Statue-esq Cape Town: a City which honours its city leaders!

I’m currently doing a Tour Guiding course, and am learning so much more about our City, both in theory teaching as well as practical tours of our city and outlying areas. Yesterday we did a tour of the city centre, and I learnt a lot more about the eminent Capetonians who are honored with statues in the city centre.

We were each allocated a specific facet of the City, and had to do some research about it, and then present it to the rest of our class on a coach, practising being a tour guide. My topic of research was the Heerengracht, in which area are three statues of note: 

#. Portuguese nobleman and sailor Bartholomew Diaz was the first European to have navigated around the most southerly tip of Africa, sailing as far as Mossel Bay, Port Elizabeth, and East London in 1488, on his way to India to purchase spices. Very rough seas encountered on their journey made his sailors demand that they turn around and return to Portugal. On their return journey they landed in what is now Cape Town, which Diaz named the Cape of Good Hope, and subsequently the Cape of Storms, given the storms they encountered on their journey. Three statues have been erected in honour of Diaz, one in London, one in Mossel Bay, and one closest to the sea in Cape Town, the most northerly statue in our city. Before the land was reclaimed in Table Bay a pier had been built to link the land and the ocean, and where the pier ended is where the statue of Diaz was erected. Diaz preceded the arrival of the Dutch sailors in Cape Town by about 160 years.

The statue of Diaz was designed by Salvador Barata Feyo, but he used his own imagination of what Diaz may have looked like, not having a photograph or a painting of Diaz according to which could create the statue.  The statue stands on a roundabout close to the Naspers building, with Diaz facing  Table Mountain, with his back to Table Bay. It was donated to our city by the Portuguese government in 1952. 

#   Dutch businessman and administrator Jan van Riebeeck had visited Cape Town in 1645, and only spent a few days in our city, before there were any facilities in which he could stay at that time. He returned to Cape Town on 6 April 1652, to set up a virtualization station for Dutch ships travelling between Holland to India and back, collecting spices in the East for the Dutch East India Company, the first company listed on the Stock Exchange. Van Riebeeck arrived with a fleet of three ships, the Drommedaris, the Goede Hoop, and the Reijger. It is he who requested vines to be sent to the Cape, so that he could make red wine, to prevent sailors from contracting the scurvy disease. His main focus was in planting fruit and vegetables in an area now known as the Company’s Garden, a far larger area than currently. Inside this Garden he planted the first vines. Van Riebeeck governed the Cape for ten years. He is called the ’Founding Father’ of South Africa, and his role in creating a residential and business settlement in Cape Town was acknowledged through 6 April being declared a public holiday, named Van Riebeeck Day, but abolished when the ANC government took over the running of our country. 

Prime Minister of the Cape and mining mogul Cecil John Rhodes commissioned John Tweed to create the statue of Van Riebeeck, on condition that Tweed’s name not be revealed on the statue, that he be paid £1000, and that the statue be larger than life. He stands with his back to the ocean too, facing Table Mountain. We were told that another man was used as the image for Van Riebeeck, he not looking like the person in his statue, or on our currency.  The statue was erected in 1899. 

#  Maria de la Quellerie was the young wife of Jan van Riebeeck, having married him at the tender age of 20 years, and accompanying him to Cape Town. It is written that she was a diplomatic asset for her husband, in how she received foreign visitors. The Van Riebeecks had eight children, but most died at childbirth. There are no known relatives of the Van Riebeecks. A statue in honour of Maria was erected in 1952, created by Dutch artist Dirk Wolbers. 


The Heerengracht was named after a gentleman’s walkway alongside a river that ran from Table Mountain towards the ocean. Now only 240 meters of the street is still named that, the rest of the street having been named Adderley Street after Charles Adderley, who fought against Cape Town from becoming a penal colony, as the British government had intended. Adderley Street was the high street of Cape Town, with its top shops located on it, until the V & A Waterfront mall was built and attracted the best shops in the city to it.  


Three statues in and near the Company’s Garden also deserve a mention: 

# Jan Christian Smuts is honoured by two statues in very close proximity to each other, one at the entrance to Government Avenue, outside the Slave Lodge, and the other outside the National Gallery further along Government Avenue. Smuts was the Prime Minister of South Africa after it became a Union, from 1919 to 1924, and from 1939 to 1948. He was an intelligent scholar at Stellenbosch University, and a scholarship enabled him to study at the University of Cambridge in the UK. Despite a promising legal profession in the UK after his studies were completed, he decided to return to South Africa, to practice Law here. He did not do well in this career due to his personality, and moved to writing articles for the Cape Times. In later life he became Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, the first person outside of the UK to hold this position. He helped to create the British Commonwealth. A statue of Jan Smuts stands on Parliament Square in London. The statue of Smuts outside the Slave Lodge is by Ivan Mitford-Barberton. The statue outside the National Gallery is by Sydney Hartley. 

#  Queen Victoria is honoured by a statue outside an older Parliament building off Government Avenue, completed in 1890, created by Thomas Brock, to commemorate the first Jubilee of her reign as Queen of England. 

#  Cecil John Rhodes is depicted in a statue in the Company’s Garden, facing north, with his back to Table Mountain. He wears a three-piece suit, it having been said that he wore the same suit until it was unwearable, and then would discard it and buy a new one. Rhodes wanted his statue to stand in Adderley Street, and it was erected there initially in 1910, but after the disastrous Jameson raid under his leadership, it was moved to the Company’s Garden without his knowledge, the designer of the statue finding it too large to be erected at the top of Adderley Street, in that it would have dwarfed the nearby St George’s Cathedral and other monuments in the vicinity. The statue has an inscription : ‘Your hinterland is there’. It was designed by renowned architect Sir Herbert Baker. 

Rhodes was a British businessman with a dream to create a British-owned railway line from Cape Town to Cairo, a dream he did not achieve due to the German occupation of German East Africa. He was a mining magnate, involved in the gold industry, and he established the De Beers diamond company. He was also a politician, becoming the Prime Minister of the Cape. He created Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe. He was a generous benefactor, creating the Rhodes scholarship for study at Oxford. 


The statue of the late President Nelson Mandela is on the balcony of the City Hall, the same balcony on which he addressed the nation after he was released from Victor Verster prison outside Paarl on 11 February 1990. The statue was unveiled on 24 July 2018, and created by Xhanti Mpakama and Barry Jackson. 


I discovered yesterday that Cape Town has so many hidden treasures, and I am grateful for discovering these on my Tour Guiding course. 


Chris von Ulmenstein, WhaleTales Blog: Tel +27 082 55 11 323 Twitter:@Ulmenstein Facebook: Chris von Ulmenstein Instagram: @Chrissy_Ulmenstein


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