‘Understand the issues, don’t get emotional’

In the current debate over the state of Zandlvlei, Marina resident David Rogers stands out as a man worth listening to. A respected author, photographer, educator, and conservation activist, he combines passion and astute insights with hands-on action. We recently asked him for his personal opinions on how to resolve a crisis that affects all of us. His answers make for a substantial read – and it’s well worth the time.

We recently came across some back copies of the Marina News from the late 1990s. They feature articles with headlines such as Where, Oh Where, Has Our Kingfisher Gone?!  (February 1998) and Our Sad Waterways (March/April 1999). So, one might argue that crises such as the one we are currently experiencing are cyclical and there’s always an upturn. On the other hand, others argue that the situation on our waterways is now reaching the downward point of no return. What is your assessment?

My feeling is that the council is hamstrung by inefficiency and by infighting. Keeping the Kingfisher going is not rocket science and any good engineer could have it repaired in days. The problems are compounded by other issues which are affecting the quality of the waterways including sewerage leaks and inadequate management of the mouth. It’s one small thing in a whole chain of issues that makes it appear that our neighbourhood is not being managed. This affects the values of our properties. The whole Kingfisher fiasco should be picked apart as it’s a real SNAFU of bad management that should not happen again.

What does your list of the most urgent priorities look like? Diverting the Sand River? Deploying a new Kingfisher? Dredging the vlei mouth? 

For me they are all important. What matters to me most is that we are kept abreast of
developments. We need a Dream of Zandvlei communication that can keep the hope alive that issues are being managed. People are playing stuff too close to their chests. We need timelines to be in place and accountability. I was pleased to hear that R32 million is being budgeted for sewerage repairs and that finding funds for fixing our pipes is being allocated. Let’s hope that the work is being done well and the money has been properly spent. The new pump station, the recycling plant at Parklands are all extremely positive. There are massive numbers of people moving into Cape Town and the way they are getting rid of their litter is affecting us hugely. The city cannot cope with the
influx. Each one of these issues needs to be attended to. It’s a hugely expensive exercise but cannot be ignored. 

Like it or not, the City of Cape Town (CoCT) will be part of any viable solution to Zandvlei’s current crisis. So, like it or not, we must learn to handle the sometimes paralysing bureaucracy this will inevitably expose us to. What buttons do you think ordinary residents can push to ensure that our concerns do not simply disappear into a tangle of red tape?

I have travelled all over Africa and seen very poorly run government conservation entities propped up by private concerns. We need to empower and support but also realise that, ultimately, we need to take control of the situation if we want first world service. In the same way that medical, education, security are now all being run in South Africa by private entities, the same is true of conservation. We cannot rely on government to address our issues when they have so many other issues. So we need to survive in spite of them. I believe that CoCT is, in the most part, keen to do the right thing. But it’s a bureaucracy where things move slowly and get bogged down in bottleneck areas. They need us — private people — to give them a good shake up every now and again.

One reality we have to factor in is that CoCT is extremely concerned with achieving clean audits. This can result in the type of frustrating delays we recently experienced with repairs to the current Kingfisher. Do you have a message for the politicians when it comes to balancing clean audits with efficient action?

I get this. It’s probably the same reason we are taking so long to get our COVID-19 vaccines sorted. Ultimately, pollution needs to become a government priority. There is no visible education of kids, street signs, politicians backing clean-ups. Perhaps we can start with the willingness of councillors to put their necks out. I liked the idea of getting the Mayor to set a target to come and swim in the Marina. 

Partnerships are equally important to finding viable solutions. Where do you see potential for local alliances?

I thought that Kevin Winter from UCT would be a good guy to bring in. He has science to back him up and also is good at getting funding and people to work together. Also, well-qualified science can get us international funding. There are great opportunities to work together. A well structured committee, without egos, with science behind it and really good administrators is essential to management. There is so much at stake. 

How do you see local structures such as the Zandvlei Protected Areas Advisory Committee (ZPAAC) fitting in here?

This must be a very important body to bring together all stakeholders and put pressure on the council in the best way possible. It has been dormant for too long. There are too many people and organisations, myself included, that are operating in isolation. The problem is that ZPAAC has gone dormant in recent years and also needs an injection of new blood to get things going. It has been talking about the same things for years. 

Of course, many of our residents and neighbours want to make a personal contribution towards protecting our environment. What advice would you give to people who want to do their bit?

