22 June 2008


Routes and Roots will no longer be updated. I have created another blog, Bygones and Byways, which includes the same type of content.

21 June 2008

Cape Town's old defender revived

A gun battery that defended Cape Town's western flank from enemy ships 270 years ago has been restored and opened to the public. The Chavonnes Battery, the oldest coastal gun battery built in the Cape since the Castle, was re-opened earlier this year. The battery safeguarded Cape Town's western flank from 1726 to 1861, until Queen Victoria's second son, Prince Alfred, tipped the first load of rocks into the sea for a new breakwater. Large parts of the battery were demolished and the rubble and rock were used for the new construction. What remained was further destroyed when coal bunkers and later a fish factory were built over it. Cape Town's Table Bay anchorage was well-protected by the Castle built by the Dutch East India Company in 1666; but the station set up in 1652 for the benefit of ships travelling to and from the Far East was vulnerable to attack on its western side by its arch-rivals, the English and French East India Companies. In 1710 a rocky outcrop on the beach below Lion's Head was chosen to build a new battery. Work was only completed in 1726 due to a shortage of lime and masons. The Chavonnes Battery was named after its originator, Governor Maurits Pasque de Chavonnes. Ships could not pass after nightfall. If they tried, three warning shots were fired and the culprits were forced to retreat and drop anchor for the night. This continued until the British decided in 1856 to build the new harbour and breakwater near the battery. Archaeological excavations began at the Concentra fish factory in 1999. 18th and 19th century paintings indicated this was where the battery must have been. The BoE financial services group was planning a new office block on the site and adapted the plans to accommodate the ruins in the basement of the new building. Excavations revealed old stone walls and paving under the concrete floor, the remains of the 3.3m high sea wall and the supporting stone buttresses on the inside. A well was also found. 18th century Dutch artefacts and a four pounder Dutch cannon were also found. Now visitors can walk on suspended walkways among the old stone ruins where, centuries ago, the sea lashed against the walls and cannons stood. The Chavonnes Battery is at the Clock Tower Precinct, V&A Waterfront.

Graves should be cared for

The graves of about 25 000 Commonwealth soldiers who died in the Anglo-Boer War were supposed to be renovated and maintained in terms of a memorandum of understanding signed in Pretoria in June 2005. The deal provided £800 000 over the four years, paid by the British government and private sponsors, for the renovation of Commonwealth graves at over 200 cemeteries countrywide. A further £150 000 would be made available annually thereafter for maintenance. Graves in another 130 inaccessible cemeteries would be commemorated through joint memorials. The memorandum was signed at the Heroes' Acre Cemetery in Pretoria by Arts and Culture Minister Pallo Jordan and British High Commissioner Paul Boateng. Representatives from Australia, Canada and New Zealand were also present. Repair and maintenance of the graves had been the responsibility of the SA Heritage Resource Agency.

Count Natale Labia legacy fading without care

Count Natale Labia wants the government to give back the house his father built. The 20-room Italianate mansion overlooks the sea in Muizenberg. Count Natale Labia senior was Italy's consul in South Africa. He built The Fort, as it was named, in the style of 18th century Venice, the city of his ancestors. The furniture and fittings were all Venetian. After his death in 1936, the house was leased first to the Canadians and the Argentinians for use as an embassy. In 1985 Count Natale Labia (Luccio), the son, donated The Fort and all its contents, including many valuable paintings, to the government, on condition it was run as a museum for the benefit of the community. F.W. de Klerk, then Minister of Education, officially opened it. It became a venue for exhibitions, lectures, musical recitals and art classes, and had its own restaurant. In 2005 the Department of Arts and Culture closed it and stopped financial support. Since then the government has hired it out for film and photographic shoots. The Fort is not well-cared for. A caretaker is employed by Count Labia to live on the property he no longer owns, to try and give some kind of protection. The laminated windows have become opaque because of water seepage. Inside walls are peeling and mouldy, vases are cracked, the crystal chandeliers are grime encrusted, hinges are broken, brass fittings are missing, carpets are stained, there are cigarette burns in antique chairs, and a R450 000 painting by James Stark has disappeared. Count Natale Labia believes the government has breached the conditions of the donation and he is trying to recover the house and its contents.

