“People say that the future belongs to the youth, but I think the present belongs to the youth. We can’t sit around waiting for everyone else to solve our problems, we need to stand up right now”.
The conference was held to enable youth to tell the press and our civic leaders what Princess Vlei means to them, and to show how they have been working to rehabilitate and transform the space into a safe recreational green space that can serve Cape Town for generations. Sadly, none of the City Councillors, Mayoral or Provincial representatives invited to the meeting were there to hear the message. Youth came from five local schools, and other organisations including WESSA, SAPCO (South African Progressive Civic Organisation), UCT SRC, and the ANCYL. Photographs and writing place around the wall bore testimony to the hard work these youngsters have put into rehabilitating and cleaning up the vlei. As Michelle Mercury from South Peninsula High remarked, this experience has taught them “the importance of indigenous vegetation”.
“Be assured that all students, parents and teachers at South Peninsula High School oppose the building of a concrete jungle on the beautiful Princess Vlei,” she said
Several Grade Seven learners from John Graham Primary Science club read a statement by the club. This has been very active on the vlei, which has provided a rich resource for science lessons. Their statement appeals to “our local political leaders and government leaders to act responsibly and not make decisions that will destroy our natural environment but to support us in our plea to save Princess Vlei as a safe green space for many generations to come.”
Pupils from Steenberg Primary read moving poems and statements written by classmates. Kaitlin Spiers’ statement points out that “Princess vlei is not just a Vlei, its not just land and water waiting to be destroyed. It’s a place of memories, our heritage and our life. My mom and her friends grew up being at Princess Vlei, and so did many other men and women. They had children and they wanted to let their kids experience the same things they did.”
Nu-haa Roberts describes the vlei as a place where “ we feel free and come alive … Princess Vlei is our second nature and a place where people can come to when we feeling lonely and sad. This place connects us when we feel disconnected.
Abdeeya Fredericks from SAPCO commented on how youth often hear of significant sites that once existed but have since been destroyed for the sake of progress, and affirmed SAPCO’s opposition to the “continued insensitive expansion of corporations into our communities”.
Dominique Affinand from Lotus High questioned who would benefit from the building of the mall. “ A mall will only benefit those who are wealthy whereas a recreational space is a place where we can come and bond with each other.”
His words were echoed by Braam Hanekom from the ANC Youth League national task team, who remarked that the Princess Vlei saga suggests that the authorities “are more concerned in providing for the wealthy elite so they can spend and earn large monies instead of providing a space for the youth and the people from the community around grassy park to play in, to enjoy and to grow in.”
Hanekom questioned the “big silence” form key role players, who through their actions are violating the rights of the community, and forcing a mall on them.
He said that youth should get involved in the campaign, and pledged to engage the ANCYL as well as its partner organisations to get actively involved. He reiterated that as a non-political campaign it would be good to see DA youth and DASO get involved. “We would be very much happy if they come and join the campaign but if they don’t I think that is a statement on its own.”
Perhaps Daniel Hector, from Lotus High, summed it up, when he said, “I see the Princess as a mother and an ecological key factor to our community. Taking away the Princess will be like taking away a mother from a child, because as Princess Vlei is part of mother nature and as she has looked after us we should take it upon ourselves to look after her.”
It is clear that the youth are behind our struggle to save Princess Vlei, and are actively asserting their right to the preservation of their cultural and environmental heritage. The Princess Vlei Forum plans to follow this up with further events, and to ensure that this message gets passed onto our city leadership. We have repeatedly asked for clarity from the city on their intentions with this site. Let us hope they listen to the wisdom of the youth.