Nature, history meet at new heritage site

Heritage Western Cape approved a report from the City’s environmental management department nominating Blaauwberg Nature Reserve as a provincial heritage site.

The Blaauwberg Nature Reserve, with its natural riches, panoramic views and echoes of Napoleonic warfare and ancient strandlopers, could become a top tourist destination with its new provincial heritage status.

This is the view of Dave Honour, a member of the Friends of Blaauwberg Conservation Area (BCA), the organisation that has played a key role in turning the reserve into what it is today.

Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais and various officials were at the unveiling of a plaque recognising the reserve’s new status, on Tuesday, August 24, after Heritage Western Cape approved its nomination as such by the City’s environmental management department.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the reserve was now in the same league as Cape Town’s other heritage sites.

The reserve is about 1445 hectares and stretches along the R27 in Blaauwberg. It marks the start of the West Coast flora region and protects, among other things, the endangered Cape Flats dune strandveld, critically endangered Swartland shale renosterveld and critically endangered Cape Flats sand fynbos.

Two world heritage sites, Table Mountain and Robben Island, can be seen from the Blaauwberg Hill in the reserve.

Blaauwberg Hill features several buildings built during World War II, including South Africa’s first radar station.

The Battle of Blaauwberg between the British and Dutch colonists, on January 8 1806, was a turning point in South African history and is commemorated annually.

The battle was a sideshow in the Napoleonic Wars: the Cape Colony was controlled by the Dutch, more specifically the Batavian Republic, which was allied to France. The British sent forces to take control of the colony and the strategic sea route around the Cape before it could be taken over by the French.

According to Mr Honour, British forces, numbering 4500 men under the command of General Sir David Baird confronted a 2000-strong Batavian force, including local militia, under Lieutenant General Jan Willem Janssens, on the old north road to the east of Blaauwberg Hill.

“The short battle concluded in a British victory and retreat of the Batavian troops following which Lieutenant Janssens was to finally capitulate the Cape to the British on 18 January 1806,” he said.

This year marks the 215th anniversary of the Battle of Blaauwberg.

“This reserve that is now a heritage site should put a feather in a lot of people’s caps. We have worked extremely hard to get it to what it is today,” Mr Honour said, adding that it could become one of Cape Town’s biggest tourists attractions.

The reserve also carries ancient echoes of the indigenous groups, such as the Khoisan strandlopers, who settled the region thousands of years ago and lived by hunting and gathering food from the beaches.

“There are shell middens, from shellfish dating back to approximately 15 000 years,” Mr Honour said.

Friends of BCA chairwoman Stephanie Muller said that before the reserve had been established in 2000 it had been used by thrill-seekers on quad bikes and off-road motorbikes. The Friends of BCA was started as a non-profit to restore and protect wildlife and indigenous plants in the area.

“The reserve has so many unique attributes, which makes it special from other reserves around the city,” she said.

There are plans to turn one of the buildings, on top of the hill, into an interpretive centre for the Battle of Blaauwberg.

“It might take up to a year to complete this centre, but we are working on it,” she said.

Another plan in the works is to open the reserve’s eastern side, which is currently fenced off to protect the animal life there from poachers.

“The opening of the east side of the reserve could take years to be done, but we cannot do it without the hard work we have been putting in from many parties,” she said.

Ms Muller encouraged the public to join the Friends of BCA on its education walks and talks.

Ms Marais said the uninterrupted view from Blaauwberg Hill of Robben Island and Table Mountain was “a TikTokker’s delight”.

Call 021 444 0454 to find out more about the Friends of BCA.

From left, are ward councillor Nora Grose, Ron Martin from Heritage Western Cape, Mandla Mdludlu from Heritage Western Cape, Cultural Affairs and Sport MEC Anroux Marais, Blaauwberg Nature Reserve manager Koos Retief and director of the City’s environmental management department Lorraine Gerrans.