Firstly, we all need to understand the issues and try not to be emotional. The ZPAAC is an important body to help drive these initiatives. We need to report sewerage leaks through the proper channels, Lise Carswell, the MDGA’ ExCom’s Environment portfolio holder, and also be practical. It’s very important that we communicate better, to residents, between various groups and between all these stakeholders and council. Much good work is going on and news is going through.

You are actively involved in mobilising residents through your Facebook group Friends of Zandvlei & Litter Clean ups. Can you give us some background to your aims and initiatives and how people can join you?

My thought was to get people to help with clean ups and I have posted information about facts and tried to get beyond perceptions. I am not an activist per se but I wanted to get communications out there about action. There are some really good people out there doing things individually who want to help. We need to work together. I have a background in news and journalism and think communication is really important. I like the way that MDGA has really improved its communications in recent months. We cannot do enough.

I was involved with a magazine from Finland that did a feature on Litter traps in South Africa. This Litter Nets organisation is now actively involved in Marina, I believe, and I introduced the magazine to Mike Ryder, who has been doing this work for a long time. He has done more on his own than any other person. 

He is an activist and, like other activists, he is going to make people uncomfortable and that is great. We can’t carry on thinking that everything is OK. Its hugely frustrating for him when the nets are not cleaned by contractors, which happened last year while they were waiting to appoint a team to do the work. Again, the council’s frustrating need for clean audits is creating terrible delays. We need to get teams that can be on standby — a sort of NSRI for the Marina. We need leggings, boots, full kit for people wanting to do this terrible clean-up work. 

You have also been involved in community education on litter. Are you aware of any work that is currently happening in this area?

No, I am not aware of any community education on litter.  I brought this up at the recent meeting with the council and was told “they tried this, it did not work”. This should be the job of local nature conservation and ZPAAC. There are groups such that are keen to get involved. For example, I have recently made contact with a local group of young activists – CAN, Climate Action Now – who are keen to get stuck in.

Schools, churches, mosques, please of worship, parents all need to get together. As Kyran Wright, who manages the Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve (ZENR), put it so well at a recent meeting: Marina da Gama is inheriting the problems of our catchment. Our failure to take responsibility for litter must have wider significance to people. Marina residents care about our neighbourhood dearly but we need to spread the net. I have visited places in the townships where people are living in rivers of sewerage. We are pretty fortunate that there is still something to save. We need to show people that by polluting, they are killing our wetlands and our seas and, ultimately, this will kill us all. It’s that simple. You can’t just chuck stuff over your shoulder into the street as we are going to eat that litter. 

We need also to be sensitive that it’s not just us. People in Cape Town have terrible litter issues.

We have a really great facility at Marina run by Cape Nature and it has been closed to education throughout the pandemic. We need to have more visible stuff going on. Get schools visiting, launch education initiatives. But they need to be fun. Soccer braais. Getting communities to work together.

There is also a brand new recycling facility at Parkland. That is huge. If people can get remunerated for picking up litter that is extremely important. These people are our heroes. Hundreds of people in Vrygrond could be put to work picking up litter.

There also needs to be a message from the top — from Ramaphosa, if need be. If we throw away litter we are killing our country. Law enforcement needs to be active too. If you litter you are fined. Why do our councillors not get more active in promoting litter clean-ups? They need to be there.  In Rwanda, every Sunday the entire population of this small country are obliged to clean up the streets outside their houses. The president included. We should have a regular litter day once a week when kids, parents, families, councillors and presidents all clean up the streets while being seen to do so. It would make such a difference to our society. If you throw stuff out your car, out your window, people should be in big trouble.

If you had a magic wand, what single change would you make to the way Zandvlei is managed?

We need to work together and not against one another. Lots of people doing lots of great work. Friends of Park Island, MDGA have done great work. Keep hope alive and communicate! Do not be petty and bitter, especially about what other people are doing. We need to get everyone on the same agenda working hard to keep things moving. 

Finally, do you have any good news about the vlei?

I love living in the Marina. We are really lucky to live where we do. I am seeing more birds than I have in the past two years, although 10 years ago there were a lot more. The water is cleaner and I do think that the vlei is recovering from the past two years. E-coli is way down, salinity is up and pondweed is growing. CoCT is dealing with leaks fast and we need to inform them in the correct way and quickly. The winter rains are coming, though, and we are going to need to be alert to storms bringing in litter and arrange clean-ups.

I think that Kyran is on the right track. But, like the Kingfisher repair, progress is frustratingly slow. We need to communicate the good news, set targets and move towards them. We need to support our council, find ways to work together, and get funding and effort to back-up what is happening.

