Culture and Heritage

Swellendam is the third oldest magisterial district in South Africa after Cape Town and Stellenbosch and was originally an Afrikaans community, with an Afrikaans culture rooted in the original Dutch settlers, who used it as a trading post and watering hole, but now it is a multi-cultural South African Town having many diverse layers of language, culture and heritage. The Afrikaans heritage and culture is evident through history and architecture, lifestyle and cultural festivals, but not to the exclusion of other languages and cultures.

The Afrikaans language is the predominant language of the region, though English is also spoken and understood by most residents, particularly those working in the tourism sector. The tourist activities are driven by nature-based outdoor activities, cultural tourism, healthy lifestyles, food & wine and by promoting the region as a welcoming, inclusive and responsible South African destination.

THE DROSTDY MUSEUM

 

The Drostdy Museum

Museum and heritage

Swellendam has many beautiful historical buildings, including the Moeder Kirk  which is the most photographed church in South Africa. To find out more about the chequered past of this, the third oldest magisterial district in SA, the museum is the place to visit. Discover how for a brief period in history, Swellendam declared itself a Republic, and nominated itself as capital of the world.

 

MEISIE'S TOWNSHIP TOURS

 

Meisies Township Tours

Meisie Bokwana is a wonderful woman – a great grandmother – who lives in Railton, which is an area of Swellendam where many of the poorer members of the community live. She works hard with local children to encourage them to appreciate and learn about their own heritage, and when school is out, many kids who would normally be hanging around getting up to mischief can be seen heading over to Meisie’s – where they dance, do arts and crafts, learn traditional songs, and generally drive Meisie mad.  Meisie will take interested visitors on a walking tour of the area, visiting a shebeen and a sangoma, and finally back to her home where the children will put on a great show for them.

BEAUTY'S XHOSA FEASTS

 

Beauty’s Xhosa Feasts

At Impangele Guest House, guests who book in advance can delight in delicious traditional African food, prepared by Beauty.  On the menu: samp and beans / mealie pap / baked chicken / lamb  potjke /mfino spinach and roast potatoes. On request Beauty will also prepare Smileys – (boiled sheep heads) and Walkie Talkies (deep fried chicken beaks and feet). Strangely,there have been no requests so far…………

 

SUURBRAAK

 

Suurbraak

father christmas A short drive from Swellendam will take you to Paradise – originally called Xairu  (Paradise in the language of the Khoi people) the little mission village of Suurbraak is a real step back in time, when community and simple living were the life blood of a village.  It has an interesting history and the community are working together to re-create the village as an eco-destination. A wonderful organic restaurant called Paradise Organics is worth a visit for lunch or a snack.

FURTHER INFORMATION ON THE CULTURAL HISTORY OF SWELLENDAM

IN THE BEGINNING

 

Southern Africa has one of the longest records of human activity anywhere in the world and the Swellendam region is rich in historic sites dating from over 1 million years ago. The later Stone Age can be linked to the Khoi Khoi who are known in the Swellendam region as the Hessequa. This name translated means “people of the trees”.

The Hessequa Khoi Khoi entered the Overberg region some 2,000 years ago. They were a clan of herders; farming fat tailed sheep and long horn cattle. The Hessequas moved freely across the western area of the Overberg and lived on the banks of the Breede River where they grazed their large herds. Every Khoi Khoi settlement was controlled by a captain and at times up to 17 captains would set up camp with their nomadic dwellings at the settlement of the most powerful Hessequa chief.Two Hessequa captains and their followers lived in the area where the Bontebok National Park is now situated. The Park’s rest camp is named after the first of them, a remarkable female captain by the name of Lang Elsie. Between 1734 and 1800 she lived with her followers at the southern part of the Park, grazing their stock all the way to the Buffeljags River.

Visitors to the park can still see the open werf area where Lang Elsie’s kraal of woven reed huts was situated. Next to this open space are the ruins of a small stone house where Captain Lang Elsie lived.

