A heritage site?

The vlei.

Princess Vlei might soon be listed alongside the Castle of Good Hope, Robben Island and the Cradle of Humankind as a heritage site.

An official submission has been made to classify the wetlands as a heritage site and residents, organisations and stakeholders have an opportunity to share their views, opinions or ideas as part of the public participation process that started on Tuesday February 25 and will end on Monday April 27.

A heritage site is a location, building, landscape, site or structure that has either natural, military, cultural, historical or political heritage value.

The vlei has been in the spotlight since 2012 when there were plans to build a shopping centre on the site.

The community rallied to voice their disapproval of the plans and the Princess Vlei Forum (PVF), a non-profit organisation, was started to petition against the vlei being commercially developed.

In 2014, the City announced that the developers’ plans were scrapped and that the site would be preserved.

PVF comprises people and organisations who ensure the ongoing conservation of the Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area for the benefit of communities and nature and have been pivotal in the environmental preservation and restoration of the vlei.

The vlei is a gateway to the wetlands system, and runs through Grassy Park, purifying water before it runs to the sea.

According to local legend, the vlei was named after a Khoisan Princess who was abducted by Portuguese sailors while bathing in its waters.

During apartheid, after the forced removals, it became one of the few natural areas that coloured people could visit – now the quest to make the vlei a historical site on record will hopefully insure that no future commercial development will take
place.

PVF deputy chairperson Gary Stewart said the forum had been calling for the status to be changed for many years.

“The vlei is at a prime location along the M5 and is a beautiful area. There is always a risk that it could become under threat again by developers. To declare it a heritage site will ensure the preservation of the area and the forum will continue to the environmental restoration of the vlei,” said Mr Stewart.

Hethankedorganisations, residents, stakeholders and the wider community for their part in keeping the vlei safe and encouraged them to take part in the public participation process.

Ward councillor Kevin Southgate said the heritage classification would add value to the vlei.

“There is a lot of historical and cultural significance and would be worth pursuing by the local community and the PVF. It is a very good idea,” he said.

Mr Southgate also encouraged people to take part in the public participation process.

Chief John Jansen, chairperson of the Western Cape Council of Cocoqua Khoi-Khoi Tribal House, said communities faced extreme social and historical challenges such as loss of identity, land, resources and way of life.

“We need the restoration of our cultural and ecological heritage in order to rebuild a semblance of our past to ensure our children’s future. The restoration of Princess Vlei through national heritage status can abate the social ills plaguing our communities and ensure the future of our children,” he said.

Retreat resident Anthony de Rosa said the vlei’s classification as a heritage site added character and uniqueness to the community.

“Heritage is fundamental in creating a sense of place for a community and that is also why it’s so important for it to be classified as such so that we can find a sense of pride in the vlei again.

“I’m not saying people are not proud of their local history but they don’t always express how much they value a place until it’s threatened – which was the case when the developers wanted to cement over the vlei to create a shopping centre,” said Mr De Rosa.

He added: “I am elated that the Khoi and Coloured people, with the help of organisations and activists, have been taking a stand to not allow our heritage be flushed down the drain.”

Quahnita Samie, a consultant for Vidamemoria, a heritage consulting firm that conducts heritage site nominations and declarations, was appointed by Heritage Western Cape to oversee the nomination and declaration of Princess Vlei as a provincial heritage site. She said the process was well under way.

“Thus far we have nominated the site, presented to the relevant committee at Heritage Western Cape and engaged the owner – City of Cape Town. The next step is to undertake a 60-day commenting period where interested and affected parties can comment on the proposed nomination, lodge support or objections,” said Ms Samie.

Copies of the nomination dossier have been placed at Grassy Park, Retreat, Southfield and Plumstead libraries for the community’s perusal.

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