Chairman’s report 2021

I know I must write a report, but I am not sure what to say.  The last year seems to have gone passed with few highlights – which is NOT what was supposed to happen. 2020 was our 125th anniversary and there were all sorts of events that were in the pipeline.  We even hoped to end the year with a concert or two.  But Covid 19 put a stop to almost all our plans.

So, what happened?  Well, the committee took to meeting online thanks to Jorge’s technical wizardry and we tried to keep our members informed through our newsletters, our website and our Facebook page.  We have MANY members of our Facebook page but only a few of them are members of the Friends.  It is a great pity that so few join us formally because if you want to have official clout when dealing with a problem, you need paid-up members.  So, if you have friends who are not members, please encourage them to join us and not just like our Facebook page.

You will see from our financial statements that our income has dropped considerably this year.  Fewer members, fewer membership fees.  We have had some generous donations and I really want to acknowledge the support we get from Minuteman Press, Re/Max Living, Fiona Baumann, David Spence, Ed Kerby (who provided the new Booth gate), Suzanne Noll, Joerg Schilling, Justine Geffen and Max Ahmen (who gave us a supply of poo bag rolls) as well as Bruce Majonga (Run Rabbit Run coffee), and Justin Hodge (of Fluffi and Friends coffee).  And then there are the sponsors of our calendar which is once again our big money spinner.  Thanks to Jennifer Neish for finding those sponsors and big thanks to Oliver Barnett who photographs our dogs and puts the calendar together.  Minuteman Press then prints the calendar superbly. The hours of work that go into that whole exercise are always rewarded by the delighted responses we get from people who see their dogs or kids in the calendar.  I know that the calendar is on many shopping lists as Christmas presents.  I didn’t go up to Jo’burg for Christmas this year and my family demanded that I find some way of getting several copies of the calendar to them.  POSTNET were very helpful.

So, what else happened?  Well, the year started with lockdown and the rangers walked around the park disconsolately, I am told.  My dogs went into a deep depression and so finally when we could exercise for a few hours every morning, we hoped to get into the park.  That was not supposed to happen, but more and more people risked arrest as our dogs wanted to run.  The Council workers returned and did a wonderful job trimming the edges of the paths and trees, cleaning up the kids’ area etc.  Sadly, their contract came to an end in November, and we lost their dedicated presence.

Sometime in May or June, Kay Smith who had been the toilet attendant for several years, fell ill and died before we could get her to hospital.  Confusion followed regarding those toilets which are much used by passing workers, homeless people and visitors to the park when they are open.  The rangers have taken over the duties of opening and closing the toilet block, and there is a woman who is employed as the attendant/cleaner, but the Friends are currently supplying the bulk of the toilet paper and cleaning materials that are needed to keep the place functional.

Speaking of the toilet block, the City paid for a major refurbishment which included repairing the leaking roof, stripping out all the old toilets and electric wiring, replacing the plumbing ware, light fittings, floors, windows, doors and the turret – much to the consternation of the pigeon population.  The budget did not extend to temporary toilets during the renovations and so we paid for port-a-loos to be on site for a month, which were well-used by the workers and visitors over the period.  When the renovations were finished, we added mirrors and COVID signs and I would still like to furnish the attendant’s room with a table, a chair, a lockable cupboard and some shelves.

Once we could go back to the park, we found that the Park had been discovered by people from all over the City.  Our visitor numbers have doubled, and the park is used for many more hours every day.  It has become a favourite spot for birthday parties and there is never a weekend which doesn’t see happy families gathering to enjoy the facilities of De Waal Park.  There have however been far fewer film shoots in the park this year and so we have not enjoyed the benefits of donations from film companies.

As I say, the park has many visitors now which brings me to the coffee in the bandstand.  Justin (during the week) and Bruce (at weekends) provide the best coffee, great food and possibly the warmest, most personal welcome of any coffee outlet in the city.  There is nothing quite as relaxing as enjoying a cup of coffee, sitting in the bandstand, gazing out over the greenery and openness of our park with your dogs gambolling about and your kids munching on a huge Danish.  In the 1950’s, De Waal Park was loved for its stillness and calm and I believe that it retains that ambience – despite the occasional disagreement or dog fight.

