I was very honoured to be invited to a presentation by award winning historian and author, Dan Sleigh, at the Education Centre at Eerste Steen in the Blaauwberg Nature Reserve.
Arriving bright and early on a Saturday morning, I was looked forward the presentation as I had heard Dan Sleigh speak once before and had been blown away by his in-depth knowledge and his obvious passion about the history of the region.
The topic was “Myths in early Cape History” and, like most people attending, I was very curious as to what myths there could possibly be. Very big ones, as it turns out – stories that most of us believed to be absolutely true. A group of about 20 of us sat enthralled as Dan Sleigh spoke; a consummate story-teller he drew us into the world of our forefathers – and set a few very tall stories straight.
One of these was about the VOC’s signal system. During the time the Dutch East India Company commanded the Cape (1652 – 1795), canons were installed on several hills between Cape Town and Swellendam and the reason for this, we have been told, was to let the various settlements know when ships were approaching so that they could travel to the coast with their goods to trade. This however, was not the reason. Historical documents show that this was, in fact, a warning system of the arrival of enemy ships and a signal for men in the region to gather arms and travel to the coast to defend the colony.
Another myth we all accepted as the truth was the story about Jan van Riebeecks Hedge, a hedge of multi-stemmed wild almond trees, the remains of which were found at Kirstenbosch Gardens. Many history books as well as the plaque at Kirstenbosch gardens tell us that Van Riebeeck ordered that the trees to be planted for the sole purpose of keeping the local Khoikhoi tribe out. But historical documents tell us that this is far from the truth. The hedges were in fact planted to control the movement of cattle; to prevent the trampling of crops, and to curb the animals from wandering off or being stolen.
These, and several other such examples has us all sitting, mouths agape by the end of the presentation…..and pondering the lengths that people will go to for commercial, personal or political gain.
Several of these historical inaccuracies are currently being challenged at the SA Heritage Resources Agency by Mr Sleigh and the VOC foundation, and it will be very interesting to see the outcome. A former editor in the transcription department of the Cape Archives Dan Sleigh specialised in the first Dutch colonial period and, as editor of the Tanap project, he transcribed the VOC archives world-wide into a data base.
He is currently a freelance researcher and consultant to various bodies, including: Department of Culture, Art and Technology of the Western Cape Province, SA Heritage Resources Agency, SAN Defence Force and Castle Military Museum, Blaauwberg Municipality, Gawie Fagan Restoration Architects, SA Government and the Land Claims Court (Richtersveld case).
VOC FOUNDATION – STIGTING VOC – UMBOTHO VOC
The VOC Foundation is a voluntary conservation organisation, founded in the Castle of Good Hope in 1995 and registered nationally (SAHRA), provincially (HWC) and locally (City of Cape Town). Its aims are Conservation, Education and Cultural Tourism with regard to the Dutch East India Company (VOC) at the Cape (1652 -1795) and internationally (1602-1798). The Foundation is unique to South Africa, but maintains relations with VOC interest groups overseas. The historic VOC trade mark is registered in the Foundation’s name with the Registrar of Patents, Designs, Trade Marks and Copyright.
We are the local memory of the VOC era, with information about events, dates, sites, pictures, documents, indigenous people, people of European descent, etc. Anyone may join the Foundation as a member, to use its research and information service and to participate in its work of Conservation, Education and Cultural Tourism.