History Part 2

Late History of Cape Town: Apartheid Era, British Rule, Nelson Mandela, The new Age, War and the first Democracy.


Architectural Heritage

It is indeed fortunate that three men of outstanding architectural talents were brought together at the Cape. Anton Anreith, a young sculptor and woodcarver from Freiburg, arrived as a soldier in the Company's service in 1777. Four years later Louis Michel Thibault, a Parisian architect, appeared on the scene as an officer in the French garrison.

In 1789 they were joined by Hermann Schutte, a young architect and builder from Bremen. The trio settled at the Cape, and it is due to their influence that the period of prosperity and building activity in town and country, which marked the late 18th and early 19th century, has left us such a rich heritage of architectural beauty.

British Rule

Gradually the little settlement in Table Valley began to assume the character of a town. No longer was it referred to as Cabo de Goede Hoop, De Caab or De Kaapse Vlek, but during the last quarter of the eighteenth century it acquired the name of De Kaap or Cape Town.

During the war between Britain and Holland (1780-1783) a British fleet sailed to take possession of the Cape, but was attacked and disabled by the French. The French then landed two regiments at the Cape to assist the Dutch in the defence of the Colony. Part of the large hospital on the outskirts of town was assigned to them as barracks. After 1795 the building was wholly occupied by troops and in time the adjoining Ziekenstraat became more appropriately known as Barrack Street, a name it still bears.

When the revolutionary armies of France invaded Holland, William of Orange escaped to England and issued instructions that the Cape should temporarily be handed over to the British for protection against the French. Accordingly, in 1795, a British force arrived at the Cape. The Dutch resisted and, after a brief battle (the Battle of Muizenberg), retired before superior forces.

The change of authority brought with it other changes that many felt were long overdue. Many of the monopolies and other restrictions on trade, by which the Company had promoted its own pecuniary interests at the expense of the colonists, were swept away. A large garrison again provided a ready market for farm produce and thirsty patrons for the houses that had already given Cape Town its reputation as The Tavern of the Seas.

The British remained in possession until 1803, when the Colony was relinquished to the Dutch by the terms of the Treaty of Amiens. Within three months of the restoration of the colony, war had again broken out between Britain and Holland. In 1806, a British fleet of sixty-one ships dropped anchor at Robben Island and landed 6 000 troops at Blaauwberg.

The Battle of Blaauwberg followed and Dutch resistance crumbled. In 1814 the Cape Colony was formally ceded to Britain by a convention under which Dutch vessels were to remain entitled to resort freely to the Cape of Good Hope for the purposes of refreshment and repairs.

In 1814, Lord Charles Somerset became Governor, and the following year he inaugurated the first mail-packet service between England and Cape Town. This was the beginning of the Union-Castle Company's connection with South Africa. The Union and Castle lines amalgamated in 1900.

Outside the town, satellite villages formed around churches and inns along the road to False Bay. At the eastern foot of Wynberg Hill was the village of Wynberg. With its white-walled thatched cottages set among gardens and fruit trees, it possessed at one time much of the atmosphere of an English country village and became for a while the favourite resort of officials of the British East India Company recuperating at the Cape.

At Simon's Bay, an extensive fishing village began to expand. A whaling station had been established, a Residency had been built, and the growing settlement had assumed the name of Simon's Town. The naval establishment had been transferred there from Table Bay in 1814 and it had acquired an atmosphere more reminiscent of Portsmouth or Plymouth than characteristic of the Cape.

In 1824, Cape Town's first newspaper, The Commercial Advertiser was published. It was printed in English and Dutch. In 1830, Sir Lowry Cole laid the foundation stone of St. George's Church, now called St. George's Cathedral, the first English Church in South Africa.

The first civil hospital in southern Africa was built on the western edge of the town, largely through the public-spirited action of Dr. Samuel S. Bailey, a naval surgeon who had served with Admiral Lord Nelson at Trafalgar. Subsequently enlarged, it became the old Somerset Hospital to a later generation.

Schools also appeared and in 1829 the South African College was opened in Long Street. In 1841 a site at the upper end of the gardens was ceded to the College.

One of the first duties of Sir Benjamin D'Urban, appointed Governor in 1834, was to give effect to the Act for the emancipation of slaves passed by the British Parliament in 1833. Some 39,000 slaves, mostly in the western districts of the Colony, were granted their freedom. The British Government provided inadequate compensation for slave-owners and many were reduced from affluence to bankruptcy.

News was brought to Governor D'Urban at a convivial New Year's Eve gathering of the irruption of the Bantu tribes over the eastern border of the Colony. He instructed Colonel Harry Smith (later Governor Sir Harry Smith) to make for Grahamstown to organise the border forces. Colonel Smith left, on horseback, at daybreak and arrived at Grahamstown six days later, having ridden one hundred miles each day, at fourteen miles an hour throughout, a wonderful equestrian feat.

