For many Hout Bay residents and visitors, the nine kilometre stretch along Chapman’s Peak drive is a treat and many are overwhelmed by the beauty the route has to offer.
Sadly this often leaves East Fort, one of Hout Bay’s four coastal fortifications built between 1781 and 1806, nestled on the slopes of Chapman’s Peak, overlooked.
Hout Bay and Llandudno Heritage Association vice chairman, Dave Cowley said the Fort, which is not only significant to local South African history but also has links with Britain, France, the Netherlands, India and Sweden, is truly an international heritage site that must be preserved for future generations.
In the past 18 years, the site has suffered at the hands of neglect and remains at risk as little or no maintenance is done by the responsible authorities.
“Walls are collapsing, it is subject to vandalism and exposed to fire damage,” said Mr Cowley.
He recently submitted an application to the Heritage Portal’s Heritage Monitoring Project requesting to have East Ford identified as one of South Africa’s 10 most endangered heritage sites.
The Heritage Portal is a news and information platform for the South African Heritage Sector.
It is a volunteer driven initiative that relies on content contributions from members of the heritage community.
The Heritage Monitoring Project (HMP) is a civil society initiative to monitor and report on heritage law reform and enforcement, monitoring and evaluation.
The HMP provides an independent voice for tracking progress of the realisation of heritage and cultural rights in South Africa.
Its mission is to strengthen transparency, accountability and responsible custodianship across the heritage sector.
The land at East Fort is owned by the Department of Public Works (DPW) on behalf of the Department of Defence, however, it was appropriated to Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) in 1998 which was subsequently proclaimed as part of a World Heritage site by UNESCO and administrated by SANParks and the Department of Environmental Affairs.
The Fort is situated on a 6.4 hectare site, along one of the world’s most scenic drives, and includes four ruined buildings – most of which could be restored according to Mr Cowley – and a battery of eight cannons which have been restored, proofed and licenced by the Hout Bay and Llandudno Heritage Association.
The cannons have also been ceremonially fired on many special occasions by the associations’ gunners.
Mr Cowley says heritage legislation in South Africa omits recognition of the international roots of cultural heritage sites and the association believes East Fort should be classified as a special category.
“In the same way that Britain acknowledges its Celtic, Saxon, Roman, Danish and Norman ancestry, South Africa will one day understand that we cannot change history, but by preserving the evidence we can learn and gain much from it,” he said.
Mr Cowley explains that East Fort is potentially a significant valuable heritage tourism destination and a logical gateway point to TMNP.
He says visitors and tourists from Cape Town unknowingly enter the park as their buses drive to picnic destinations on Chapman’s Peak Drive and en route to Cape Point.
However, a few kilometres south, the important tourist route is tolled and for large buses the route is often one-way only, meaning the bus will return to Cape Town on the eastern side of the Peninsula and tourists are denied the experience of East Fort’s spectacular sunsets.
Also, Mr Cowley says that very little information about the history of East Fort is provided near to or at the site and it remains an enigma to the many passing tourists.
In his application, he said the development of East Fort as a heritage destination could mean that guided historic tours, educational facilities and scenic walks could be hosted to become a significant contributor to local tourist businesses and help boost local economy by providing employment opportunities.
He said the Hout Bay and Llandudno Heritage Association was established in 1996 prior to the proclamation of the TMNP and the National Heritage Resources Act.
He says at the time, the association’s expectations were that Hout Bay’s cultural as well as natural heritage sites would be preserved but it never happened.
He says East Fort was previously supported by the City of Cape Town via initiatives from the local Hout Bay museum but since the park took over the condition of the site has declined considerably and pleas to the owners, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), SANParks and our heritage agencies have been virtually ignored.
Mr Cowley says the history of East Fort is significant to Hout Bay and the changes that have taken place in the past decades are of great concern.
On September 15 1795 the cannons at East Fort were fired in defence of the possible entry to the Bay of a squadron of British warships.
HMS Echo, a 16 gun ship sloop, entered the Bay and drew fire from both East and West Forts forcing the HMS Echo’s speedy withdrawal.
The British squadron went on to sail to Table Bay. Later that day the Dutch forces yielded following discussions near Wynberg and the administration of the Cape was handed over to the British Generals.
The British occupation lasted for eight years but following the Treaty of Amiens in 1803 the Cape was handed back to Holland which had become the Batavian Republic.
In 1806, Britain again took occupation of the Cape but this time they not only steered clear of Cape Town’s Castle but also Hout Bay’s batteries so their forces landed at Losperd’s Bay from where the Battle of Blaauwberg began.
East Fort was constructed by the French Pondicherry Regiment with the help of slaves from Hout Bay’s Kronendal Farm, who also helped to supply food for the troops as well as provide labour for its construction.
“It is a fascinating story that helped change the fate of Africa.
“The story must never be forgotten and needs to be told,” Mr Cowley said.
He says the response from the Heritage portal was favourable and the association will hear on Heritage Day, tomorrow Saturday September 24, whether the site was accepted as one of the 10 most endangered heritage sites in South Africa.
Mr Cowley said should this be the case, community volunteers would be happy to participate in preserving heritage attractions that could stimulate tourism but they are currently not encouraged to do so.
“I believe that natural and cultural heritage is the fundamental element of the psyche of all communities on which community pride is based,” he said.
DPW spokesperson Lunga Mahlangu said the department was still sourcing information and he could not provide the Sentinel with comment about the future upkeep and maintenance of East Fort.
At the time of going to print,SANParks had not responded to the Sentinel’s media enquiry despite several calls and emails. SANParks spokeswoman, Tarcia Hendricks said she was waiting for information and could not respond to the enquiry without it.