Cape Town - The recent placement of a monument celebrating the foundation of the Newlands Cape Brewery, but without mention of the cultural and historical significance of the Kildare Road Springs, has caused an outrage among Capetonians marking Heritage month.
The City demolished the springs in Newlands back in 2018, despite lobbying by the group Friends of the Kildare/Newlands Spring about the symbolic importance of the water-collection space.
Stellenbosch University Sociology and Social Anthropology Professor Steven Robins said at the time: “What these officials and residents could not see was that this spring was more than simply a pipe filled with flowing water. It was a space saturated with history, memories and sociality.”
Ahead of Heritage Day celebrations, Claremont Main Road Mosque Imam Rashied Omar wrote to the City to protest that the plaque on the new monument had erased the history of the majority of people who lived and worked in the area.
The letter, which was co-signed by mosque secretary Jaamia Galant, read in part: “The bulk of the narrative on the plaque deals with the doings of the beer and water supply magnates in the area. It frames the history of Newlands exclusively in terms of the still highly profitable brewing and property industry in the Newlands/Claremont area.
“This new monument opens up painful, but timely, questions of history, heritage, restitution and environmental justice in Newlands and Claremont.”
Imam Omar said: “As one of the oldest institutions in this area - the Claremont Main Road Mosque was established in 1854 - we would like to publicly express our objection to, and rejection of, this unlawful monument and the ongoing erasure of memory that it represents.
“Histories and memories of the past are important in shaping communities’ responses in the future. We therefore fail both our ancestors and our descendants if we allow the message of this monument to go unchallenged.
“Furthermore, we argue that on every level this monument is in direct violation of the principles, values and procedures of our National Heritage Resources Act,” said Omar.
Omar’s letter received a speedy response from the City’s Environment and Heritage manager Dimitri Georgeades, who said the department apologised for any offence caused by the installation of this plaque, and considered the injustices of the past a serious matter.
“Our department will ensure a process of broad participation to consider alternatives to either change the wording of the plaque or remove the memorial completely,” said Georgeades.
Western Cape First Nations Collective chairperson Zenzile Khoisan said: “The fact that the plinth has been erected and fails to mention the enslaved people on what was the VOC Nieuwlands estate, and who would have dug and built this spring structure, reveals a breathtaking condition of ignorance.
“This is because it is this layered history, searing, joyful, spiritual and even organic entrepreneurship that is a collective commonwealth of cultural belongings, that are the treasure we should preserve and hand as an inheritance to future generations.
“Bludgeoning the indigenous people and those condemned to slavery and indentured labour by successive colonial administrations into silence, or excising their histories, reveals a cultural chauvinism that must never be tolerated,” Khoisan said.
Mayco member for spatial planning and environment Marian Nieuwoudt told the Argus that the plinth was a marker in the form of an A4 ceramic plaque that gives a short explanation of the Newlands Spring, put there by the City through the ward councillor.
Nieuwoudt admitted, however, that there was a need to more fully commemorate the history of Newlands and to engage with communities with regard to acknowledging, in a meaningful way, the long-established communities that were impacted and forcibly removed with the implementation of apartheid legislation.
Meanwhile, provincial department of cultural affairs and sport spokesperson Tania Colyn said: “There is currently no process under way for declaring this as a provincial heritage site.