I moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town almost 2 years ago. I have not regretted it once, the quality of life here is much better than in Johannesburg, and I really enjoy being so close to the sea, mountains, and vineyards. However, during this time I picked up quite a few things that mildly reminds me that I’m in Cape Town.
1. Green Arrows at Traffic Lights. Drivers from Cape Town consistently forget to immediately drive when the green arrow flashes on traffic lights, indicating they can turn right or left onto the crossing street. This is something that constantly happens, to the point that I am quite surprised if the driver in front of me immediately drives when the light flashes. I have no idea why so many people from Cape Town fall a sleep when green arrow traffic lights flash. I always associated bright flashing lights with places that excite me like disco lights, signs of strip joints, and cheap chinese take aways. But somehow it looks like these flashing lights have the opposite effect on Cape Townians. Is it possible that there might be a different meaning in Cape Town? Or that there is some unspoken rule, like wait 50 flashes before driving, that only they know of? I won’t rule that one out, it is the Republic of Cape Town after all!
2. It’s acceptable to drive 80-100km/h in the fast lane on the highway. Even after a year and a half in Cape Town, I am still astonished at (1) how people drive 80Km in the fast lane on the N1, and (2) how only on rare occasions a faster driver will actually get annoyed with the aforementioned driver doing 80 in the fast lane. This just proves how people from Cape Town are much calmer and accepting on the roads, which is probably why Mabale Moloi from 5FM reports 100 less accidents every morning for Cape Town, compared to Jo’burg. But at the same time it can be really annoying to be stuck behind someone doing 80kms in the fast when you’re late for that interview, when the fast lane is completely open if only it wasn’t for mister sleepy in front of you. It doesn’t help too much to freak out, because half the time people have no clue what you’re going on about in case you do.
3. Don’t assume the shop is open after 1PM on Saturday. Wow, yes, no idea why shops close at 1 on a Saturday, but choose to be open the whole of Monday. I mean come on, how many of your customers actually have time to come in and buy that R15000 sofa on a Monday 10am from your shop somewhere on the outskirts of Kommetjie? Seriously, think about it mr. shopkeeper, these customers actually have to work in order to afford your goods, and this happens mostly during weekdays – in case you missed that small detail. Weekends mean the whole of Saturday and Sunday, so it’s probably a good idea to try and be open at those times, so that your customers have more time to visit your shop and you have a greater chance of selling stuff.
The one shop, I think it’s called Trade Roots, isn’t even open on Saturdays. The only shops open late on Saturday and Sunday are ones in a big mall like Canal Walk. Any shop or market, or anything that sells something that is not a restaurant, closes on 1pm Saturday.
4. You strictly can’t buy liquor from Saturday 5pm. Those that know me well will know that I never hesitate to spend enough time carefully selecting the right wines when the wine rack is empty. It doesn’t matter that I have a deadline this afternoon, if I’m out of wine I will take the time over lunch to choose the right wines for the next week or two. I just love wine – one of the reasons I moved to Cape Town. One Saturday afternoon while walking through the local Spar’s aisles, it dawned on me that we’ve run out of wine. I immediately set off to the store’s wine shelf to correct this unacceptable crisis, and as per custom, spent an additional 2o minutes selecting the right wines. Excited from my highly successful wine selection I enthusiastically pushed my trolley to the checkout counter and started unloading my groceries. Everything went well, until I put the wines on the counter. Suddenly the cashier’s face changed to one normally reserved for criminals caught in the act. For a second or two I thought she’s going to “moer” me when she said, “it’s already 5 o’clock so you’re not allowed to buy any liquor.” With enormous disappointment and a little embarrassment for revealing my non-Cape origin so publicly like that, I apologized and reluctantly returned the wines to their place on the shelf.
Afterwards, during long walk back to the car, I unsuccessfully tried to find a deeper meaning to this law. The only thing I could think was that anyone that really wanted to get their hands on some wine, and get drunk can do so easily but visiting their local “watergat”, shebeen or just any street corner in lower Woodstock. Surely this law is not going to deter any determined alcoholic to quench their first, or will it? Would be interesting to see actual statistics on the issue, and whether it actually made a difference to the number of rowdy and drunk characters slinging through the streets.
