Mak1 is an acclaimed graffiti artist who grew up in Cafda and is passionate about Princess Vlei. We interviewed him while he created this picture of the Princess….

Once I saw the Princess

I came here this evening to represent the beautiful princess. I’ve tried to draw an image of what I think she’d look like if I ever get to meet her at the Vlei… I think I did see her when I was a kid.

My grandmother banned me to swim in the Vlei because she warned me about the
mermaid that lives there and that drowns kids and I was like yeah yeah, whatever
So I would swim there but close to the edge, with one leg on the shore.

But I think I did see the mermaid, although maybe it was just hunger and sun stroke
It was a really hot summers day in December, in the school holidays….You know when you are playing outside time goes so slow, and you’d walk through the Vlei from Cafda… you’re nine/ten years old… so me and a bunch of my friends walked there and were swimming there amongst the reeds… I think I blacked out… I probably needed some bread!

My grandma had told us stories of this mermaid who lives in the Vlei, but my image of what a mermaid is and what I saw there was completely different. Maybe it was just a floating reed. I was young, shocked, hungry, I don’t really know what I saw… before I went home I had to stand in the sun and wait for my pants to dry, otherwise my grandmother would see that I had been swimming.

I never told my grandma about seeing the mermaid because I was not supposed to go to the Vlei without my parents.

I’ve been close to Vlei for a long time, we used to have amazing times here, growing up. We used to come and braai there… we kids would play around in the water, making baskets, you know the sort of things kids do. They had this train with a tunnel, it was such an amazing thing to go into the tunnel, it was probably only about 2 metres, but it was like who-oo… I don’t know why they took it away… it was such a lekker thing… they want to take everything away to take away the Vlei, but the Vlei still looks strong, still looks good.

The Vlei memories shone through the bad times…

The memories of growing up near the Vlei inspired me to paint. Because no matter what happened economicwise or familywise, the vlei was one place people went and had a good time, the sun would set, and I remember the fires and the braais going on, music playing, people were happy.

You knew when you went home there’d be skelling about no money for this or that, or not enough to eat, but while we were here at the vlei people had a great time. Amongst all the negatives, all the things that ill-treat a lot of people in this area, coming here to the Vlei was the one memory that shone through, and you knew if you could focus on that, you could survive, you could make it through.

The Princess has much to teach us…

They definitely should not build a mall here, it should be national park which people can appreciate without someone wanting anything back. If you go to a place that’s man-made, there is always something you have to give back, or something that they want in return. The Vlei doesn’t ask for anything… you can imagine being around here at the time of the Khoisan when the animals were roaming… so it is a link to that time. In the system we live in, everything that is given to you expects something in return, I give you this, you give something back, but the Vlei just gives joy for nothing in return… And you can teach that thing, that generosity of the vlei, to generations to come….

The Vlei can teach kids you don’t have live tied to that way, that thing that you have to step on some-one else to get what you want, if you live in community where you give without expecting something back, everyone can grow.

There is much around kids now, … there are so many influences … they need a space like this, they need that kind of stability offered by the Vlei.

Not just the kids, the old people too, when they come here they can remember being kids, remember being being barefoot …You need to walk barefoot, to be close to the ground you walk on, close to your heritage. But you can’t walk barefoot in a mall, if you have no shoes you’re not allowed in.

On his painting

My design here is influenced by what you find in nature, like the lines on leaves and the contour lines, the lines of tadpoles in the mud, so I feel this encompasses how I imagine the Princess, and its also linked to the imagery of Khoisan Rock paintings. The blue is the sky and the water, the other colours are earth colours. I used spiritual colours to show the connection through earth. I’ve painted it on a groundsheet, so its got footprints and whatever marks were on it.

I’m just painting what I feel about the place, without being too cheesy - you want to keep youth interested so you have to find ways to talk about it, don’t want to go too off too far.

On growing up

I grew up in Cafda. My Mom’s family is from Steenberg, my Dad is from Cafda, we eventually moved to Mitchell’s Plain although we waited ten years for a house there … in travelling between these areas, you got to see a lot of different neighbourhoods.

So I was kind of stuck between the two families… you know, in Cafda they drink beer, Steenberg they drink tea. Dad is very Khoisan looking, my Mom more English, with long English hair. At one time my Dad was actually banned from my mom by the family…

On hair

When I grew up, my hair was crew cut, that was the order of the day, no matter what you said, jou hare moet kort wees… At one stage my mom made her hair into an afro with curlers and a perm, but my dad could only grow an afro.

A remember my grandmother in the kitchen ironing her hair for church… she’d put brown paper over it… I can still remember the smell of the hair burning… that was before WELLA came in. When WELLA came in the whole house smelt… you’d be like, who died? All these weird things we took to because of the system.