Bicentennial of the Establishment of the Town of George | Western Cape Government

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Bicentennial of the Establishment of the Town of George

10 May 2011

Good evening and thank you for joining us tonight and for giving me the opportunity to speak to you as we celebrate a truly momentous occasion, one that obviously only comes along once every 200 years. I am honoured to be speaking to you tonight, as we celebrate the bicentennial of the establishment of the town of George and its communities.

While I understand that the official date of the anniversary is 23 April (1811), we have unveiled a plaque today as part of the bicentennial festival, which will hopefully see this town celebrating for the next year.

In December, I was here to see the IRB Sevens Rugby Tournament, and was blown away by a city filled to capacity and bursting at its seems with excitement, jubilation and passion. The passion that I witnessed was not only for sport as the thousands of rugby enthusiasts descended on this beautiful picturesque town, but I saw a passion for the town itself, a passion from this community to welcome tourists and visitors with open arms. That weekend was so popular that I couldn't even find hotel accommodation in George and had to book in at a hotel in Mossel Bay. I did so with a smile on my face though, as this was a clear demonstration of how special George really is, not only to the Western Cape and South Africa, but to the rest of the world as well.

From a number of sources, I have read about the origins of Outeniqualand, the strip of land on the Southern Cape Coast between the Outeniqua Mountains and the Indian Ocean that falls within the Eden District Municipality and covers the George, Kannaland, Knysna, Langeberg, Mossel Bay, Oudtshoorn and Plettenberg Bay Local municipalities. Your town, the town of George, is regarded as the administrative capital of the Southern Cape Region and falls within the boundaries of the Western Cape Province.

I've also been informed that it is not so easy to determine when precisely the name "Outeniqualand", as a geographical region, became part of historical records. Perhaps this adds to the magic of the region. There is, however, written evidence which indicates that this region was already referred to as Outeniqualand in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Many local geographical names have Khoi and San origins. The name "Outeniqua", as I'm sure many of you know, consists of three elements: "Ou" + "teni" + "qua". When broken up, "Ou" means matters, "teni" means honey in the mountains and "qua" means people or tribe. In the Khoekhoen idiom, Outeniqualand can therefore be interpreted as a place of "a man or people laden or blessed with honey".

The early inhabitants of Outeniqualand were mainly three Khoekhoen tribes: the Gouriquas, Attequas and Outeniquas. They respectively lived in the area west of Mossel Bay, around Mossel Bay and George, and east of George.

Another well-known fact about George relates to its establishment based on the timber industry. From the beginning of European colonisation in South Africa in 1652, timber and the provision of various woods was of paramount importance for the survival of the settlers. Once forest areas near the present Cape Town were exhausted, the search for more timber continued east along the coast. Since 1772, there was a gradual influx of settlers intent on making a living from the forests. In early days, the lives and livelihood of the people revolved around the timber industry and the rich forests in the vicinity.

The great forests of the Southern Cape were discovered as early as 1711, but due to their inaccessibility, it was only decades later in 1777 that the Dutch East India Company (DEIC) established a woodcutters' post or "buitepos" where George is today. In the George Museum foyer is the original George Beacon which was erected by the DEIC in 1785 by the then-governor of the Cape, Cornelis Jacob van de Graaff, to strengthen their claim and to deter the English from trying to stake a claim in Outeniqualand. It was proclaimed a National Monument in 1962 and a Heritage Object in 1992.

On 23 April 1811, the Earl of Caledon, Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, issued a proclamation to form a new Drostdy (magisterial district) in Outeniqualand. He proclaimed that the district and the town, where the Landdrost (later known as the Magistrate) would reside, be named after the reigning monarch of England, George III. This district then included the present districts of George, Mossel Bay, Knysna, Oudtshoorn and parts of Uniondale, Willowmore and Calitzdorp.

Adrianus Gysbertus van Kervel, the first Landdrost, completed the first official building, the gaol, on the site of the present George Tourism Bureau in 1812, followed by the courthouse, now the Magistrate's building, in 1813.

The Drostdy, Van Kerval's official office and residence, was completed at the end of 1815. Today it is not only the heart of cultural life in the town as the George Museum, but is also a declared provincial heritage site, indicating its significance in the history of the town.

The Municipality of George was established and granted municipal status on 24th March 1837 in terms of the provisions of the earliest municipal legislation in South Africa, Ordinance 9 of 1836.

The National White Paper on Arts, Culture and Heritage of June 1996 states that countries should acknowledge the value and importance of cultural heritage by ensuring the preservation of their heritage through permanent collections of various kinds, and through restoration and care of sites having religious, political, cultural, scientific, archaeological or environmental significance.

It is clear that the town of George has placed a high value on preserving their heritage by the number of heritage sites and institutions in the area.

From a pamphlet distributed by the South African Heritage Resource Agency (SAHRA), which quotes a UNESCO document, I can read you the following: "Heritage is our legacy from the past, what we live with today, and what we pass on to future generations. Our cultural and natural heritage are both irreplaceable sources of life and inspiration. The Natural Heritage Resources Act says that our heritage is unique and precious and it cannot be renewed. It helps us to define our cultural identity and therefore lies at the heart of our spiritual wellbeing and has the power to build our nation. It has the potential to affirm our diverse cultures, and in so doing, shape our national character".

