The indigenous people of the Cape, the Khoena, did not give every river a name in the same manner as did the Europeans. There were simply rivers from which people could drink water and those from which people could not drink. The former were known as the Sweetwater rivers or Camissa rivers. A maroon group, the Goringhaicona establish the first proto-settlement at the mouth of the main Camissa river flowing from TableMountain into the sea.

Photo illustrating the Cape Times article which follows below. Caron von Zeil in a tunnel under the City, one of many built by the British in the late 1800s, through which millions of litres of fresh Table Mountain spring water run to waste. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA - Cape Times

Photo link to the Cape Times article on Camissa’s wasted water. Caron von Zeil in one of the many tunnels built by the British in the late 1800s, through which millions of litres of fresh Table Mountain spring water run to waste. Picture: COURTNEY AFRICA – Cape Times

Caron von Zeil, a passionate environment champion of the Camissa water system whom I recently met has a Masters Degree in Environmental Planning and Landscape Architecture. She has established that the Camissa Sweetwater system recognised by the Khoena totalled 36 springs and 4 rivers. She has through her work uncovered 25 of the springs and 4 of the rivers hidden from sight through the many overlays of development. Like the heritage of the Camissa people, the Camissa water systems were also driven underground over the last three and a half centuries. Caron has found that in this process of being driven underground, the people of Cape Town are losing millions of litres of fresh drinking water daily.

Caron thus started an initiative 8 years ago to Reclaim Camissa but at every turn in attempting to move forward with an innovative non-profit public benefit initiative blockages have been put in her way. It would seem that the City of Cape Town local government officials are the stumbling block and it would seem that some people somewhere in the council have smelt a business opportunity and wish to now rob this non-profit initiative of their years of work. Within Caron’s story, is a story of how Reclaim Camissa established a public benefit project called FIELD OF DREAMS at the site where she had found a number of springs. This would have been an environmental site of visitation and would have produced bottled spring water branded to honour the convergence of the water heritage and Khoena heritage and for the first time elevate the Khoena name, Camissa, to its rightful place in Cape Town. The Reclaim Camissa Trust shared their plans for the project with the City Council in applying for the use of the land, but then strangely through some sort of connections another organisation which had applied much later, were handed the land for a vegetable gardening project. It was clear that this was just a holding exercise. In the meanwhile the City Council has continued to entertain Reclaim Camissa and stall their efforts while quietly following a different path to try and get a water licence from the Department of Water Affairs, large based on exploiting Caron’s and Reclaim Camissa’s intellectual work.

All organised Khoena cultural organisations are called to throw down the gauntlet and challenge the Cape Town City Council on this subterfuge.

On the one hand the City government should show due respect for these pioneering people who have worked hard, not for personal gain as a Public Benefit NGO, to reclaim the water heritage of Cape Town and to resurrect the old Khoena name Camissa.

On the other hand the original FIELD OF DREAMS project and the organised Khoena cultural movement should make common cause to ensure that there is at least one liberated zone in the City which become an unspoilt heritage site that speaks to the heritage of the Khoena in a very practical manner.

Furthermore it is important that the name Camissa and the spring-water so named becomes a protected indigene Khoena inheritance and that any proceeds remains within the non-profit public benefit arena and does not go to the greedy ‘Self-enrichment Tjommie Brigade’. The Khoena cultural role-players must make strategic alliances with organisations such as Reclaim Camissa to ensure that advances are made through practical endeavours to bring our culture that was driven underground to once more rightful take its place in the City and make an impact. Bottled spring water from the Camissa water system, has the potential not only of ensuing that millions of litres of fresh water does not go to waste but also that the story of Camissa and the original Khoena of the Cape becomes widely known to all in South Africa and to all visitors to Cape Town. Reclaim Camissa is a registered Non-profit Trust No. IT 2882/2010. CLICK THROUGH TO EXPLORE MORE ABOUT RECLAIM CAMISSA.

Here follows the story as written by Cape Times Environmental Writer, Melanie Gosling, in the Cape Times 14 June 2013.


Cape Town – For eight years Caron von Zeil of Newlands has worked on Reclaim Camissa, a project that uncovered and documented the vast amount of fresh water that flows to waste underneath Cape Town.

Her work has been cutting edge: most of the springs and rivers that flow from TableMountain have been paved over and forgotten, and every day millions of litres of fresh mountain water rushes away unused into drains or sewers.

