‘Identity, gives meaning to people’s existence, it is a way to overcome the poverty of the soul.’
So said Professor Henry (Jatti) Bredekamp,retired CEO Iziko Museums and keynote speaker at the inaugural meeting of the Princess Vlei Forum (PVF) on Wednesday.
Prof Bredekamp said he was particularly inspired to address the meeting because of the PVF’s people’s plan, which presents a community-driven alternative vision for Princess Vlei.
'Instead of harping on the problem of an environmental threat to your wetlands... you have called on community organisations and citizens to join the PVF in conceptualising the People’s Plan on the banks of Princess Vlei. This is a creative alternative to the inappropriate development of a mall on traditional, spiritual and recreational open space.'
Prof Bredekamp said he was excited by the suggestion of a cultural and environmental centre where the community can learn about their history, their Khoi Khoi and San heritage, and the ecology of Princess Vlei; and of a KhoiSan village where they can learn how South Africa’s first people might have lived.
‘In creating this, I urge you to portray the KhoiSan not in a static, primordial state of undignified existence but, like all humans, in continuous, changing condition of adapting to the natural, spiritual and social environment from antiquity to the African city today.'
Bredekamp said that the discourse around KhoiSan heritage has been very limited in South Africa, and has focussed on questions around chieftainship. He expressed the hope that through the struggles to have Princess Vlei honoured as a heritage and environmental site, the PVF would ‘formally shift the discourse by reminding their constituents of the deep footprints the hunter gatherers of ancient times and their herder cousins have left on the slopes of the Table Mountain chain and Cape Town’s wetlands.’
He encouraged the Forum to continue and deepen its struggle, and to help the youth in particular to find meaning in their lives by helping them rediscover their historical identity.
The Forum elected a management committee and formally adopted their constitution, declaring their belief that communal spaces with strong environmental, ecological, historical, spiritual and social values, such as Princess Vlei, have a unique role in healing, unifying and empowering our citizens and must be protected from destructive development that benefits the few to the detriment of the many.
The organisation further resolved to
- Ensure that ... Princess Vlei is protected now and in the future from all forms of development that will destroy or compromise its natural systems, or restrict its value as communal space where nature may be enjoyed and heritage celebrated.
- Empower communities to protect this space now and in the future; to take responsible ownership of the space; and to formulate a vision for how the space should be used.
- Facilitate the on-going use of Princess Vlei as a creative cultural, spiritual, educational and recreational space in order to benefit and empower communities.
- Identify the social, historical, spiritual, cultural, educational and ecological values of Princess Vlei to the community;
- Work collaboratively to develop and implement a plan for the Princess Vlei that enhances these values, and transforms it into a natural and social asset that will heal, unify and empower present and future generations.
- Engage with such local government structures and other agencies as is necessary to fulfill these objectives.
The Forum further reiterated its determination to hold public governance to account, and to demand a response from MEC Bredell and the City Council on their responses to the irregularities in the bid process that have been uncovered by Forum member Kelvin Cochrane and the Forums’ legal team.
The meeting concluded with a powerpoint presentation on the work done by Forum so far in achieving its objectives. This has included extensive press coverage, a number of events held at the Vlei by the Forum and in partnership with other organisation, letters to relevant
governing structures, legal investigation, and collecting signatures for a petition.
The meeting was attended by individuals and members representing various organisations, including the Western Cape Religious Leader’s Forum, Cosatu local, Southern Suburb Legal Advice Center, Landsdowne civic, Lotus River and Grassy Park Civic Association (LOGRA), Bottom Road Sanctuary, SCEA Schaapkraal Civic & Environmental Association, Schaapkraal Developing Farmers Association, Menngos and the Greater Cape Town Civic Alliance movement.