Before the arrival of European settlers, it was a watering ground for early Khoi herders. The first encounter between these herders and Europeans was with the battle against Fransisco D’Almeida, which has been linked to the legend of a Princess. The legend goes; that this Khoisan Princess was abducted by Portuguese sailors while bathing in its waters.
During the years of Apartheid, it became one of the few natural Areas that people of colour could visit, after they were forcibly removed by the Government to Housing Estates on the Cape Flats. This Vlei was severely neglected by the authorities, and became further degraded when a road was built through it, with little regard for conserving its ecology!
The Khoi and the San were Cape Town’s earliest inhabitants, forcibly enslaved or driven out by those who came later. The Vlei remains an important site for celebrating and memorialising this Heritage by many Khoi cultural revivalist groups. When theses people classified as coloured and black were forcibly removed to the Cape Flats by group areas, this was the one of the few natural places they could come to relax and enjoy picnics with their families. Since people were denied access to the beaches, Princess Vlei become known as 'Claremont beach' or 'Gala land'.
It has long been used as a place for water immersion Baptism. Church groups come every Sunday from Nyanga, Gugulethu, Philippi….At Easter, they come from as far afield as Gauteng, baptising hundreds in a morning. Many others come to the vlei to be close to God and nature.
The vlei offers a venue where local Capetonians from all walks of life can enjoy nature together. Located between formerly coloured and white Areas, it is perfectly situated to build community, overcome Historical divisions and bring people together.
The Vlei provides a valuable public space to communities facing socio-economic challenges in highly urbanised environments. This space reconnects urbanised communities with nature, and an outdoor classroom where youngsters can experience and develop an appreciation of and love for nature.
The Princess Vlei provides a habitat for many plants and animal species and nurtures biodiversity. As human pressure on natural resources increases, our continued existence is under threat if we do not find a way to live more sustainably. The sustainable City of Cape Town, works closely with nature, nurturing biodiversity and allowing natural systems such as wetlands to exist!
After 12 years of being in the the placement of an official Heritage Site; a plaque has been laid at the Princess Vlei. This declares that Princess Vlei is a Provincial Heritage Site. This occurred on Tuesday 12 October.