History, culture and tradition came together in Constantia on Heritage Day, Monday September 24, as about 450 people gathered at High Constantia for a memorial walk.
They came from far and wide, recalling times when they lived, loved, laughed and went to school and worked in Constantia. Then it was taken away from them under the Group Areas Act.
Pointing to the ADM Store on Constantia Main Road which is still owned by Ishak Dawood, Clive van Graan and Earlston Thuynsma say they were born in a house there in 1954. “It was our playground. There were more trees then, we used to climb them and then couldn’t get down. We collected water at the spring before dams were built for ducks. We went to Constantia Primary School where we watched them put up the tower on Constantiaberg. We were a very close community. We didn’t fight,” said Mr Van Graan.
Ellen Deane of Plumstead spoke with pathos, reminiscing of a time when the ADM Store played an important role in people’s lives after the old post office and police station closed down. The building now stands in ruins, a reminder of this time. She said people continued to visit the area after being kicked out. “People asked what we are doing here. You don’t belong, they told us,” says Ms Deane.
Beryl Samuels brought her grandchildren, Logan and Jamie, to see where she once lived in Strawberry Lane. Ms Samuels said she used to walk from there to Christ Church and went to the old school in Strawberry Lane.
Under a sapphire sky and the watchful Elephant’s Eye, led by the Wynberg Progress Christmas Band, they walked to Brounger Lane. Taking a break, Stanford and Carol Urion of Fairways recalled when Waldorf School was a vineyard.
This was the fourth annual Heritage Day memorial walk and is organised by the Constantia Heritage and Education Project (CHEP). Driving the project is a group of former Constantia residents that include Reverend Terry Lester, a priest at Christ Church who was born in Strawberry Lane. His dad taught at Constantia Primary School and although he does not remember much about that time he does recall his family leaving when he was five years old. His dad moved to DRC School in Retreat.
Mr Lester placed flowers at the Simon van Der Stel Foundation plaques at High Constantia and in Strawberry Lane. At High Constantia it states that the complex was once the site of the Anglican chapel and school, built in 1860/61, to serve people of the Constantia Valley.
This year CHEP partnered with the Constantia Funeral Benefit Society, a 140-year-old community group, as well as Cape Camino, a walking pilgrimage that fosters cultural exploration and connection to sacred sites in South Africa.
The walk ended at the heritage plaque in Strawberry Lane. Dated 1885 to 1969, it commemorates the community of tenant farmers of colour who, until they were removed under the Group Areas Act, made a unique contribution to Cape Town as strawberry, vegetable and flower growers.
Singer, songwriter, heritage artist and cultural activist, Ernestine Deane, also participated in the event. Her grandfather rallied evictees in the late 1980s to register their claims. Ms Deane says he has since died, and her grandmother, her uncle, several other elders and farmers from the original Constantia community.
Only two families have been given back land. Ms Deane made a documentary film called Brown on the untold story of the Constantia forced removals.
CHEP executive committee member, Claire Lester says this year is particularly significant as it marks 180 years since the abolition of slave apprenticeships at the Cape of Good Hope. On December 1 1838, approximately 39 000 slaves were freed in what is known as Emancipation Day.
Another guest speaker was Vinette Ebrahim who plays the part of Charmaine in local soapie 7de Laan. She quoted from ‘Ons kom vandaan’ by Diana Ferrus. “People were stolen from their homes, shackled, sent to a place not known, banished for a crime unknown, their identities taken away and given names of the month they arrived in. Some made it, some not.”
For more information about the Constantia Heritage and Education Project, call 078 198 1156 or email info@ constantiaheritage.org.za