Cape Town’s waterways (rivers and vleis) are cleaner and more navigable than they were last year, a group of intrepid paddlers concluded after undertaking the third annual Peninsula Paddle on Sunday 3 June.
A group of enthusiastic paddlers aged between 14 and 70, led by route pioneers Kevin Winter and Alistair Lee, set off at dawn from Muizenberg on the Indian Ocean on canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle (SUP) boards and navigated through a labyrinth of vleis, canals and rivers to Woodstock Beach on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean, before entering the Milnerton Lagoon and finishing at the old wooden bridge.
The colourful annual event, initiated in 2010, seeks to raise awareness about the importance of the many waterways connecting the city’s 3.7 million residents in a spirit of goodwill and celebration, under the theme ‘Take back the City’s waterways’. The event attracted a core group of about 23 paddlers, with the number of participants swelling to 42 along the Zandvlei stretch of the route. It took the paddlers nine and a half hours to complete the 27km route which meandered through nature reserves, light industrial areas, recreational areas, residential estates and marinas.
Issues highlighted include invasive water weeds, litter and water quality
While participants were impressed with the rich variety of birdlife at Zandvlei Estuary Nature Reserve and Princess Vlei, they cautiously made their way through the connecting canals between these vleis where used nappies, building rubble, old curtains and tyres replaced birds and reeds. Many of the residents who spoke with paddlers along the way expressed their discouragement over the attitudes of some residents who continue to throw rubbish and waste over their property walls into the canal system.
While it is evident that there is still much work to be done to drastically improve the state of our Peninsula waterways, the paddlers were encouraged to see some of the recent progress in terms of river rehabilitation work undertaken by the City of Cape Town and various groups and individuals.
Louise Stafford of the City’s Invasive Alien Species Management Programme, who supported the event, stated that large tracts of the alien-invasive water hyacinth that previously blocked sections of the route have been removed since February this year, particularly in the area between Athlone and Salt River. This rehabilitation activity forms part of the aquatic weed clearing work that has been done through the Kader Asmal Project which has also resulted in skills development and job creation, with several river wardens having now been appointed to control alien vegetation along two-kilometre tracts of the Liesbeek and Black rivers.
Water samples taken at Princess Vlei and Zandvlei by Dr Kevin Winter, lead researcher in Urban Water Management at UCT, showed only trace elements, barely detectable – an improvement on last year’s results. Says Winter: “As citizens, we are all connected to these waterways and the quality of these waterways affects not only the environmental health of our City, but also the opportunities they offer. The citizens of Cape Town will know that they have taken back the city’s waterways only when it is safe to do. Then they can remove their protective safety masks (worn along certain stretches of the route) and paddle in waters that do not pose a health risk.”
As part of the event’s awareness-raising programme along the route, several environmental groups and a local forum organised a series of activities at Princess Vlei for learners from four local Lavender Hill schools. Learners enthusiastically paddled around the vlei in inflatable boats and also heard about the significance of aquatic ecosystems, the history of the vlei and pending threats to the area. Poems were read, rap songs created, stories told and trees planted as part of the celebrations. The activities at Princess Vlei served to highlight the importance of wetlands, waterways and recreational spaces in this area of natural beauty and local heritage which is currently threatened by development.
Endurance swimmer, maritime lawyer and environmental campaigner Lewis Pugh (‘The Human Polar Bear’) joined the group on the final leg of the paddle. He voiced concern about the large number of plastics emitted from storm water drains and rivers into the ocean. Pugh said that these journeyed deep out to sea and were a hazard to seabirds while also being an eyesore.
Also joining the colourful flotilla was veteran hard line investigative journalist and Carte Blanche presenter, Derek Watts. The award-winning programme is expected to highlight the plight of the city’s waterways in a future episode of the popular television programme.
The event also attracted the support of councillors from areas through which watercourses flowed, including Ward 72 Councillor for Grassy Park, Steenberg and Southfield, Jan Burger; Ward 58 Councillor for Rondebosch, Mowbray, Rosebank and Claremont, Councillor Matthew Kempthorne and Ward 49 councillor for the Athlone Area Councillor Suzette Little.
The spirit of the event was overwhelmingly positive, festive and educational. Even paddlers who experienced challenges, such as a punctured inflatable boat, retained their sense of humour to the very end.
Peninsula Paddle 2012 was collaboratively organised and supported by a number of individuals and organisations, including Friends of the Liesbeek, Zandvlei Trust, AfriOceans, BEN (Bicycling Empowerment Network), the Princess Vlei Forum, Gravity Adventures, the City of Cape Town’s WasteWise programme, SANBI, the Southern African Young Water Professionals (Western Cape) and WESSA.
Details of the 2013 Peninsula Paddle event will be announced via media and published on the website closer to the time. Visit http://peninsulapaddle.wordpress.com
Peninsula Paddle is now an annual Cape Town event, held to coincide with World Environment Day (5 June) celebrations each year. The event aims to raise awareness of major social and environmental concerns that affect the Cape Peninsula, to highlight the need for rehabilitation; and to encourage communities to change the way in which waterways are utilised. The first paddle was pioneered by Thomas Cousins, Kevin Winter, Alistair Lee and Trevor Johnston on 23 May 2010 who paddled through the intricate network of waterways stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. The idea was to raise awareness about the waterways while collecting water samples at various points along the way. Never before had this been attempted.
Media release: Peninsula Paddlers take on the City’s waterways
Cape Town, 5 June 2012
contacts for further information:
Catherine Ritchie (WESSA) – for general event information
Tel 021 701 1397 or email
Dr Kevin Winter (Friends of the Liesbeek) – for water quality related information
Tel 021 650 2875 or email