As this past year was our special birthday, we were determined to do something on Heritage Day.  We arranged for the notice board to be repainted, the red bench to be brightened up (thanks to Jorge for arranging that) and we used the opportunity to launch our Tree Tour, so brilliantly designed by Tielman Haumann.  There is an excellent map showing you how the tour starts at the Molteno/Camp Street gate and wanders through the park, noting all the special trees and drawing your eye to the best view of the next tree, until your tour ends near the bandstand.  Time your tour well and you can end with a coffee and relaxed conversation.

Earlier this year the park was closed again, and we tried many times to get it declared a “controlled access area”, but the authorities were not listening.  When it was open again, we rushed back with our dogs to enjoy the special atmosphere that is De Waal Park.  We haven’t stopped.

What needs to be done? When I started writing this report the most pressing issue was the water pipe that was leaking in four places.  The water was seeping through the Camp Street wall and if that collapsed it would not only have caused major problems in that street but as it is a heritage wall, it would have cost a great deal to be repaired.  The Council have shut off the mountain water to the park which is why the water is no longer leaking, but it also means that there is no water in the fountains.  The toilets still have water as that is municipal water.

There are many other areas that need attention.  The fountain pond needs to be repaired.  The skin lining the pond is loose and the whole thing needs to be cleaned up.  Perhaps at the same time, the Victorian fountain could be restored to its original glory.  Helen Picard bequeathed us a sizeable sum of money and I know that this was one of her dearest wishes for the park. 

The bandstand needs to be repaired and restored.  The children’s area could do with a fresh coat of paint and one or two more imaginative pieces of equipment.  We have tried to get a climbing gym in memory of Laurence Dworkin as it was one of his requests, and we will pursue this with the Council. 

The roads need to be resurfaced and the turning circles need to be re-tarred.  There are broken benches that need to be replaced (this should happen soon) and we could do with a whole new supply of unbroken bins (that should also happen very soon).  The bins need to be cleared regularly and the rubbish completely removed at LEAST once a week. The lawns need to be mown more regularly and some trees need attention (there are at least two or three dead ones that should be removed and some others that need to be doctored before they succumb).  It would be great to see the fountain circle imaginatively re-planted.  The fallen lamppost has been replaced.  The Greyvenstein fountain is much loved by the small dogs but that orange plastic pipe is ugly.

Much of this cannot be done by the Council because of budgetary constraints so perhaps we can step in and provide some of the improvements.  Perhaps an addition to the children’s play area?

Our link with the City, Lindiwe Mkwanazi, has been promoted to a different area and so far I have not heard who her replacement will be.  Lindiwe was always approachable if somewhat stretched, and we wish her well in her new role.

You may have noticed that I have avoided the poo issue – partly because it is boringly the same and partly because I didn’t know how to illustrate the point.  Then I remembered one of the signs that Oliver organised for us.  So now I can thank Sharon who gets us the poo bag rolls.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the committee.  Jennifer is our remarkable secretary providing the warm, caring face of the Friends.  Renate stoically manages our finances with German precision. Wendy can always bring our flights of fancy back to reality and Susan offers sane, wise council.  Jorge hosts our Facebook page and is our technical link, and Philip not only links us to our coffee people but is an invaluable connection to the Council and the way they operate.  Oliver takes photos for the calendar, then selects them (with Jennifer’s help) for each day of the year and then gets the calendar into print format with Minuteman Press.  He also looks after our website, sorts out poo notices and gate signs.  He calms me down when I am unable to connect my computer.  And Ed provides economic savvy.  Without this team we would not have achieved all that was achieved in an insane, unequalled year.

Add Tielman to this mix, our baristas, our rangers and even Clayton and you have De Waal Park. The best park in Cape Town, in my opinion.  I hope you agree.