Saving The PrincessWritten by Ryan Swano
The Princess Vlei is the first vlei in a chain of wetlands that runs through Grassy Park, Cape Town, purifying the water before it runs into the sea. It is a relatively small vlei, but it has a big history, and has long been treasured by the many citizens who have enjoyed its beauty and tranquility.
The value of wetlands to the larger ecology of any region can never be overestimated. Alarm bells should be ringing all over when the ecology of a region is threatened through the destruction of wetlands by the very custodians who should vehemently be protecting them; Elected officials.
When that specific wetland also holds cultural significance to the population not only living around it but also for people who have ancestral ties to the history of the region, then it not only has ecological value but is then indeed a heritage site. Certainly there should be a complete ban on any developments that threaten the continued existence of an ecologically sensitive area that is also a heritage site.
Most communities welcome the construction of a nearby mall and the 'progress' it brings to their area. For the community of Grassy Park and indeed the whole Cape Peninsula the cost of 'progress' far outweighs the promised economic value of a proposed (and approved) mall on the banks of Princess Vlei.
Princess Vlei is fighting for its life, as it faces the threat of this proposed development: a double volume shopping mall, car park and taxi rank.
The Princess Vlei was named after a Khoisan Princess, who (legend tells us) was abducted by Portuguese sailors while bathing in its waters. During the years of apartheid, it became one of the few natural areas that Coloured people could visit, after they were forcibly removed by the government to housing estates on the Cape Flats. Though loved by the people, it was neglected by the authorities, and became further degraded when a road was built through it with little regard for conserving its ecology.
However, for several years now, local residents, environmentalists and concerned citizens have been actively involved in a project called "Dressing the Princess". This includes keeping the vlei clean by removing litter, removing invasive alien plant species and planting more of the original fynbos vegetation. The aim is to restore the vlei to its former glory, and to create a much needed place of natural beauty and serenity that is accessible to the surrounding communities. The Princess Vlei Forum (PVF) was formed to spearhead the fight against the mall, and to help to formulate the vision of the vlei as a living asset for present and future generations.
Besides that it can be contended that Princess Vlei holds major cultural significance to the descendants original inhabitants of the the region, The Khoi and The San as well as holding religious significance to a variety of Christian churches, especially those who practice adult baptism, there are serious allegations of irregularities and fraud surrounding the development.
The concerns about the allocation of the land, the transfer of rezoning rights from a deregistered company to the current developer and that the Environmental Impact Assessment was undertaken by a consulting firm with direct ties to the developers has led forum member Kelvin Cochrane to lodge a complaint of fraud which is being investigated by the National Prosecuting Authority.
Resistance to the proposed development is growing even amongst citizens from outside Grassy Park and the other suburbs near or adjacent to the wetlands.
Campaigns by a growing group of activists that include Grassy Park resident Emile Jansen, the Hip Hop artist of Black Noise fame, are drawing support from people all over the country.
Emile plans to spend his 45th birthday on 20 July getting people from all walks of life, but especially the Hip Hop and arts community, to gather at Princess Vlei to draw attention to the campaign against the development.
The Princess seems to have her fair share of knights in shining armour attempting her rescue. Their success could hold significance for all South Africans as it can prove that possible collusion between elected politicians and big business going against the will of the people can successfully resisted.