The British Government made an attempt in 1849 to form a penal settlement at the Cape, but when the ship Neptune arrived at Simon's Bay, with 282 convicts aboard, the citizens declined to supply anything to persons having dealings with her. So strictly was this pledge observed that no food whatever was obtainable, either for the convicts or for the troops.

During the riots which ensued, Newspaper Editor John Fairbairn's house at Sea Point was wrecked by a crowd who had lost their employment through the boycott. In the end the colonists were victorious, and on 21 February 1850, the Neptune set sail for Tasmania. In recognition of the services of C. B. Adderley who had championed the colonists in this manner in the British House of Commons, the name of Cape Town's main street was changed to Adderley Street.

A New Age

Cape Town became a municipality in 1840. A liberal constitution was granted to the Cape Colony in 1853 and the first elected Parliament met on 30 June 1854. On 28 November 1872 a complete self-government for the Cape Colony was promulgated by a proclamation of Sir Henry Barkley, who laid the first foundation stone of the present Houses of Parliament in 1875.

Old Pier - Year 1900

In the second half of the century the building of railways, the opening of diamond and gold mines in the interior, and all their manifold and far-reaching economic consequences added enormously to the commercial importance of Cape Town. The sleepy settlement awoke and began to grow as never before. A railway was completed to Stellenbosch and Wellington in 1863. The discovery of diamonds in Griqualand West a few years later demanded its extension to the distant diamond fields. In 1885 it had barely reached Kimberley when the Witwatersrand goldfields presented a still more distant goal. Within the next decade the opening of gold mines in Southern Rhodesia lured the railhead still farther northward. Cape Town was transformed within a generation from a roadstead on Table Bay, to one of the major ports serving a rapidly developing sub-continent.
During the mid 19th century, harbour improvements were urgently needed. The port in Table Bay possessed only four jetties, and recurrent wrecks in the bay were grim reminders of its exposure to north-westerly gales. The storms of 1857 and 1865 accounted for 24 shipwrecks off the Cape coast. The work was started in 1860 and was completed in 1870 when the Alfred Dock was inaugurated by Prince Alfred. Completion of the Robinson Graving Dock twelve years later equipped the port to repair the largest vessels of the time, and the extension of the harbour works to form the outer Victoria Basin by the end of the century endowed Table Bay with a commodious modern harbour. The waterfront became increasingly cluttered with a miscellaneous collection of skin-drying, wool-processing, fish-smoking, soap making and boat-building establishments.

At Simon's Town, new fortifications and the Selborne Dock were constructed and the little town was transformed into a modern naval base. The demand for fresh farm produce made potential farm land too valuable to be left idle. Farms were developed over the Cape Flats where dairy and poultry farming was most common, as well as vegetable and flower farming.

Before 1914 South Africa depended mainly upon overseas countries for most of the manufactured articles in daily use. As such imports were not so readily available in wartime, the First and Second World Wars provided powerful incentives to develop South African industries. Moreover, after 1918 and especially after 1945, many overseas manufacturers found it economically advantageous to establish branch factories in the Union. Expanding overseas trade necessitated the building of a new 200-acre basin in the harbour. But its inadequacy to meet the needs of the port was soon recognised and plans to modify and incorporate it in the basin now known as the Duncan Dock were being formulated even before the new basin was completed. The construction of the Duncan Dock, begun in 1938, proceeded and was practically completed by 1945 when the 1 200 foot long Sturrock Graving Dock was opened.

War & Apartheid

South Africans fought alongside the Allies in both world wars, but Afrikaner opposition to British support continued throughout. The opponents of involvement were very much in the minority and whites from both language groups volunteered in large numbers, as did those of mixed descent. South Africans fought in German South West Africa (now Namibia) during the First World War. Other areas of operation were East Africa and western Europe where, at Delville Wood, 3152 South Africans held their positions against massive bombardment and counter attack. 755 survived unwounded. During the Second World War, South Africans again fought against the Nazis in East Africa, in the Western Desert and in Europe, forging a path up the spine of Italy in one of the toughest campaigns of the war.

The years between the forming of the Union in 1910 and the historical parliamentary election of 1948 witnessed the growth of South Africa into a powerful industrial nation. The National Party won its first election under the leadership of D. F. Malan in 1948. Its rise to power marked the beginnings of the apartheid era. For the first time Afrikaners were in the driving seat and legal segregation on racial lines became the main thrust of policy.

Apartheid stunted the economic growth of the country. The world shunned it and sanctions brought South Africa to its knees. Cape Town suffered enormously as ships no longer docked at the port, and instead, by-passed the Cape. Many Capetonians emigrated to other parts of the world, taking with them the expertise so desperately needed in a growing economy.

During the last decade, violence and bloodshed have brought a nation to the turning-point of reconciliation. The 1994 election saw the inauguration of the first black State President, Nelson Mandela, who headed a government of national unity.