Nouga Saree, a contemporary of Lang Elsie, lived with his followers in the western part of the Park, at what came to be called the Ou Tuin. Here too an open werf area is evidence of their settlement. Their sheep and cattle grazed in the area that is now the old Resies Baan (Race Track), so named as this area was used by the Swellendam Turf Club for their race meetings. It is said that these races were so popular that on one occasion the Kadie, a steam ship, (you can see the wreck of this ship at low tide in the Breede River) was chartered to transport race goers from Cape Town to Swellendam. Jockeys were drawn from the now servile Hessequa and so dangerous was the track, that many would be killed.

According to authors and residents of Swellendam, the graves of Nouga Saree and some of his people were found at the foot of the small ridge above Ou Tuin when the Bontebok National Park was established. People recalled that the graves were covered with ‘blue mountain stones’. Although there are several references to the Khoi graves in the Ou Tuin, these graves are not to be found today. The park is committed to preserving these cultural heritage sites and plans are in place for further research and interpretation of Lang Elsie’s Kraal and the gravesite of Nouga Saree.

AND THEN...

 

European settlers landed at the Cape of Good Hope in 1652 and the first contact with the Hessequa Khoi Khoi was in 1660. Lourens Visser, a representative of the Dutch East India Company established a trading post in the area in 1667. To protect the company interests, The Swellendam Drostdy was built in 1745 as the official headquarters and residence for the magistrate.

The original Drostdy was substantially renovated in later years. Beautifully preserved as a national monument, it is today one of the architectural gems of Southern Africa and houses the Drostdy Museum, containing an interesting collection of period furniture and household bric-a-brac dating back over the years since it was built.

The town of Swellendam developed in 1747 in honour of the Cape Governor Hendrik Swellengrebel . Land was cleared of fynbos as extensive wheat and sheep farming ensued. The arrival of settlers in the Overberg was catastrophic for the indigenous inhabitants. Smallpox, land competition, alcohol and tobacco decimated the clans of the Hessequas living in the region.

As the years of the first half of the 19th century passed, Swellendam steadily developed into the prosperous administrative and commercial capital of the Overberg. The wool industry of Southern Africa was established commercially in the Overberg, with Swellendam as the centre. The long main street became lined with a varied collection of buildings. Old gables, gateways, relics and fragments of many interesting old buildings survive as well as several lovely old thatched homes.

Strategically situated on the N2, approximately 240km from both Cape Town and George Swellendam offers attractions rich in heritage and culture, architecture, wildlife and outdoor adventure. It is also an ideal base from which to explore the neighbouring Southern Cape, Breede River Valley and the Klein Karoo.

THE HISTORY OF BONTEBOK NATIONAL PARK

 

The Natural & Cultural History of Bontebok National Park

Bontebok National Park was originally established to conserve a species, the namesake Bontebok.

When the species was approaching extinction in the early 1800s some land owners set aside portions of their properties to form temporary reserve for the bontebok. Mr. P. V. van der Byl, his son, Mr. A. van der Byl, and the van Breda and Albertyn families recognised the perilous situation of the species and without their efforts they might well have become extinct.

In 1931 the first Bontebok National Park was proclaimed on an area near Bredasdorp. The Park was later moved to the area it is now, to suit habitat requirements of the bontebok. By 1969 it was estimated that the numbers had grown to around 800. The park now maintains the Bontebok Numbers at around 200, the maximum this park can support taking into consideration biodiversity conservation as a whole.

According to authors and residents of Swellendam, the graves of Nouga Saree and some of his people were found at the foot of the small ridge above Ou Tuin when the Bontebok National Park was established. People recalled that the graves were covered with ‘blue mountain stones’. Although there are several references to the Khoi graves in the Ou Tuin, these graves are not to be found today. The park is committed to preserving these cultural heritage sites and plans are in place for further research and interpretation of Lang Elsie’s Kraal and the gravesite of Nouga Saree.

One can read more about these people at: www.sanparks.org/parks/bontebok/tourism/history.php

“The Hessequa Khoi Khoi entered the Overberg region some 2,000 years ago. They were a clan of herders; farming fat tailed sheep and long horn cattle. The Hessequa’s moved freely across the western area of the Overberg and lived on the banks of the Breede River where they grazed their large herds. Every Khoi Khoi settlement was controlled by a captain and at times up to 17 captains would set up camp with their nomadic dwellings at the settlement of the most powerful Hessequa chief.”