Simons Town under siege

Simons Town under siege

Simon’s Town , from the very beginning of its existence, has been custodian to the history of the many nationalities, cultures and religions who over the centuries have walked its streets and lanes. Over the years people from Britain as well as “The Kroomen” from West African places like Sierra Leone, Liberia , Ivory coast and Ghana have stayed on in Simonstown long after their Royal Navy contracts had expired. Many of these navy men remained and married Simonstown’s women.

If you are lucky , and know where to look, you might find the remnants of some of their farms and homes which dotted the mountain slopes around Simon’s Bay. If you are really lucky you might even hear the faint whispering of their ghostly voices and those of their children as they walk or run to their schools, church, mosque, or down to the beach.

The history of Simonstown is a rich tapestry of stories that range from the banishment of Napoleon to the suppression of the Slave Trade along the African coast, to the fight against Naziism durng the Second World War.

In our not too recent past. Simonstown was home to 7000 people, forcibly removed and relocated to other parts of the Cape Peninsula and Cape Flats, under the group areas act of the apartheid government in the 1960’s.

A few of the original buildings which were home to these families, now live in the shadow of brick and mortar, posing as pop-up-toasters or mausoleums. Buildings soon to be given top billing in our favourite decorating magazines and television programmes.

Despite the fact that Simonstown has played such an important role on the world stage throughout its history, it no longer has the energy to face the onslaught of a new breed of warmonger: the developer, or heaven forbid, the owner/architect/designer/ builder, who conveniently earns his living as a travel writer or a peddler of church icons and artifacts from far away places like Cuba. They earn their living convincing us to enjoy the romance offered by visiting these beautiful little towns around Southern Africa, or decorating our homes and pubs with sacred objects that were once used in places of worship.

Simonstown has known its fair share of conflict over the years but none as damaging as the bulldozers, ten ton trucks and levelling equipment being sent in to develop and in the process obliterate the history of people whose stories have not yet been told.

The little lanes and roads that are about to be ripped up by the developers hold the secrets of the feet that have walked along their cobbles or meandered up the mountainside. Their history is disappearing step by step.

Muslim sailors from Zanzibar, joined the Royal Navy, they were called “Seedies”. Most returned home at the end of their contracts, but some married local women and made their homes on the slopes of this mountain.

The removal of the Muslim community from Simonstown in term of the Group Areas Act, resulted in the destruction of a community with deep roots in the area. Two symbols of the historical occupancy of this community remain intact. The Mosque, and the Kramat.

The Simonstown Mosque, which is now under siege by developers, serves as powerful symbol of the Simonstown muslim communities commitment to Islam, despite their humble origins as slaves .
The little road, which gives access to this mosque is about to become a turning lane for heavy vehicles. Some 3 000 five ton lorry-loads of soil will have to be removed in order to prepare the site. The site behind Hospital Terraces will see the building of 23 new town houses with parking for 40 cars.
The Catholic Church of Saints Simon and Jude owes its existence to two Spanish brothers, the Delcarmes, reportedly from South America. They married Irish and German women.Their descendants were so numerous that they formed the basis of the resultant Catholic congregation. As a large part of the Simonstown family, they were able to build a church in 1850.

Not too many people know where Cotton Lane is. It is a little road that runs between two 165 year old whaler’s cottages on the slopes of Simonsberg Mountain. The Delcarmes lived in or at least very close to these cottages before they were forcibly removed first to Dido Valley and then to Ocean View.

On Monday the 17 September 2007 I arrived home to find a site meeting being conducted on my doorstep. Another housing development will be scarring the landscape of Simonsberg mountainside. We were informed that whether we liked it or not, the development would be taking place. The levelling equipment, I was told, would be arriving on Wednesday the 19 September 2007. The owner of the house in which I live, resides in Johannesburg. Mary, was completely unaware of what was about to take place. The rest of the neighbourhood was equally oblivious.

When the property bordering the new development was bought, the new owners were told that their property would be the last row of houses. Above them, other than the Foxes’ property, the rest was to be reserve. They were told by the owners that there was no intention of ever developing the ground. Mr Fox has since passed away. The land is about to be carved up to make way for at least 4 new houses.

Two 165-year-old houses are to be impacted on as a result of heavy 10 ton levelling equipment and other building materials being trundled up little Cotton Lane with its 5 ton limit. The sign says 5 tons because the municipality had no 3 ton signs at the time.

The trucks which have carried the building materials up the lane to the pop-up toaster which greets visitors to Simonstown, flagrantly disregard the 5 ton sign. Each passing day brings more bricks and mortar, doors and windows that would be enough to build accomodation for a number of homes that would house a considerable number of families. This, for one man who has shown no regard for the history and the stories of the longtime inhabitants of Cotton Lane.

So much is lost when something or someone dies. Many of the people who have battled for so long to honour and preserve Simonstown heritage are now running out of steam or may even have died . How many of us have the courage and the foresight to become the new custodians of the environmental and historical heritage of places like Simonstown for our grandchildren. Or do we have so little faith in the vision of a future for our own children, that it does not enter our wildest imaginings.