"I think the vlei is one of those places that can be used to break down Apartheid geography in the city - becoming a place where people from many classes and backgrounds come to and enjoy” -Dr David Green
His impression was certainly borne out by the range of people who came from all over to show their support and enjoy the walk. From under seven to over seventy, from a Rastafarian from Ottery to a doctor from Hout Bay, walkers were united in the call to support the 16 days of Activism against gender violence, and to affirm the value of the vlei as a place where nature can thrive and people can walk together, building family and connections.
The Princess Vlei has a long association with strong women, and holds a particular significance in the struggle against gender violence for many reasons:
- It is named after a Khoi Princess, who, according to legend was allegedly raped by Portuguese soldiers, thus becoming was one of the first South Africans to be a victim of gender violence.
- Gender violence is a symptom of a wounded society. Safe natural areas and parks have been shown to substantially improve the mental and physical health of a society, and to reduce the incidence of violence and abuse in surrounding areas. We are fighting to save the Princess Vlei from commercial development, and to transform it into safe haven of natural beauty and tranquillity to benefit the animal, plant and human communities around Cape Town.
- Gender violence makes many natural open spaces dangerous for women and children, denying them access to the physical and mental health benefits of these areas. We are walking to reclaim these spaces, to build a society where all may walk anywhere at anytime without fear.
- The lack of respect shown by our society towards each other is mirrored in our lack of respect for our natural heritage. By destroying this heritage, we are abusing future generations.
Nazeer Sonday and Kelvin Cochrane from the PVF welcomed people to the walk. “We are confident that due to the irregularities in the bid process that we have uncovered, the plans to build a mall on these shores will not go ahead. We are asking all of you as you walk to imagine how this vlei can be restored and beautified for the benefit of the surrounding communities and beyond. By restoring dignity to the Princess, we are restoring dignity to our communities,” said Cochrane
Samuel Laminie came after reading about the story in the People’s Post. “I decided to come on the walk because I am concerned about Princess Vlei, I’m also particularly concerned about woman and child abuse ... this is a huge problem in my area.
Laminie said that he helps the SAP with organising projects to keep the youth occupied in the holidays to help prevent drug abuse.
"It would be really fantastic if the Princess Vlei was developed as an open natural space where the youth can be involved in projects... a shopping mall will destroy the area. Shops do not help to build our communities.”
Arthur Low-Shang is a Retreat resident who has lived in the area for some years. He would like to see the Vlei conserved and developed as a natural park. “A number of people walk from the retreat area to De Waal road through the Princess Vlei – it would be good if there was a proper path, and mounted police to patrol the area to keep it safe.”
The Rev Anthony Martin of Retreat Pentecostal Church has lived on the Vlei all his life - his grandfather had a vegetable garden on the edge of the vlei. “The dune sand is no longer pure white, it has been polluted by the council dumping compost and rubble. We need to restore it so that the original dune fynbos can grow here.”
Delia Roux, 73, recalls walking from Heathfield with her husband and children to Princess Vlei. They were involved with the scouts and used to visit Gilray Scouts in Grassy Park. She recalls the late Victor Jacobs who owned and ran the farmstall at the vlei.
Delia’s daughter, Anthea Engel, said: “It would be good to have a walkway around the vlei. This is needed here as there is no real recreation and green spaces close by.”
Our walk took us down to the end of the open area around the vlei at De Waal Road, then back along the canal leading into the vlei, and around the vlei itself. On the way we saw weaver nests, indigenous ducks, cormorants and other birdlife. It showed us so clearly how our natural systems have been pressurised and abused by urban infrastructure, but also how resilient these systems are, and how beautiful and rewarding the vlei could be with some effort and respect.
The Princess Vlei Forum plans to hold many more walks with other organisations, and to begin a process of enabling members of the community to imagine a different way to use the space to benefit both natural systems and people, and to create a priceless asset for Cape Town for generations to come. As Dr Green said, “If I look at what has been done with Rondvlei, I'm convinced that The Princess could be a world class facility enjoyed by all. We just don't need a shopping centre there to kill it!”