Von Zeil’s archive research showed that historically there were 36 springs in the City Bowl. She has uncovered 25 springs and four underground rivers. The City of Cape Town has only 13 springs on their records. Parliament is sitting on two springs and a huge underground reservoir.

Von Zeil’s research began as a master’s degree at UCT and developed into Reclaim Camissa, a non-profit organisation that worked on ideas to harness this underground water, and on cultural projects that could be developed.

Since 2005 she has been trying to get the city council to endorse Reclaim Camissa. Today she is no closer to this goal – although several officials and councillors say her project is “great”.

“We don’t understand it. We’ve done all this work at no charge and we’ve shared it with the city, with officials from just about every department, with councillors, and they all say it’s great, but we get nowhere,” Von Zeil said.

Her work has excited several water scientists, planners and academics.

Reclaim Camissa’s first pilot project was called Field of Springs, which was to be based on vacant council land in Oranjezicht where several springs were located. It would harness the spring water and be an outdoor water museum with natural ponds where people could see the water being cleansed. It would have an outdoor laboratory, education centre, bird hide and a bottling system where offices that used large glass water coolers could tap into the spring water.

Reclaim Camissa won first prize in the 2010 Multiplicity competition for inclusion in the city council’s winning bid for the World Design Capital and it was recognised by the Cape Town Partnership as “One of the Big Five Ideas” for the city. Premier Helen Zille awarded the Field of Springs project her 110 percent Green Flag status, which confers prestige on projects by “green pioneers”.

But for all that acclaim, the project has gone nowhere because it lacks city council endorsement.

Now the city has given the Oranjezicht land Von Zeil asked to lease for Field of Springs to another organisation, which applied after her.

“They are growing vegetables on the land. Agriculture on top of freshwater springs. That is crazy and it is illegal in terms of the National Water Act and the National Environmental Management Act.”

Von Zeil has called on councillor Garreth Bloor to rescind the lease. However, she says, the city’s property management department has told her the land has not been leased, although a vegetable garden has been established on it, with access to 4 000 litres of free water a day.

Von Zeil brought the matter to the attention of the city in March last year, but says it has not been addressed. “If there is no lease, it is tantamount to a land invasion.”

David Dewar, emeritus professor and senior research scholar in the School of Architecture and Planning at UCT, is one of the trustees of Reclaim Camissa, and has made several visits to the Civic Centre with Von Zeil to get the city council’s endorsement.

“We got pushed from one department to another. We’ve given presentations to almost every city department and they say ‘fantastic, but it’s not my department’,” Dewar said.

“We had a meeting with mayor Patricia de Lille, who made Ossie Asmal the point man to make things easier, but we’ve never heard from him. We had a meeting with councillor Garreth Bloor months ago where he promised to treat it as a matter of urgency, but nothing happened.”

The Reclaim Camissa trustees have since heard the city is planning to apply to the Department of Water Affairs for a water licence for the spring water.

“They’re seeking to make this their own,” Dewar said. The council was asked for comment on Wednesday, but had not replied by deadline on Thursday.

21 thoughts on “RECLAIM CAMISSA – THE STRUGGLE TO SAVE OUR WATER HERITAGE – Beware of the Greedy Tjommie Brigade

  1. Pingback: “Grondwater word hier gebruik” | L.A. Creek Freak

  2. Having read this I thought it was extremely informative.
    I appreciate you finding the time and effort to put this short article together.
    I once again find myself personally spending a lot of time both reading and leaving comments.
    But so what, it was still worth it!

  3. Firstly Thank you. It’s no surprise that this project hasn’t been treated with integrity and respect. The council is still strung up by past colonial rule, and the powers that be don’t care about the land or it’s people. But I sit here with a smile on my dial, because I know the change has already happened. Sweet Waters Reign:)

  4. We should get the people of cape town involved….Martin Luther Style…we should take to the streets and make people aware of the reclaim camissa project. The water shortage affects every South African. Let’s meet and make this a reality. We will do it by the book to mostly raise awareness of the project and put some heat on our government.

