The proposed commercial development of Princess Vlei, an urban wetland situated in the city of Cape Town, Africa, has been scrapped.

Cape Town Listens, Scraps Idea to Develop Sacred Area

Linda Daniels

A ten-year campaign to save an urban wetland in the city of Cape Town, South Africa from the development of a shopping mall has finally borne fruit with the announcement by government that the proposed commercial development, would be scrapped once and for all.

The wetland, known as Princess Vlei, has a cultural resonance with local people who point to the vlei as a sacred space marking their indigenous ancestry. The vlei has been used for ceremonies, including baptism and more generally for recreation. During the Apartheid regime, when the movement of persons of color was restricted, Princess Vlei was one of the few recreational spaces available to people of color.

RELATED: Saving Princess Vlei – an Urban Wetland in South Africa

 Princess Vlei, according to a popular legend, was actually so named after a local princess.

According to the legend, a Khoi San Princess once lived with her family in the Elephant's eye Cave on Constantiaberg in Cape Town, a city on the tip of the African continent.

Every morning she would walk down the mountain and swim in one of the necklace of sparkling vleis at the base of the mountain. One morning tragedy struck and the princess was kidnapped by Portugese sailors, the first ever to round Cape Point in their attempts to establish direct trade relations with the far east.

Her tears at the violation she endured, created the smallest vlei in the string of wetlands, known ever since as Princess Vlei. The legend was part of what informed a robust community led campaign to save the wetland from commercial development.

The Princess Vlei Forum, made up of volunteers, was established to lead the campaign. The Forum argued that the land was of historical significance to the indigenous Khoisan people – the descendants of whom live near the vlei – and that the land itself lies in the endangered Cape Flats biome.

According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) website, South Africa's Western Cape Province, which is where Princess Vlei is located, is more “botanically diverse than the richest tropical rainforest in South America, including the Amazon.”

The commercial development on a portion of the vlei has been on the cards for over a decade and in 2009 the proposed sale of the wetland was rejected by the city government. However, this was overturned by the provincial government and sparked fury among Princess Vlei supporters. The Princess Vlei Forum also alleged fraud and corruption was part of the proposed shopping mall development deal and this led to a high level independent investigation.


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