Cape Town - Two of the oldest institutions serving the Newlands and Claremont communities, jointly and as part of the Newlands/ Claremont Heritage, Environmental Justice and Restitution Society (NCHERS) covered the plinth and accompanying signage at Kildare Springs in protest over the City’s inaction in having its wording corrected to display the fullness of the area’s history.
Claremont Main Road Mosque (CMRM) Imam Rashied Omar and St Saviour’s Anglican Church Reverend Chesnay Frantz draped what has been referred to as an “offensive plinth” in protest on Thursday.
While briefly mentioning the use of the Newlands springs by local Khoekhoen, the plaque, titled “Newlands Spring”, at Springs Way, largely recognised and memorialised the spring’s role in the brewing industry and that of Scandinavian businessman, politician and local property and water owner, Anders Ohlsson, who established Ohlsson’s Cape Breweries in 1896.
Chairperson Jaamia Galant said in early 2021, the CMRM were made aware of the erection of the plinth at the water collection site which had been closed by the City in 2018.
They then wrote to the City in 2021 to strongly object to the erection and the accompanying text, as it represented the “ongoing erasure of memory, history and heritage of displaced communities from the area”.
In response to the CMRM’s letter, City Environmental and Heritage Management manager Dimitri Georgeades said the department would urgently attend to the matter and that a process of broad participation to consider alternatives, such as changing the wording or removal of the memorial completely, would be undertaken.
“This version does not acknowledge the rich history and heritage of past communities of colour, and completely erases the pain and loss of local communities of colour who were forcibly removed from the Newlands/ Claremont area during apartheid,” Galant said.
“At this moment, we are also acutely aware of how our struggle against the erasure of memory and history of displacement from ancestral land mirrors the ongoing struggle of the Palestinian people against Zionist occupation of their land.”
Galant highlighted that there was no broad public participation process conducted.
The society reiterated its demand for engagement to find creative and inclusive ways to memorialise and honour the displaced communities of historical Newlands and Claremont.
Lauren Muller, a water and landscape heritage researcher, whose research formed part of her doctorate study in history at UWC, and co-opted member of NCHERS, said: “When you have water, it is not just about a tap; it is about belonging. It’s about claims to use the water and that’s what the people did who came back into this area during the drought to collect water here.
“Many of them were part of the community that was forcibly removed and they were making a historical claim of belonging. So when this water was closed, it was also a wound about who belongs and how the privileged population here can actually claim space.”
Ward councillor Mikhail Manuel said the matter would be looked at in the next sub-council sitting in February 2024.