Plett Heritage Festival
Speech by Donald Grant, Minister of Transport and Public Works
- Programme Directors.
- Executive Mayor of the Bitou Municipality, The Honourable Memory Booysens.
- The Speaker of the Bitou Municipal Council, The Honourable Annelise Olivier.
- Councillors Stuart Farrow and Wayne Craig, as well as other representatives of the Bitou Municipality.
- Ladies and Gentlemen.
Goeie more, Good morning, Molweni
Let me begin by extending my sincere gratitude at being invited to speak to you on such an important day on South Africa’s calendar; a day when we celebrate our shared heritage. It is always an honour for me to return to Bitou, which is not only an area rich in history and significance, but also an area that I have called home for some of my adult life. This is indeed a homecoming bar none.
This region alone has a sprawling history dating back to the Middle Stone Age, with this area having been traversed by not only the Middle Stone Age man and indigenous Khoi people, but also by ostrich feather barons, woodcutters, farmers, prospectors, merchants, sailors, and craftsmen. The beauty of these shores also grabbed the attention of Portuguese Nobleman and intrepid explorer, Bortholomew Diaz, who landed at Mossel Bay in 1488, almost 200 years before Jan van Riebeeck landed in Cape Town.
This area boasts the Plettenberg Bay’s Nelson’s Bay and Matjes River Caves, inhabited by Middle Stone Age man more than 100 000 years ago. The legacy of the Khoi lives on with tools, ornaments, and food debris available for viewing at the caves, testament to a resourceful people known for having practised extensive pastoral agriculture in the Cape region, long before colonization.
The presence of the Blombos Cave in this region, believed to be the birthplace of man’s abstract thought, is yet another thread in the rich tapestry that is this region’s history. In fact, just last year, the Western Cape Government, under the Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, along with Heritage Western Cape, made an application to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) to declare, amongst others, the Blombos Cave a World Heritage Site due to its being one of the sites so closely related to the emergence of modern human beings. We await such a declaration by UNESCO.
Monuments have been erected to commemorate the contributions of early settlers to the formation of modern-day Bitou. These range from the grave of Griqua leader, Andrew Abraham Stockenström le Fleur, situated in the village of Kranshoek on the Rodderg/airport Road, to the family graves of Robert Charles Harker, who controlled the affairs of Plettenberg Bay for some 21 years, in the village of Harkeville.
The 18th century saw the growth of a booming timber export industry in this area, with a woodcutter’s post having been established in Plett by the Dutch East India Company in 1787 with the building of a storehouse to house timber.
A little closer to my area of expertise is the historic account of the building of the Prince Albert Pass in 1868 by Thomas Bain. The growing timber trade, as is the case today with areas of growing economic activity, necessitated the building of the Prince Albert Pass and the 90 km forest road through the Tsitsikamma to Humansdorp. Three major passes had to be constructed, namely Groot Rivier, Blauwkrantz, and Storm River. Bain began construction of the Groot Rivier Pass in 1880, completing the still existing work in 1883. These roads were undoubtedly crucial to unlocking the economic potential of the area; not much has changed in that regard.
Apartheid also left its destructive mark on this region in the 1960s, with people of colour being forcibly removed from Plettenberg Bay, and made to settle in various informal settlements on the outskirts after having lived in the town since its inception.
Let us not, however, lose sight of this region’s rich history and its many lessons. Let us also never lose sight of why we commemorate this day, Heritage Day, every year in South Africa since 1995 on 24 September. This day is said to be a day when all South Africans come together to celebrate the diverse cultural heritage that makes up our Rainbow Nation. This year should be no different. Although now synonymous with braaing, Heritage Day remains the day to celebrate the contribution of all South Africans to the building of South Africa.
Dr Ntsoakae Phatlane, from Unisa’s History Department, once said about Heritage Day and what the holiday means to him:
“Our heritage is very unique and precious because it helps us to define our cultural identity and it therefore lies at the heart of our spiritual wellbeing and it has the power to build our nation. Our heritage has the potential to affirm our diverse cultures and in so doing shape our national character as a “rainbow nation” at peace with itself. In short our heritage celebrates our achievements and contributes to redressing past inequities. It educates, it deepens our understanding of society while at the same time it encourages us to empathise with the experience of others. For a nation that has just been through apartheid, which had been declared a crime against humanity by the United Nations, the significance of heritage day cannot be overemphasised in that it facilitates healing.”
May we all be guided by our past, in our ongoing endeavour to create a better, more prosperous future for us all.
I thank you.