Personal attacks are not going to help. We must keep hope and keep active. As Kevin Winter said, 20 years ago the canals in Amsterdam were in a shocking state. Now you can swim in them. Zandvlei is not a natural system and the canals must be rewilded soon so that the reeds are able to work as natural filters. Diverting the sand river, turning the canals into a system where nature can be allowed to use its natural cleaning processes is hugely important in this process.

With so many challenges ahead, perhaps it’s worth remembering the words of the social anthropologist, Margaret Mead, who once said: “Never doubt that a group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Litter bugged? Then WhatsApp 064 518 6503

If you share the widespread concerns over Zandvlei’s chronic litter problem but want to actually do something about it, then we suggest you add 064 518 6503 to your WhatsApp contact list. This number will connect you to Grace Coates, one of three local residents responsible for organising weekly litter clean-ups on the vlei.

marina-litter-clean-up

Grace helped set up the group after her fellow organiser, Anna Wade, originally pitched the idea on the Muizenberg Notice Board Facebook group during lockdown last June. Both organisers had already been involved in anti-litter drives elsewhere, Anna in the Cayman Islands and Grace in Taiwan. The pair were subsequently joined by a third organiser, Mike Rix.

marina-litter-clean-up

With so many people confined to their homes, the initial response from local residents was very encouraging. Many locals volunteered their time, and donations even enabled the organisers to reinforce the group’s voluntary efforts by employing people to work three-hour clean-up shifts. But with lockdown restrictions easing and more people returning to work, volunteer numbers have started to drop and donations have virtually dried up. “These days, around four or five volunteers take part in our mid-week clean-ups,” says Anna. “There are now 46 members in the WhatsApp group, but we are trying to get more members of the community involved in cleaning up the vlei. After all, if we don’t do it, who will?”

zandvlei-litter-clean-up

The clean-ups are timed according to the availability of people in the WhatsApp group. Currently, they normally happen on Wednesday or Thursday morning with evening clean-ups scheduled during the summer. There are also plans for a one-off Saturday clean-up when the time is right. Focus areas include the braai and entertainment areas along the Lakeside banks of the vlei and areas around the Zandvlei caravan park.

marina-litter

As Mike points out, the benefits of the clean-ups are not confined to physically removing litter. “Handling so much waste also helps to make people more sensitive to the problems it creates and encourages them to think about how they can help to offset those problems by, for example, making more environmentally aware choices when shopping. It’s all about taking personal responsibility.”

litter-zandvlei

Of course, not everyone is in a position to become an active member of the group. But you may consider making a donation towards re-employing people to work three-hour clean-up shifts. Again, Grace is your best point of contact on 064 518 6503.

marina-da-gama-litter

Marina canoeists excel in 2021 SA championships

This year’s SA Canoe Marathon Championships took place under classic Cape autumn skies over three days, starting last Friday and finishing on Sunday. The perfect weather combined with the high water levels on Zandvlei made for outstanding racing conditions.

According to Rob MacLean, one of the Marina residents who took part in the event: “Everyone stepped up to the mark. It was a world-class event in which world-class performances were turned in. Take, for example, the Senior Men’s K1 and K2 events, which involved no fewer than five current or former world champions. Or the women’s senior races, which featured an Olympic bronze medallist as well as a former U23 world champion.

“In the Masters’ category, there were multiple former world Masters’ champions. So, even though the baalies might be a bit longer in the tooth, so to speak, the competition among them was also of the highest standard.”

As for the Marina competitors, Graeme Solomon won gold in his K1 Masters’ category; Mike Halliday took silver in his Masters’ K2 category and came fifth in the K1 Masters’ category. Rob won gold in his Masters K1 category and bronze in the K2 categories. Battleridge resident Ommond Sivertsen was a top 10 finisher in his K1 Masters’ category while Hannah Solomon, Graeme’s daughter, finished fourth in the girls’ K1 Guppy category.

(For background: Masters’ categories are divided into five-year groupings starting at 35-39 years then 40-44 years all the way up to 70 plus years.)

As for latest sewerage spill, Rob says: “Because it occurred downstream from the main vlei and the Serpentine, where the southern-most turning buoys were, it had no impact on the competition nor on the competitors.”

Meanwhile, please join us in congratulating everyone who made this such a memorable sporting event!

Discovering community spirit’s mystical magic

Fairies in the Marina? Well, if Santa Claus visits us every December, why not?

