‘Bountiful Bonteheuwel’: How nature can provide solutions to social ills
By Heather D’Alton
“Beautiful, bountiful, blessed Bonteheuwel.” These are probably not the words one would normally associate with the township in Cape Town. But in conservation circles, this is how Bonteheuwel is known, given the important role it’s playing in bringing people and nature together – to benefit each other.
According to Frances Taylor, Director of non-profit organisation, Communitree, it’s a beautiful place. But the community here faces many challenges, including gangsterism, drugs and other social ills.
Now a Fynbos corridor project, supported by the Table Mountain Fund (TMF), is helping existing good work in the neighbourhood. Communitree, enthusiastic and knowledgeable gardeners in David Profit Street in Bonteheuwel and other local groups have created the David Profit Peace Garden. This garden is turning a dumping ground and drugs haven into a space of love, healing, knowledge exchange, and a connection to nature. This garden has inspired other peace gardens in Belgravia and Somerset West, where the love for Fynbos follows.
“Please don’t give up hope on us.”
The Fynbos corridor project uses nature to address social ills. In Bonteheuwel, the retired women who garden here are now working with young vulnerable boys involved in gang activity to help care for the garden.
Taylor says during the interaction between the women and young boys, a mutual appreciation and understanding developed. “The ladies said to the boys: “We see you; we see when you stray and when you come back to us.” And the boys replied: “Please don’t give up hope on us.” This shows how these gardens have provided a way that people come together to form a very important social collective.”
Creating Fynbos corridors in the City of Cape Town
The project is aligned with the Fynbos Corridor Collaboration in the City of Cape Town, a partnership funded by the TMF. Fynbos corridors are being created throughout Cape Town – linking school and community gardens to public open spaces. Here Communitree has teamed up with urban greening organisations, Greenpop and Ingcungu.
Taylor says, “We concentrate on the movement that takes place between these Fynbos patches for insects and birds, like the Monkey Beetle.” These corridors are essential for the survival of pockets of high conservation value and include Critically Endangered habitat such as the once-abundant Cape Flats Sand Fynbos. Less than five percent remains today. In Bonteheuwel, the David Profit Peace Garden is being extended to form an insect corridor along a path that makes for safe passage from the local clinic through a previously neglected and unsafe park.
Using rivers as the backbone for corridors
Already 23 Fynbos gardens have been identified or developed to form the basis of the corridors.
Taylor says, “Rivers form the spine of the corridors. For example, there is a focus on the sunbird guild and Monkey Beetles’ movements between the Black River and the Liesbeek River.” These small beetles are important pollinators for a range of endemic plants. Another corridor exists along the southern trainline.
The gardens also bring communities closer to their environment, as is the case in Bonteheuwel, serving as interactive outdoor classrooms. “These Fynbos gardens bring Capetonian children and communities closer to their environment and equip them with the skills and knowledge to become lifelong stewards of their Fynbos.”
She adds, “The project is also an experiment in cross-community collaboration and connection. So through these corridors, we’ve managed to develop cross community collaboration, given that it often takes time to build trust between communities.”
Nature as a solution to social ills
Kerry Maree, the Table Mountain Fund’s Manager, agrees that nature can provide social solutions, as is the case in the Fynbos Corridor Collaboration. “The Table Mountain Fund is about empowering people to provide solutions to environmental challenges. But it is also about unlocking the potential of the environment as a solution to some of our social ills.”
In fact, this people-centred approach forms a central theme in the TMF’s new conservation strategy (2019-2024) – with a focus on people and communities living within the Cape Floral Region. The TMF actively funds projects that provide these dual benefits. The fund has spent R90-million to support 350 projects since its inception in 1998.
Maree says, “Now that the TMF has turned 21, we have to look to stay relevant. The global funding focus has shifted towards building social resilience in communities. Where funding is available, funders want to see a responsiveness to issues around social empowerment while conserving biodiversity – like we’re seeing in Bonteheuwel. These projects focus on safeguarding the biodiversity of the Cape Floral Kingdom through people – for the benefit of the people.”
Photo credit: Communitree/David Profit Peace Gardeners.