A loney Karoo monument

In the Karoo, along the road from Middelburg towards Richmond, you'll find a sign-post saying "Stoel Monument". The tall, black dolerite structure stands next to a peppercorn tree near the roadside. In front of the structure is a polished granite slab engraved with the picture of a riempie chair. The inscription says that Commandant Johannes Cornelius Jacobus (Hans) Lotter and his adjutant Lieutenant Petrus Jacobus Wolfaardt were executed by firing squad there in October 1901. In the town's small museum you can read the story of the two men and see photographs and a copy of the death warrant and letters admitting officials to attend the execution. The two Boer officers were captured at Bouwer's Hoek by Colonel Henry Scobell. The inhabitants of Middelburg were ordered by the Town Guard to assemble in the Church Square to hear the death sentence being read. The two were taken to the spot where the monument now stands, tied to chairs and shot.

Paarl windmill to be remembered

Paarl's most famous windmill is going to be remembered in a new security estate near Paarl named Waterpoel de Windmeul, developed by Chianti Civil Construction. The development is situated next to Rheebokskloof wine estate in Windmeul, Agter-Paarl. The most famous of the 27 windmills that once stood in the Paarl countryside was the one that stood in Windmeul. Farmers would come from all over the Agter-Paarl and Perdeberg districts to mill their grain there, and to buy whatever they needed from the adjoining shops. The production of flour stopped during the Anglo-Boer War and recession, and the windmill was taken down in 1927. Windmeul Wynkelders, established in 1944, was named after it. The old windmill will be rebuilt during the second phase.

Historic Carnarvon Farm for sale

Historic Eastern Cape family farms are being sold off, some for hefty price tags. The 3650 ha Carnarvon Farm, 50km from Queenstown, is on the market with a price tage of R35 million. The National Heritage site is one of the most highly conserved, historically significant game and cattle farms in South Africa. Archaeologists recently discovered a 120 000-year-old stone-age workshop site and San paintings. It also includes one of the oldest landing strips in South Africa, two hunting lodges, a lucrative water source which supplies Sterkstroom and a 1880 farmhouse. The owners are reluctant to sell. Robin Halse (75) is not in good health, and his wife Bertha (64) has taken over the management of the farm with the help of his daughter and son-in-law, who also live on the property. The Halse family has owned Carnarvon since 1854. Robin's father and grandfather watched from the porch as the Anglo-Boer War Battle of the Stormberg on the farm's border in 1902. Now none of the couple's daughters is keen to take it over.

Tourist attraction planned around June 16

The six routes followed by school students during the 1976 Soweto Riots from their schools to Kumalo South Street in Orlando West, will be marked as a tourist attraction. The June 16 Foundation announced that the 29 km route would be marked with red-painted bricks. Seth Mazibuko (48), director of the foundation, was deputy-chairman of the student organisation back then. Titi Mthenjane (53), also one of the 1976 organisers, said the foundation had adopted eight local schools, including Morris Isaacson High School, as part of the tourist plan. The schools will be renovated and financial assistance given to train teachers.

Stone Age in Pretoria

Waterkloof House Preparatory School in Muckleneuk, Pretoria, is building a new swimming pool. Recent digging work has unveiled ancient objects. Pretoria is rich in early and mid Stone Age objects. In the 1950s, the late Tony Brink, an archaeologist, discovered Stone Age objects at the school. Dr. Francis Thackeray, a WHPS Old Boy, is the current director of the Transvaal Museum. He is an expert on the Stone Age in the Pretoria area. He was eight years old when, together with a WHPS teacher, Tony Brink, he found his first objects. The school will display the latest objects in a collection to be named in honour of Tony Brink.

14 June 2008

St. Mark's Anglican Church in District Six needs funds

Restoration work at St. Mark's Anglican Church in District Six, Cape Town, should be completed by September, if the church can raise enough funds. Mrs. Juliet Gosling-Brown, a Londoner, is a voluntary fund-raiser for the church. She came to Cape Town two years ago to work on the project. Earlier this year she married Douglas Brown, a former parishioner at St. Mark's. The church was built in 1887 using sandstone from Table Mountain. It is one of the oldest remaining buildings in the old District Six section, yet the government offered the church money if it agreed to being demolished. The church refused. Two years ago, the restoration work was estimated to be R1,8-million. The parishioners raised R470 000 and an anonymous benefactor donated R1-million. Today the church still needs to raise about R350 000. There are almost 300 parishioners, many of whom used to live in District Six. The caretaker, Claude Arries, has been a parishioner for more than 50 years. He was baptised and married at St. Mark's.