Exploring historical monuments from 1786 on the African south coast

in TravelFeedlast month

Europe has a history of note, going back thousands of years but Africa’s history recorded by us, only goes back a few hundred years. I recently went on a little exploration of my current local town and found some historic evidence of the first European settlers here on the south coast of Africa.

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The year 1652 is famous as the time when the Dutch first arrived and officially settled in Cape Town, establishing a refreshment station for passing trade ships on their way to the east on behalf of the Dutch East India Company. I presume it would have taken some years for settlers to move east along the coast to my current location about 555km east of Cape Town.

And the evidence I found on my tour recently shows that the Dutch were involved here in the Garden Route, in a town called Plettenberg Bay, as far back as 1786. Here is an old stone building which is now declared a national monument. The plaque shows that the remnants of the remaining stone structure is being preserved as it is.

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It’s not much of a building any more, and I doubt many people see it, as it’s located in a fairly remote area, very close to the beach. The beach is actually the more attractive place for the mass of tourists annually here, but they probably don’t notice the hidden monument because it’s merely an old stone wall, and a roofless structure hidden by some trees.

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However, the plaque shows that it is a preserved structure to remind us of our origins as European settlers in black Africa. Apparently this town of Plettenberg Bay was named after a Dutch governor of the region named Van Plettenberg. Some names are mentioned on the information board at the monument and we can see that they are still popular local South African surnames found in the country today. These are obviously the descendants of those early Dutch settlers that populate the country now.

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According to history, this region of the Garden Route on the south coast of Africa, was once a massive forest of majestic yellow-wood trees. This old monument building was originally a timber shed to store timber from the massive forest. It was to be a supply area for the main colony in Cape Town, 550km to the west. Presumably ships might dock in the bay and collect timber as well as wheat apparently.

The monument structure was itself built from yellow-wood timber, although the timber roof structure is gone and only the stone walls remain. Unfortunately the forest has long since been devastated and cut down for timber over the past two centuries. Only about 3% of the original indigenous forest remains locally now. The massive majestic yellow-wood trees are mostly gone, either to ship building or construction or whatever.

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Unlike America, Australia and numerous other colonised countries, here in South Africa the Europeans did not wipe out the indigenous people. The black Africans were by far the majority and despite some wars, they were always the majority and now obviously rule the country completely, since the removal of Apartheid in 1994 under Nelson Mandela and his party. There were actually indigenous Koi/San bushmen tribes that are the real original inhabitants of this coastal strip way before the black Bantu tribes migrated south, but they unfortunately were largely wiped out.

The Bushmen have remnants of their people left inland in remote Kalahari desert regions, around the Namibian border with South Africa, but they are vastly diminished and impoverished, much like the native Americans or the aborigines of Australia. These Bushmen were here before both black or white settlers or migrants. Fortunately their legacy is with us enshrined in the South Africa coat of arms and motto, which is written in the Bushman language, meaning “diverse people unite”.

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I enjoyed exploring this hidden monument structure in the idyllic tourist town of Plettenberg Bay recently and although it is rather humble compared to the monuments of Europe, it does show some of the roots of my ancestors who pioneered and settled this region hundreds of years ago – for better or worse.

(photos my own)