Voluntary work at Edith Stephens can continue – for now

Dale Isaacs and Claudine Jones are among those who do voluntary work at Edith Stephens Wetland Park.

Organisations working at Edith Stephens Wetland Park fear that their voluntary work at the nature reserve is hanging in the balance.

According to Dale Isaacs, from the Joseph Pedro Foundation, the City of Cape Town asked several of the organisations to vacate the premises. Ms Isaacs said they were given one week’s notice in February. Among the reasons given, was that they don’t have Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) with the City. However, the City denied that it had asked any organisations to vacate.

In response to an Athlone News enquiry, Eddie Andrews, the City’s deputy mayor and mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said no organisations had been asked to vacate the premises.

Ms Isaacs said her organisation, as well as its partner organisations, have been doing voluntary work at the nature reserve for as long as 20 years.

“We’ve been doing so many projects at Edith Stephens – making this site realistic and bringing meaning to the community.

“One of our projects involved helping with the rehabilitation of the nature reserve. We do holiday programmes and a heritage festival, among others. Edith became the site for environmental and business training. Our efforts even led to the temporary employment of 30 people through the Expanded Public Works Programme (EPWP). In all the years we have worked here, we received no payment or funding from the City,” Ms Isaacs said.

Ms Isaacs added that three projects – the resource centre, recycle project and nursery – had been asked to vacate the premises.

Claudine Jones, who is part of the neighbourhood watch, also hosts workshops at Edith Stephens to teach people how to grow a garden. She, too, said she had been asked to leave the premises.

“Everything we do here is voluntary. We do not get paid. We’ve also never asked for anything, other than the space we use,” Ms Jones said.

Ms Isaacs said their work was not done underhandedly and that they submitted reports.

“We helped to raise Edith Stephens’ profile so much so that international people come here to learn. Our main focus is environmental education. If they knew we were not compliant, why did no official put the process in place for us to become so?” Ms Isaacs said.

Gary Wilson, through his foundation (named after him) set up a resource centre at the premises using his own funding.

“They acted irrationally when they wanted us to remove the resource centre. I was given two days to vacate. They realised after our meeting how irrational they were. The resource centre is a safe space for children, and it was disturbing that they wanted to close it.

“They couldn’t really give me reasons why they wanted it to go, other than the City being held liable for people’s safety. So they asked me to sign an indemnity agreement. We are yet to sign an MoU though, and there has been no indication when this will happen. So the City can change their mind at any time, asking us to vacate again,” Mr Wilson said.

Mr Andrews said at most nature reserves managed by the City of Cape Town, community organisations are often involved in projects aimed at supporting the nature reserve and management plan.

He added: “Organisations which work with the City do so within the framework of the Municipal Finance Management Act (MFMA) which may require agreements, leases of Memorandums of Understanding (MoU). Where necessary, these are entered into, as prescribed by the MFMA.”