• Philip Bam (standing) welcomes the crowd.
    Philip Bam (standing) welcomes the crowd.

    Sitting Lto R: Geoffrey Dayawana, Pratiba Daya, Archbishop Brislin, Bishop Geoff Davies, Sheikh Ridwaan Gallant, Pastor Williams, Nigel Crawhall

  • Bradley van Sitters, does opening prayer in Nama. Left: Mary Jansen
    Bradley van Sitters, does opening prayer in Nama. Left: Mary Jansen
  • Geoffrey Dayawana, Elder from the Gospel Church of God
    Geoffrey Dayawana, Elder from the Gospel Church of God
  • Chief Hennie van Wyk, House of Xoraxouhoe
    Chief Hennie van Wyk, House of Xoraxouhoe
  • Bishop Geoff Davies
    Bishop Geoff Davies
  • Bishop Geoff Davies
    Bishop Geoff Davies
  • Reverend Rachel Mash
    Reverend Rachel Mash
  • Gospel Church of God youth choir
    Gospel Church of God youth choir
  • Rabbi Greg Alexander performs the Sukkot ritual
    Rabbi Greg Alexander performs the Sukkot ritual
  • Bishop Geoff Davies and Sheikh Ridwaan Gallant
    Bishop Geoff Davies and Sheikh Ridwaan Gallant
  • Hyde Park Primary Brass band
    Hyde Park Primary Brass band
  • Nigel Crawhall
    Nigel Crawhall
  • Prayer flags made by children from local schools
    Prayer flags made by children from local schools
  • Chief Mandla Ngonyama of the Abathembu Tribe adds a stone
    Chief Mandla Ngonyama of the Abathembu Tribe adds a stone
  • Bishop Geoff Davies and Chief Hennie van Wyk add stones to the cairn
    Bishop Geoff Davies and Chief Hennie van Wyk add stones to the cairn
  • water is poured around the cairn
    water is poured around the cairn
  • Emma Oliver pays tribute to her late husband Reverend John Oliver
    Emma Oliver pays tribute to her late husband Reverend John Oliver
  • Prayer flags made by children from local schools
    Prayer flags made by children from local schools
  • Pastor Andrew Williams gives the closing prayer
    Pastor Andrew Williams gives the closing prayer
  • Hyde Park Primary Brass band
    Hyde Park Primary Brass band

With so many religious leaders present, we could not fail to have good weather at the prayer meeting on Sunday 22 September. After a week of violent storms, we were treated to a perfect spring day as people gathered to celebrate the spiritual power of Princess Vlei, and to pledge their commitment to fighting for the space.

The gathering was welcomed by Princess Vlei Forum Chairperson Philip Bam, who spoke about how the God of Greed was the driving force leading to the destruction of sacred spaces such as the Princess Vlei. He thanked people for coming and helping to open the hearts and eyes of our City leaders, so that this space could be preserved.

The opening prayer was by Geoffrey Dayawana, an Elder from the Gospel Church of God, which is one of the many churches that baptise people at Princess Vlei. Every year, thousands of people are baptised in the waters of the vlei, coming from all over the country for this important ritual. The church choir was also present, as were many members of the congregation of this and other churches who do baptisms at the vlei.

The spiritual origins of the vlei were reinvoked, with a strong presence from the Khoi groups of the House of Xoraxouhoe and the House of Cochoqua. Bradley Van Sitters gave an opening prayer in Nama, and there was a cleansing ritual involving senior leaders from both groups. Chief Hennie van Wyk called for the Khoi tribes to be recognised by the government. Stanley Frederickse retold the legend of the Khoi Princess, which describes how she was abducted and raped or killed by Portuguese sailors, and her tears flowed down to form the Princess Vlei.

The keynote address was given by Bishop Geoff Davies. In a strongly worded sermon, Davies condemned the drive to profit that was sacrificing social and environmental issues for short term monetary gain. He called on the Mayor to support the cause to conserve Princess Vlei as a nature and heritage site, and warned the City authorities against disregarding the will of the people on this issue.

“If developers are so insensitive and arrogant to persist, we can warn them we will encourage our congregations to boycott them,” he said. “If you say, we will be breaking the law, they must know that they are breaking the laws of God and the natural laws of the universe.

“The Council must simply not allow the shopping mall. If they persist, we have a legitimate and legal way of expressing our views – we don’t vote for them at the next election!” (Listen to Bishop Davies’ full address: bishopgeoffdavies.m4a)

Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant, speaking on behalf of the Muslim Judicial Council, reflected that in 1975, South Africa signed the RAMSA treaty to protect wetlands. “Now forty years later, we have to fight to save the vlei.”
Gallant commented on the importance of wetlands for sustaining human and environmental health, and reminded people of the words of the Prophet: “if you cut down a tree without justification, Allah will send down hell fire … If a person kills a sparrow senselessly, Allah will make justice between them and the animal they killed…. We have so many malls, why do we want to establish another on on this sacred place?”

His words were echoed by other speakers, including Rabbi Greg Alexander, Pratiba Daya (Baha’I faith) and Nigel Crawhall from the Hout Bay Buddhist group. All three performed blessing rituals for the vlei. Archbishop Stephen Brislin was also present, but had to leave before speaking.

The meeting ended with the creation and blessing of a cairn. Functioning as a symbolic grave for the Khoi princess, the cairn serves as an expression of commitment by the different faith leaders to conserving this site into perpetuity. Those attending added stones to the cairn, after which Emma Oliver, wife of the late Reverend John Oliver, sprinkled water from the vlei around the cairn. The water flowing over the stones represented the unity of purpose of all the diverse cultures present there.

The prayer meeting celebrates our vision for the transformation of Princess Vlei into a heritage and nature park, which will offer a space to grow a future Cape Town that is united in diversity. This remarkable gathering demonstrates again how powerful the Princess Vlei is as a bridge builder in Cape Town. We call again on the authorities to work with all of us in realising this vision, and to put a stop to the sale of the land for a mall.

Those who took part:

Philip Bam, Chairperson of the Princess Vlei Forum, LOGRA civic and the Community Policing Forum

Mrs Mary Jansen, Headwoman of the House of Cochoqua.

Chief Hennie van Wyk, House Of Xoraxouhoe

Bradley van Sitters, House Of Xoraxouhoe and scholar in Nama language and traditions

Stanley Fredericks House of Cochoqua.

Elder Geoffrey Dayawana, Gospel Church of Power

Senior leaders from the Cochoqua House and House Of Xoraxouhoe:

Bishop Geoff Davies Founder and executive director of the South African Faith Communities Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Reverend Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator at Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Sheikh Dr. Muhammad Ridwaan Gallant, Head of the Environmental Desk of the Muslim Judicial Council; on the board of the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI)

Most Reverend Stephen Brislin, Archbishop of Cape Town Catholic Church

Pastor Elliot, Gospel Church of God

Rabbi Greg Alexander, Rabbi of Temple Israel, West Coast, Cape Town, South African Association of Progressive Rabbis (SAAPR)

Pratiba Daya, Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University

Nigel Crawhall, International Network of Engaged Buddhists, International Union for Conservation of Nature, Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum

Pastor Andrew Williams, Fellowship of Love Ministries

Youth Choir from the Gospel Church of Power

Hyde Park Primary Brass band

Prayer flags sewn by Maggie Isaacs, and inscribed by children from Lotus River High, John Graham Primary, Plantation Primary and Steenberg Primary