Vergelegen gets provincial heritage status

Guests at the ceremony at Vergelegen estate in Somerset West, where MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, unveiled a provincial hertiage site plaque. Picture, from left, are Dr Antonia Malan, chairperson of Heritage Western Cape; Don Tooth, managing director of Vergelegen; Ms Marais; Anglo American South Africa deputy chairperson, Norman Mbazima; Brent Walters, head of Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport; and Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka, CEO of Heritage Western Cape.

Three decades of collaboration between a global mining company with strong South African roots, and many of the country’s leading heritage experts, culminated this week in a ceremony to mark the latest addition to the Western Cape’s list of provincial heritage sites.

Western Province MEC for Cultural Affairs and Sport, Anroux Marais, unveiled a provincial heritage site plaque at Vergelegen on Monday October 28.

“The high historical value of Vergelegen in the first decade of the 18th century is now acknowledged,” said Ms Marais, referring to the original founder, William Adriaan van der Stel. The Cape governor transformed the land from a military outpost into a highly productive model estate, selling produce to the Dutch East India Company, then the leading commercial power in the Indian Ocean region.

Guests included Anglo American South Africa deputy chairperson, Norman Mbazima, who is also chairman of Vergelegen; Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka, CEO of Heritage Western Cape; Dr Antonia Malan, chairperson of Heritage Western Cape; Ms Marais; and Vergelegen managing director, Don Tooth.

“This event is the culmination of a great vision that began with Gavin Relly, then chairman of Anglo American,” said Mr Tooth. “From the start, the purpose was to restore and develop this historic jewel to reach its full glory, and to open it to the public for all South Africans to enjoy. We are completing the circle today, recognising that this heritage belongs to the nation.”

This declaration protects the historic core, which comprises the beautiful homestead and complementary buildings, 17 extensive gardens, the central working farm area, and a planned arboretum. These span 1 120 hectares of the 3 020 hectare estate, set between the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountain ranges.

The remaining 1 900 hectares of the farm are also conserved for future generations, following their promulgation last year as a private nature reserve with the same protection status as the Kruger National Park.

During the ceremony, Dr Dlamuka said: “Elements of globalisation began to manifest themselves on this farm. It demonstrates how certain elements of our history converged in one place.”

Referring to the first meeting of the ANC caucus in 1990 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, in the seclusion of Vergelegen before it was opened to the public, Dr Dlamuka said: “In the dark days during the ending of apartheid, a map was designed here for the future of a democratic dispensation.”

Dr Malan said: “This farm represents layers and layers and layers of stories.”

Congratulating the nomination team which compiled the dossier on the historic importance of Vergelegen, she said: “It is a culmination of many years of interest and work.”

About 100 000 visitors – half of whom are based beyond South Africa’s borders – now view and enjoy the estate every year. However, despite its multiple attractions, Vergelegen’s development continues. Work has already begun on a broad framework for the 60-hectare arboretum, to be planted with trees reflecting the history of the estate. This will become a tranquil area of wood-scapes and pathways where families can walk and relax in peace and safety.