Activists campaigning for the protection of the Philippi Horticultural Area (PHA) picketed at a lunch at the Press Club in Spin Street last week.
It was surreal as about 20 picketers stood around the tiny room, banners held high, as guests tucked into wine, grilled fish, rice and salad, possibly grown in the PHA. One guest was overheard reminding a picketer to have some water before they left.
The picketers gathered from all over the greater Cape Town to demand that guest speaker MEC for Environmental Affairs, Anton Bredell, protect the Cape Flats Aquifer, to stop selling PHA land to developers and big businesses and to stop proposals for the implementation of desalination.
Mr Bredell spoke about the drought in South Africa, specifically focusing on the Western Cape, saying this had been the worst drought since 1983 and it would not go away with the first winter rains. “People need to understand that we’re in a drought, so if it starts to rain it’s not to say all of a sudden it’s going to be over. And desalination is not the immediate solution to Cape Town’s worsening water crisis,” said Mr Bredell. “The process would be a costly affair.”
Although not dismissing the idea entirely, he said desalination, which is the process of removing salt from seawater, “was a last resort”.
Before the talk, PHA campaigner Nazeer Sonday, said they wanted to ask Mr Bredell why he was talking about desalination. “Instead he should be saving the aquifer and the water resources that we already have.”
Mr Sonday said the 635 square km Cape Flats Aquifer is the only part of the 3 000ha PHA that has not yet been developed.
The PHA is the highest vegetable-producing area per hectare in the country – largely due to the Cape Flats Aquifer that irrigates these crops and also has the potential to provide 30 percent of the city’s potable water.
“But if this is not managed properly and recharged, it will be a disaster for food and water security and future generations,” said Mr Sonday.
Riyaaz Ismail, of Bellville, said the PHA was drought resistant because of the aquifer. “All farmers use this resource. Any plans to develop the land which the province has given assent for, will result in an environmental crime and disaster. Currently the PHA grows vegetables for the Western Cape and also for the rest of the country when other areas experience drought,” he said.
Annette Muller, of Cape Town CBD, said she believed it was wrong for developers to “line their pockets” for short-term gain, while Michael Julie, of Zeekoevlei, pointed out that few people realised where their food came from. “If we don’t protect the Cape Flats Aquifer it will lead to food and water insecurity,” he said.
He was concerned that Mr Bredell was supporting developers and (silica, sand) mining to pave over the recharge zone which would destroy the aquifer.
“If they take too much water from an aquifer, it might destabilise the ground and salt water will push in from the sea,” he said.
Another Zeekoevlei resident, Bridget Pitt, was actively involved in preventing the building of a shopping mall on the banks of Princess Vlei. “We realised the importance of wetlands and looking after water as a resource; now we need to look after the PHA, which feeds the Cape Flats Aquifer, and not allow inappropriate use,” she said.
She added there are other consequences to losing Cape Town’s food garden. “If produce has to be transported further from its end-use it will mean more electricity, transport – all of that uses water and impacts on climate change.”
Moosa Nikani, of Philippi, felt the destruction of the city’s “food basket”for financial gain was inhumane and would destroy the area’s ecosystem and people’s livelihood.
“Leave the area alone and maintain the aquifer. There are plenty of other areas closer to the city to build houses,” he said.
Lute Jowell, a landscaper from Kommetjie, agreed that “we cannot play around with the aquifer” and must come up with sustainable solutions. “Water is not a finite resource. We need to re-think lawns, create kitchen gardens using grey water, have permeable surfaces. California has been doing this for 30 years,” he said.
* Dr Kevin Winter of UCT’s Future Water Institute says the idea of abstracting water stored in the Cape Flats Aquifer (CFA) is nothing new. However, the science of managing the process and risks to the integrity of natural wetland and surface systems are not well understood.
In theory, a managed aquifer recharge could augment non- drinking water requirements. The highest volume of storage capacity is found in the northern parts of the Cape Flats Aquifer followed by areas such as Philippi and Mitchell’s Plain. Injecting stormwater to selective regions within this aquifer would require a substantial investment in new infrastructure.
Director of the Press Club, Joylene van Wyk, said this was was the first time they had a demonstration at an event. She applauded the protesters for being well behaved and allowing them to have their briefing after which she allowed them to ask questions.
* For more information about the Philippi Horticultural Area contact Nazeer Sonday at email@example.com