The City was represented by Alderman Belinda Walker, Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Special Projects, and Kevin Southgate, councillor for Ward 72. The Forum was represented by its Chairperson, Philip Bam, and Secretary, Lorna Houston. Forum member Paramount Chief Hennie van Wyk from the Gorachouqua tribe was there as a guest of honour.
The ceremony was opened with a prayer from Bishop Christopher Gregorwski. Philip Bam then thanked the supporters and committee members of the Princess Vlei Forum, and remarked that the struggle to save Princess Vlei was a testament to what can be achieved with co-operation and commitment – ‘and without a single tyre being burnt’. He thanked the City delegates for their willingness to listen to the community, and to find a way forward to transform the Vlei into a space where families and their children can honour heritage and enjoy nature. He paid tribute to the late Fr John Oliver, a much respected founder member of the Forum.
Alderman Belinda Walker commented that the occasion marked the end of a ‘rocky road’, and thanked the Forum for their endurance in persisting with their objectives.
‘You could not invent a more beautiful site than this vlei with the mountain behind it... this agreement marks a foundations stone to build not a shopping mall but a place for the whole family to come in safety. This may start slowly, but as we put things in place the project will gather momentum.’ Ald Walker said that her directorate and other City departments were 100% behind the Forum’s mission, and that she looked forward to working in partnership and ‘seeing something new and better and more beautiful’ every time she visited Princess Vlei.
Cllr Kevin Southgate endorsed Ald Walker’s words and affirmed his commitment to the Princess Vlei project. ‘I would like to leave this place as a heritage and institution for our children and our children’s children.’ Cllr Southgate has made some of this year’s Ward budget allocation available for improvements at Princess Vlei.
Lorna Houston reflected on what Vlei had meant to herself and other local community members over the years. ‘Many of us were part of a creative, living community in princess Vlei once, and we know we can recreate that – we have already started reawakening this spirit with our projects and activities.’ She welcomed the City’s willingness to engage with the Forum, saying that ‘we don’t see enough of a coming together of community and city around the world - there is too little spirit of collaboration and cooperation in building new spaces or reimagining old spaces.’
Paramount Chief Hennie van Wyk spoke of the importance of diverse communities in coming together to conserve the environment, and called on the ‘great spirit that created us’ to give all the knowledge, wisdom and strength to go ahead.
The signing follows the City’s historic decision in March 2014 to scrap plans for the shopping mall at Princess Vlei in response to community protest. . Since the March 2014 victory, the Princess Vlei Forum, which was formed in 2012 to co-ordinate efforts to oppose a the mall and to develop an alternative community vision for the area, has focussed on exploring ways to rehabilitate, upgrade and improve the management of the site.
The MOA will enable the Forum to work collaboratively with the City in managing the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area (GPVCA), and will streamline the process of stakeholder engagement in the area. It will also enable the Forum to assist in mobilising funding for improvements to the site.
The agreement was signed by Ald Walker, on behalf of the City, and by Philip Bam, chairperson of the Princess Vlei Forum. It was followed by a sunset walk around the vlei.