Either way, Uitsig residents, Stew and Wendy West, went ahead and created their own
community fairy tree in Uitsig. Inspiration struck after the owls visited the family and their niblings took to searching for fairies in their garden with their chameleons. The Wests thought it would be fun to paint some doors on the tree outside and make it a safe home for the little folk.

marina-da-gama-owls

Several days later, someone added another feature to the tree and the rest is history… Every month or so, people continue to add new features. A few youngsters – and maybe the young at heart – also paint rocks or add little bits and pieces to the fairy refuge. Great fun!

Meanwhile, another community-minded Uitsig resident has hand-built a beautiful, sturdy
wooden bench and table set and generously donated it to neighbours for their pleasure and
enjoyment. The set is known as the local bush pub, and is helping to create an outdoor space where people can mingle safely. But you need to bring all your own food and drinks as they aren’t supplied. One local resident suggested that the bush pub actually came about as a way of getting husbands out of the house!

Stellar achiever Sindiwe still writing wrongs

National treasure and longstanding Marina resident, Sindiwe Magona – celebrated author, poet, playwright and motivational speaker – is making news again, this time with positive reviews of her latest novel, When the Village Sleeps.

Sindiwe was inspired to write the story after reading a report some years ago in our local
newspaper, The Echo, about a pregnant teenage girl who claimed she had deliberately maimed her unborn child because deformed babies received a higher social grant. “The report concluded by quoting a social worker, who said this behaviour was a growing trend in the townships,” recalls Sindiwe. “My immediate reaction was horror and blame. It took me a long time to see I was part of the problem – for doing nothing. That is why, by the time I embarked on the novel, which is part of my thesis, I could no longer lay my hands on the article that had sorrowed me for years.”

marina-da-gama-novellist

From her sorrow emerged a work that her publisher summarises as ‘a visionary novel about what the loss of identity and dignity do to a people afflicted by decades of brokenness. Told through the lives and spirits of four generations of amaTolo women, including The Old, who speak wisdom with ever-increasing urgency, it moves between the bustling township setting of Kwanele and the different rhythms of rural village life.’

In a revealing and fascinating Q&A on the Pan Macmillan South Africa website, Sindiwe is asked what lessons she hopes her readers will take from the novel. Her response: “That none of us can be a spectator in life; we all have innate abilities which are needed on earth to make life for all, a good life. In each generation, the cohort of parents have a duty to pass on to the succeeding generation what it received from the preceding one. The adults have a collective responsibility for the children of this country… They are ours in community and the distress in which the young wallow should be the business of the entire nation, not just the biological parents or guardians.”

For someone who claims to be a technophobe, Sindiwe’s ability to get her messages online would make her the envy of any 20-something social media fundi. Her personal website, in particular, is a rich source of insights into a remarkable personal journey that has taken her from an impoverished childhood under apartheid to her current position as writer-in-residence at the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

Along the way, Sindiwe passed her matric by correspondence, spent several years as a single parent of three children working as a domestic servant before graduating with a BA degree from the University of South Africa. From there, she left home to further her studies in America, where she eventually ended up spending over 25 years in various roles with the United Nations in New York. She ‘retired’ to Marina da Gama in 2003 and hasn’t stopped working ever since. The next achievement on her list is a PhD in Creative Writing from the UWC at the end of this year.

She already has a packed cabinet of awards and academic honours to her name, including South Africa’s highest presidential award, the Order of iKhamanga, and a publication list now featuring five novels alongside more than 150 other books, over 130 of them written for children.

Her publisher’s synopsis also points out that the novel is also a powerful call to respect the earth that nurtures human life, and to live in self-sufficiency and harmony with the environment and each other. Sindiwe would agree. “Being surrounded by so much peace, quiet and natural beauty makes the Marina a wonderful place to write,’ she says. “It really is Cape Town’s best-kept secret.”

At the same time, South African newspapers remain an endless source of stories very like the one that originally inspired When the Village Sleeps. Sindiwe’s response: “Clearly, the title of the book draws on the African proverb: it takes a village to raise a child. As South Africans, we have become that sleeping village and we must learn to respect ourselves. I sometimes wish we could just get our act together. But I love this country!”

  • When the Village Sleeps by Sindiwe Magona is published by Picador Africa, an imprint of Pan Macmillan South Africa. R290.

Read more, hear more
Read Sindiwe’s own thoughts on writing the latest novel: Sindiwe Magona on writing ‘When the Village Sleeps’ (timeslive.co.za).

Listen to Sindiwe chatting to Cape Talk’s Pippa Hudson: On the couch with Sindiwe Magona (capetalk.co.za)