Cape Town - The City of Cape Town has done an about-turn on its decision to sell part of Princess Vlei to mall developers, putting an end to a contentious issue that has dragged on for more than 15 years.
The city told Weekend Argus exclusively that it would on Saturday announce its decision to shelve the proposed mall, adjacent car park and taxi rank.
The plans were strongly opposed by environmental lobby groups and residents of neighbouring working-class suburbs who use the green area for ceremonies and recreation.
The development of the land, which is of historical significance to the Khoisan and lies in the endangered Cape Flats fynbos biome, had been in the offing since Insight Property Developers tried to buy it from the city in 1998.
Today’s announcement is likely to be welcomed by environmental groups such as the Princess Vlei Forum, and will put an end to their stand-off with the city, which had the final say after the provincial government gave the deal the green light.
The forum opposed the development of the vlei due to its rich environmental, cultural and historical significance.
Deputy mayor Ian Neilson said on Friday the city had been searching for alternatives before announcing an official halt to the project.
“The city has been in discussion with the prospective developers of the land over the past year to investigate alternatives. We have come to the conclusion that, notwithstanding the zoning that has been achieved for the development, the only workable option would be for the city to cancel the proposed sale.
“Our own valuation of the social value of the land surrounding Princess Vlei, and its potential for enhanced social benefit, has led us to the conclusion that a different vision is required for the land, a vision that we look forward to developing with our residents.”
Insight Property Developers would be compensated for cancellation of the project, although the city was unable to provide an exact figure as it said some legal issues remained outstanding.
Neilson said the city believed the amount would be acceptable to both parties.
The wetland is steeped in Khoisan legend. It is named after a Khoisan princess who, according to legend, was abducted by Portuguese sailors while she bathed in the waters of the vlei. It was also one of the few natural areas coloured people could visit after the apartheid government relocated them to the Cape Flats.
The Cape Town Biodiversity Network listed the vlei as part of its network in 2008 after a study found it contained unique Cape Flats dune strandveld and sand fynbos.
The proposed sale of the wetland was rejected by the city in 2009, but the provincial government overturned the decision.
The city then agreed to sell off a portion of the land late last year, sparking fury from communities.
Allegations of fraud and corruption by the forum, which claimed there were “serious irregularities” about the sale and its approval, led to an investigation by the Hawks and the deal was put on hold.
The lobby to end the development plans was boosted in September when Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu threw his weight behind the preservation of Princess Vlei in a letter to the forum.
“I would like to express my support for the campaign to save the greater Princess Vlei area from the inappropriate development of a shopping mall, and for its protection in perpetuity as a nature and heritage park. Princess Vlei is a valuable place for citizens to come to be close to God and nature, to find peace and to build family and community,” he said.
“It is a much-loved gathering place for communities from surrounding areas. Before the Group Areas Act, landowners of all races lived on its banks. Let us stop destroying our beautiful world for the sake of short-term profit. Let us use our laws to safeguard our natural and cultural heritage.”
Saturday’s announcement paves the way for the forum to continue its own project to revitalise the land, “Dressing the Princess”.
The project aims to restore Princess Vlei after years of neglect by authorities, with plans that include setting up a Khoisan Village to teach people more about the indigenous culture, an outdoor market, an eco-friendly park for children, and hiking trails.