Heritage protection for iconic Princess Vlei

Volunteers at Princess Vlei.

Provincial Heritage Status will be another step in bringing long-term protection, public and private investment to Princess Vlei, believes the Princess Vlei Forum (PVF).

The Greater Princess Vlei Conservation Area in Retreat was one of five sites which received heritage status from Heritage Western Cape at the end of Heritage Month in September.

The other sites are Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, Freedom Square in Bonteheuwel, the Gugulethu 7 Memorial and the Langa Pass Office.

PVF spokesperson Bridget Pitt said they are delighted with the news.

“Concerned communities and representatives of the Princess Vlei Forum, have been actively lobbying to raise awareness of the cultural, social and ecological value of the area, since its formation in 2012,” said Ms Pitt.

The first victory was in 2014, when the City of Cape Town agreed to withdraw plans to build a shopping mall on the eastern shore.

“Gaining heritage status represents another very significant community victory in the drive to win long-term protection for this iconic site.

“Although neglected by the authorities, Princess Vlei has long been cherished by the community for its aesthetic, cultural, spiritual, recreational and biodiversity values,” said Ms Pitt.

Generations of families from all over the Cape Flats have visited Princess Vlei for braais and picnics, and hundreds have been baptised there.

“It is home to three endangered vegetation systems, and several species of birds and other creatures. The legend of the Princess, and geological evidence of early human occupation, links the area to our city’s Khoe heritage. It is an outdoor classroom for hundreds of school learners each year,” said Ms Pitt.

The PVF has been actively promoting these values, by raising funds to employ a full-time manager, and to embark on a five-year plan to restore the indigenous fynbos on site, including over 50 endangered or extinct endemic species.

“Over 3 500 square metres have been restored to date,” said Ms Pitt.

She said since 2012, they have been compiling evidence of the site’s heritage value through interviews, oral history projects, surveys and workshops.

Last year Heritage Western Cape appointed Quahnita Samie from Vida Memorial Heritage consultants to facilitate the application.Ms Pitt said: “While the City is now endeavouring to invest resources in the site, thanks in particular to the ongoing commitment by ward councillor Kevin Southgate, the site has suffered severe neglect historically. This is primarily because of its location in low-income neighbourhoods, and because it was declared a ‘non white’ recreational area during the apartheid era.

Gaining Provincial Heritage status will be another step in bringing the public and private investment and protection merited by this iconic space.”

Mr Southgate congratulated the PVF and the greater community on the announcement of the heritage status.

“Since the decision by the City not to support the proposal to develop a mall on the land the City has committed itself to the upgrading of the facility. This started with the signing of a Memorandum of Association (MOA) between the City and the Princess Vlei Forum and the drafting of a conceptual plan, called the ‘People’s Plan’ for the upgrade and development of the park.”

Mr Southgate said for the past five years the City has invested millions of rands into the facility, which includes enhancing the entrance with wing walls, giving it some character. “This also included the installation of a new paved parking area and signage at the facility. This was followed by the installation of a lookout platform, new braai facilities with seating, a play park, and a new grassed area for picnicking all of which has been funded through ward allocation budget.”

The City has also invested in security at Princess Vlei with the appointment of 24-hour Park Rangers. “This year we are continuing our investment with the installation of bird lookout posts so people can experience the rich birdlife in the area.

“We are currently busy with the next phase, which is the installation of a board-walk around the park which will include the area around the Eco Centre which is fondly remembered by the community as ‘Galaland’.

“Thousands of rand have already been spent on the conceptual design and layout of the boardwalk. More recently the community and the PVF have identified the need for fencing which now has to be incorporated into the plan.

As the ward councillor I am committed to ensuring that the Princess Vlei Park is developed into a facility that will enhance the rich heritage of the space and add value to the lives of our communities for generations to come,” said Mr Southgate.

Anroux Marais, Western Cape MEC of Cultural Affairs and Sport, emphasised the importance of protecting sites that hold cultural and historical significance: “These sites have a rich history to the province but also to the communities in which they are situated. In many instances, the sites hold narratives highlighting the resilient spirit of the people of our country. It is of utmost importance that we continue to protect these sites and that communities look after the sites to preserve them for generations to come.”

Plaques or notice boards indicating the heritage status will be unveiled at the various sites.