From the Discussion Paper: "Towards a new provincial museum policy for the Western Cape Province, March 2011, I can tell you that the George Museum, like all other museums in the Western Cape strives to:

  • Preserve the collective memory of the inhabitants of the region, thus contributing to social cohesion.
  • Help shape the unique South African identity and promote tolerance and understanding of our multi-cultural society.
  • Protect and preserve collections and create knowledge furthering lifelong learning and appreciation of our heritage".

As you have just heard, I have quoted from a number of provincial, national, and international legislation and policy guidelines, which all strive to highlight the importance on heritage. Without our heritage we have no roots, and without any roots we will drift through life without purpose. The town of George clearly has purpose.

Many historic sites and objects commemorate your history, and allow both inhabitants and visitors to find out more about George:

Heritage Institutions

  • The George Museum and the Outeniqua Transport Museum.

Provincial Heritage Sites

  • The "Slave Tree" in York Street reminds us of a painful chapter in our history where servitude was bought with money.
  • In the George Museum, the historic marker or beacon for the Dutch East India outpost of "Outeniqualand" erected by Governor Van Plettenberg in the late 18th century, is still preserved.

Churches and Other Religious Buildings

  • The historic Pacaltsdorp Mission Complex was consecrated in 1825 - the oldest in the George district. The settlement of Hooge Kraal was established in 1813 as a mission station of the London Missionary Society. In 1818, its name was changed to Pacaltsdorp, in honour of the Reverend Carl Pacalt, the first missionary to serve there. John Campbell, Director of the LMS, who was instrumental in seconding the Rev Pacalt to Hooge Kraal, visited there in 1819 and reported that: "in no part of the colony did I observe a greater alteration or improvement [in living conditions and education] than at the (Khoikhoi) town of Hooge Kraal, now called Pacaltsdorp".
  • The historic Dutch Reformed Church, consecrated in 1842.
  • St Mark's Cathedral, built in sandstone based on the design provided by Sophie Grey, the wife of the then Anglican Bishop of Cape Town.
  • St Paul's Church School, built in 1855, is situated in Market Lane. It was declared a heritage site in 1979. It served the coloured congregation of St Mark's Church. It was consecrated as a Church in 1879 and served its own parish from 1945.

Transport and Commercial Ventures
The tollhouse and Montagu Pass, dating back to 1848. Both were declared as heritage sites in 1972. Closely associated with the building of the Pass is Fancourt, built in 1859 in Blanco as the homestead of Henry Fancourt White. Today it is a well-known Hotel and Country Club estate.

The scenic old road between George and Knysna is another one of the historic mountain roads and passes constructed in the Southern Cape that played a vital role in the economic development of the district.

Public Buildings
Together with the old Drostdy, the second gaol/prison in George, built in 1861 at "Die Bult", played an important role in safe-keeping of convicted criminals. These days it is the satellite campus of the Provincial Training Academy.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this list is exhaustive and should be celebrated. There are many more that I would love to list, but unfortunately I do not have the time.

Oral history is another form that provides us with the chance to learn about the past from people through their first-hand knowledge of historical events and experiences. Oral history has shed new light on well-known events and provides different perspectives and a more fascinating, rich layered history that captures the human spirit and memory of an event. In this regard planning for the upgrading and transformation of the Timber exhibition at the George Museum will be taken forward and implemented with a focus on oral history. Interviews will be conducted with people who used to be involved in the woodcutting industry eg woodcutters and labourers - telling their stories.

Intangible Heritage
Dr Matilda Burden, well-known cultural historian born here in George, defines intangible culture as the intangible products of the human need to create, either to satisfy a specific need, solve a problem or for the sake of creativity; cultural products that can therefore not be touched. One of the most important aspects of intangible culture is language, and not only the grammar of language, but the different genres in which language finds expression, for example names, music, songs, dances, riddles, stories, poetry, etc.

As far as the George Museum is concerned, projects regarding intangible heritage, have centred on compiling family trees, Language: Speechmaking and Poetry, and traditional dances, etc.

The Museum has also hosted the Khora Gom Project which is promoting the indigenous language Khoekhoegowab. A phrase book, compiled by Dr P Kutela of Tembalethu, in English, Afrikaans, IsiXhosa and Khoekhoegowab was also exhibited and donated to the museum.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, together with the Department of Transport and Public Works, undertook a major refit of the George Museum in 2010 as part of the cultural legacy of the 2010 FIFA World Cup project. The Saywer Hall now hosts major art exhibitions, in some cases travelling art collections such as the Sanlam Art Collection, and the Department's own graphic art collection. A number of local artists are also utilising the facilities to exhibit their work.

Ladies and gentleman, the history of George is so rich and detailed that one could have a full semester university course dedicated to it. The people of George, the heritage sites of George, its abundant heritage sites and its unbridled beauty make me proud to be part of this province.

To celebrate 200 years of history is no small feat; George and its inhabitants can all be proud that you have had the pleasure and privilege to be a part of history.

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