“Princess Vlei has always been a place …where the bird life with its joyful sounds soothes the sometimes angry inner soul.”
– Phillip Bam
We all need a place to soothe our “angry inner souls” – but most of Cape Town’s citizens are housed in bleak, neglected estates or informal settlements, far from areas of natural beauty. This in itself is a good reason to rehabilitate and conserve the vlei, as one of the last remaining havens of nature on the Cape Flats. But there are many other compelling reasons to save it from destructive development:
The Princess is our heritage: The vlei is named after a Khoisan princess, who legend tells us was abducted by Portuguese sailors while bathing in her waters. The Khoisan were Cape Town’s earliest inhabitants, forcibly enslaved or driven out by those who came later. And yet, we have no sites in Cape Town that keep alive this vital part of our history. Building a shopping mall on this iconic site would be yet another act of callous disrespect to this important cultural heritage.
The Princess is our history: when people classified as coloured and black were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats by group areas, this was the one of the few natural places they could come to relax and enjoy picnics with their families. Since people were denied access to the beaches, Princess Vlei become known as “Claremont beach” and “Gala land.” It is also the place where generations of people from the surrounding townships have been baptised.
The Princess is our future: The vlei offers a venue where Capetonians from all walks of life can enjoy nature together. Located between formerly coloured and white areas, it is perfectly situated to overcome historical divisions and bring people together.
The Princess Vlei also has a vital role to play in conserving our natural environment. As human pressure on natural resources increases, our continued existence is under threat if we do not find a way to live more sustainably. A sustainable city is one that works closely with nature, nurturing biodiversity and allowing natural systems such as wetlands to live and breath.
The Princess Vlei is an important area of biodiversity, and it provides vital ecosystem services, such as purifying water and flood management. But it also has a critical role to play as nature’s ambassador. Many of our city’s children have little opportunity to connect with nature. Urban nature sites such as the Princess Vlei provide our children with a place to learn about and learn to love nature. Without this opportunity, they will not value it. Nature in Cape Town and beyond can never survive unless the majority of our citizens appreciate its value and are committed to conserving it.
Besides the good reasons for conserving Princess Vlei, there are also compelling reasons for saying no to yet another shopping mall. This will destroy local business, and deprive local communities of income and jobs, diverting their money into the pockets of retail giants. Small, locally based retail operations give livelihoods to far more people.
The Princess Vlei Forum’s community activities, and the People’s Plan, have shown us what richness a living breathing vlei can bring to Cape Town. They speak for themselves… Say No to the Mall! Say Yes to the Princess!