House.
Emma Oliver opened with a prayer, giving thanks for the women ‘of the past days who inspire us with their courageous lives’.
The first tree planted was in honour of the unnamed Princess of Princess Vlei. This tree is a sapling of the ‘Treaty Tree’ - a 500 year old Milkwood still growing in Woodstock. A battle between the KhoeKhoe and the Portuguese sailors under De Almeida took place near by the tree in 1509 - 64 sailors were killed. Later slaves were sold under the tree, and the Blaauwberg Treaty granting the Cape to the British was signed there in 1806. The sapling was donated to Princess Vlei by fynbos consultant Alex Lansdowne.
Princess Chantal Revell planted a tree in honour of Sarah Baartman, the KhoeKhoe women who was taken to England in 1810 and suffered horrific abuse, including being paraded as a spectacle in public. Revell described a recording of Baartman’s voice, in which she said, ‘Ek wil huis toe gaan’. She died aged 26 in France, but her body was kept and dissected. Her remains were finally returned to South Africa for a dignified burial in 2002.
Tanyan Gradwell, an indigenous revivalist and social activist, planted a tree in honour of Krotoa. Krotoa was taken to the castle by Jan van Riebeeck as a young girl, and suffered abuse at the hands of the Dutch. She learnt Dutch and worked as a translator in negotiations with the KhoeKhoe. She later married and had children, but after a short, traumatic life died of alcoholism.
Gradwell spoke about the injustices suffered by the Cape’s indigenous people, which are still continuing. She read out a poem she had written to Krotoa, asking ‘There are so many truth and lies, do you know that your children have been marginalized…?‘
Mary Jansen planted a tree in honour of Zubeida Jaffer, a long time activist for social justice and women’s rights. Jaffer spoke about the importance of giving our daughters a positive message, of helping them to heal from the intergenerational trauma that has been handed down over the centuries. ‘We need to tell them every day how beautiful they are, and that they deserve to be treated with respect’.
Several other members of group spoke about women they were honouring by planting trees. Amongst them was Cheryl Jacobs, whose parents ran a fruit and vegetable stall at the Princess Vlei for many decades; and Clarina de Freitas, who planted a tree in honour of the De Freitas women who sold fish near Princess Vlei for several generations. ‘Our slogan was that no-on should ever go hungry’
Charlene Houston spoke about her grandmother, Winifred le Shauls, who was brought from the Congo to South Africa as a child servant.
The Princess Vlei is an appropriate space to honour strong women, as it holds a memory and energy going back thousands of years. There is much trauma in that memory, but also growth, connection, healing and support. Trees remind us of the power of community, the strength of diversity, and the importance of roots, and the trees planted today will endure as beautiful living monuments to honour the indigenous peoples and strong women of this land.
Posts by Bridget Pitt unless stated otherwise.