  5. Our goverment is a total joke. A circus. They seriously dont care about South Africa nor South Africans. I drank of that water already at Deerpark nd its beautifully fresh water. Its sad to see that water just go 2 waste. Caron im behind u all the way

  6. Reblogged this on Jenny Calder and commented:
    The drought in the Western Cape is severe. We face harsher water restrictions in a few days time. The City Council has done a fantastic job on communicating this to us. What I do not understand is why nothing has been done about the Reclaim Camissa Project. Why are they seemingly blocking it?

    • Please direct the question to Caron. She has been fighting and engaging the City Council for years. Cape Town has a Dam in the city that is no longer in use, I think, and there is at least two Dams on Table mountain top as far as I know. Its up to the citizenry to pressure the City Council for answers about how our water resources are managed.

  7. Gavin it’s pretty obvious . If you get free water the city loses out on its revenue stream including their ” sewerage factor “. They will block it at all costs !

    • We have a free flowing river and 4 full wells on the Castle premises. The authorities are aware of them and we are willing partners to harvest it. I am sure the advertising campaign to save water is more than what it would cost to harvest this natural resource – right here under our feet….

  8. I can’t understand why there are not more articles put out in the media. Put the council under pressure. I heard about these springs whilst collecting water at the Newlands spring. There were about 10 of us and we were all angry that we had not heard about all the water going to waste in Cape Town. Make it public knowledge and I am sure something will happen. Let us know how we can help

  9. With the ongoing severe drought, this is the most deplorable negligance from “The City that Works for You”. Yeah right! We are being told that water prices might go up by 50%, does that mean we have more water? I don’t think so! Will the increase finance the harnessing of our natural spring/river water? From what I read, I don’t think so! Yet there are those speaking of desalination plants, which seem totally unnecessary with all the natural water readily available. This is just unbelievable!

  10. So the city is actually perpetuating the scarcity scare syndrome and manipulating the citizenry.
    Let Caron and the scholars show us the best possible way how all Cape Town generations can benefit for ages to come. let camissa come to life and not just for tjommie birigade

  11. Hello Caren , I’m happy to see you are still on it .. ! Even though you and we are disappointed
    by the officials , It should not be in such a domineering way expressed on your website .
    People who wish top support your case , don’t want to be associated with the negativism and accusations expressed .
    Please stay with the facts , like on your old website. Rather give us more info about viability, case studies and budget plans on Water , Electricity, Tourism and Heritage .
    Kind regards and respect for all the good work you did . Hannes-Paul

  12. According to my sources of information although the Camissa project is a great concept for the community the volumes are simply way too low to justify the cost of infrastructure and implementation. Perhaps this is a mistaken concept but please advise for everyone’s benefit.

    To my knowledge it is under 2million litres per day which sounds like a lot but not if you are spending too much to clean the water and maintain the infrastructure.

    Please advise the actual volumes per day that were formally recorded?

    Many thanks.

    • Presently the Council is exploiting around 5 million litres from the Orangezicht (2mil) and Newlands (2,8mil) Springs. The breweries are probably exploiting three times as much from the Newlands spring. Caron Von Zeil who is the world acknowledged water-expert on the Camissa systems 31 City Bowl Springs and over 69 Springs if one counts the Southern suburbs in monitoring just one tunnel (of 31) has shown a daily push into the sea of 8,8 million litres of treatable water that should be protected and harnessed. The City of Cape Town’s Xanthea Limberg tries her best to put spin on the Camissa project, but she has no expertise in this regard and is not being honest.

      Caron Von Zeil has always cautioned that because the CoCT dropped the Camissa System from its maintenance responsibilities in 1990 this has resulted in pollution of the Springs and that nobody should be drinking the Spring Water that needs to be treated for e-coli. Caron however has made a solid scientific case lauded internationally for protecting and harnessing the Cape Town water which can be used for many other uses than drinking as well. Her work shows that the City Bowl and immediate surrounds could successfully use this water and relieve other sources for other parts of the peninsula and surrounds.

      Various commercial interests exploit the Camissa system including breweries and soda drinks companies as does the City Farm project.

      The City has been irresponsible and dishonest about this entire matter over a long time. In 2009 both the City and the Province lauded the integrity of Caron Von Zeil and the Reclaim Camissa Project. Indeed the City and Cape Town Partnership won international acclaim as Design Capital of the World where Reclaim Camissa was one of the big five ideas that resulted in the award. You can approach Caron Von Zeil directly through Social Media for further facts… There is a Reclaim Camissa site on FB for more scientific details.

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