The green movement in South Africa is growing at a rapid pace. In this series of articles, I will be exploring how the movement is developing across different parts of our country. Is it developing equally across the whole country or in some isolated pockets? Is it just a middle class hobby or are there large numbers of previously disadvantaged people choosing green lifestyle options? This first article begins this exploration by looking at a geographic hotspot of ‘green’: Cape Town’s southern Peninsula.
In 2006, my wife and I were living in a fourth-floor apartment in Seapoint. There was no garden, not even a shared one. My attempts to grow vegetables on the balcony had met a lot of difficulty from the wind and insufficient sunlight. We were commuting an hour each way and had no friends or family close by. We knew we had to move.
“Where to?”, we asked, aided by the follow-up question “What type of lifestyle do we really want?”. Space was high on the priority: to grow vegetables and herbs, to enjoy nature, and to entertain outdoors.
One day, while we were considering our options, I drove south down the M3, considering each suburb. None fitted our list of desires and needs. Then, at the top of Oukaapseweg, looking over the southern Peninsula, something leapt in my heart. This was right; this was the place for us.
Within 48 hours, we had found a smallholding within walking distance of my wife’s workplace and verbally signed the contract with the landlords.This was a huge step forward in our green journey!
Now, 18 months later, we have a thriving vegetable and herb garden, an efficient compost-management and recycling system, a home-made grey-water system, a simple solar panel experiment, and have just installed three bee hives. Plans are afoot for chickens, pigs, wind power, and rain water harvesting.
In this time of living in the southern Peninsula, I have discovered the area around me to be bursting with like-minded eco-aware people. There are a huge number of eco-friendly people, organisations, and companies. This has been wonderful to network with. It has also led me to ask why this intensity of greenness here in the southern tip of Africa?
The southern Peninsula includes Fish Hoek, Simonstown, Masiphumelele, Noordhoek, Ocean View, Kommetjie, Scarborough, and all the little suburbs in-between.
The Fishhoek-Noordhoek Valley is nestled between two mountain ranges and two coastlines. From our smallholding, travelling in any direction for five minutes, you are either in the sea or on the mountain! This makes for an incredibly natural and beautiful setting. Such a context, I believe, has encouraged those who love nature and the environment to live in the southern Peninsula.
The proximity to nature also creates a great environmental awareness. When the wind blows (and it blows hard!) everyone feels it. When there’s a fire on the mountain, everyone sees it. And rising sea levels will flood most of the fishhook valley. This constant interaction with the elements means that local residents are more naturally inclined to consider the environment.
On top of this, much of the southern Peninsula is blessed by larger-than-average plot sizes. A bigger garden means space for growing food and keeping animals. Those with smaller gardens often have sea views and enjoy a connection to the ocean. These factors encourage residents of the southern Peninsula to be more aware and more protective of the natural resources around them.
In the area of conservation, the Peninsula has two very active groups – the Kommetjie Environmental Action Group and the Noordhoek Environmental Action Group (KEAG and NEAG respectively). These two groups are frequently in the press for lobbying council; ensuring the environmental well-being of all new developments in the area.
Both private and government recycling facilities are abundant. There are recycling bins in every suburb at shopping centres, schools, and on municipal land. The closeness to Table Mountain National Park also means a heightened green awareness, for much of the land is protected.
Another example of the southern Peninsula’s ‘greenness’ is the small town of Kommetjie. The town is part of the ‘Transition Town’ movement, a global move towards sustainability that is driven and owned by local communities. The Kommetjie group have been looking at their production and consumption levels and how to maximise sustainability through local resources.
18 months of living here and I am still finding out about new green companies. It seems that there is now a snowball effect, with new companies being drawn to the area. Some of the more established green companies include the Enviropaedia, (www.enviropaedia.com) based in Simonstown. Their publication is a comprehensive directory of conservation/green companies in South Africa. Another publication is Biophile, based in Noordhoek. Indeed, Shared Earth itself is based in the southern Peninsula.
Green service-providers based in the area cover everything from worm farms (Full-Cycle), solar water heating, wind power (Wind Watts), and even the Global Warming Store, which sells a full range of sustainable energy solutions.
Many of these companies have their websites hosted by Texo (texo.co.za) which brands itself as offering “ethical web-hosting”.
Lastly, the southern Peninsula has become a green hotspot because of its unique location. It is on the outskirts of a wealthy city and at the same time it is surrounded by mountains, national parks and the Atlantic Ocean. It is therefore incredibly well-resourced.
The wealth and technology of urban Cape Town twinned with the environmental richness of mountain and sea, have created a powerful space for the development of eco-friendly principles, people, and systems.