5. Smart casual is more casual, and less smart. During my time so far in Cape Town I’ve gone to a number of events and venues (I’m quite surprised about this myself, these days it’s getting harder to go out and requires ever increasing levels of motivation to not chill at home with a good wine and a book). At a number of these I was quite surprised to see how casual people dress when they go out. As a direct comparison, Cubana’s in Cedar Square (Fourways) will often stop you at the door if you’re not dressed correctly, and by correctly they mean rather smart. In the Republic on the other hand, Cubana’s in Tableview will allow you in even if you have shorts and “plakkies” on. Even at more serious things like a classical music performance, at least half the people wear very casual clothes, like K-Way jackets.
I really enjoy this characteristic of CT. Especially by someone like myself that really couldn’t be bothered about what I wear when I go out, and whether people realize that I am wearing clothes from Ackermans. However generally Cape Townians aren’t so generous and casual with their friendship, and prefer to stick to the brands, I mean friends, they know… but that’s another day’s story about the Republic’s friendship etiquette.
Soon after the start of the American War of Independence from Britain, tension mounted between Holland and Britain, because of the Dutch’s trade with France and the American revolutionaries. In 1779 the Dutch Republic joined the First League of Armed Neutrality to seek protection from Britain. The British government saw the complications of getting embroiled in a war with Russia, Sweden and Denmark (members of the leage), and declared war on Holland in 1780. This was the beginning of the fourth, and last, Anglo-Dutch War. The Dutch’s naval capacity has been deteriorating since 1712, and their fleet was in dismal shape. With only twenty naval warships at the start of the war, the Dutch fleet was no match for the British Royal Navy. The Fourth Anglo-Dutch War resulted in ruin for the Dutch Republic that was ruled by William V, Prince of Orange. Prince William was pro British and also grandson of king George I of Great Britain. Therefore when Holland lost the war, he was blamed by the pro French elements in Dutch politics for mismanagement. The Patriots formed out of discontent for the Republic’s poor performance and in an attempt to turn around its decline.
By 1785 the Patriots threatened to overthrow the Stadholder led government, even though most people still gave their full support to the House of Orange. The same year the Patriot revolution commenced. However in 1787 they were forced out by a Prussian led force that supported William’s wife, Princess Wilhelmina daughter of Prince Augustus William of Prussia. Since its formation the Patriots associated themselves with the French revolutionaries, and fled to France.
In 1795 the Patriots returned with the full support of the French revolutionary armies. With force they took control of the Netherlands, and established the new Batavian Republic. Prince William V fled to his ally, Britain, abandoning his country to the French backed revolutionaries.
Britain now lost a strategic ally and with it access to the Cape of Good Hope. The Cape was a key midway point for ships to replenish crew and equipment on their way to important colonies in the east and far east. The British East India Company realised they had to take control of the Cape to retain access to India. Lord Baring the Chairman of the British East India Company, persuaded the British Government to intervene with a military force.
A fleet of seven Royal Navy ships was sent to the Cape under command of Vice-Admiral Elphinstone. Five were third-rate ships of the line: HMS Monarch (His/Her Majesty’s Ship, 74 guns), HMS Victorious (74 guns), HMS Arrogant (74 guns); two were 4th rate ships of the line: HMS America (64 guns) and HMS Stately (64 guns); two were 16-gun sloops: HMS Echo and HMS Rattlesnake. The fleet left Britain on the 1st of March, and reached Simon’s Bay in early June 1795. Elphinstone attempted to negotiate with the Dutch governor Sluysken, to handover the Cape Colony to Britain, but was refused. On June 14 the Dutch was unable to scorche Simon’s Towns, when 350 Royal Marines and 450 men of the 78th Highlanders infantry regiment took control of the town.
The Dutch retreated to their fort just outside Muizenberg, where their military force could defend against the British forces with artillery fire. The British assembled another 1,000 sailors from the fleet into two battalions of five hundred men each, commanded by Commander Temple Hardy, captain of Echo, and Commander John William Spranger, captain of Rattlesnake, bringing the total number of soldiers to 1,800 men. The British used carronades, a powerful, short-range anti-ship and anti-crew weapon, from the ships’ launches, to serve as close artillery. The Dutch waited with 800 soldiers at their Muizenberg fort.
The Dutch had three days to prepare their defences. Today some of these fortifications are still visible, like the middle battery. The middle battery is a small lookout post halfway up the hillside, on small promontory which gives it an excellent 180 degrees view from Simon’s Town to Muizenberg Beach. At least one gun was mounted at this location, since it was recorded as a battery. The gun was most likely a 4-pounder, of which several were known to have been deployed on the site. A 4-pounder weighed about 900 kg, and was used for signalling or to fire grape and musket-shot at infantry. The little battery is also home to the ruins of a stone hut built using cement, which indicates it was built by the British. The hut is currently demolished.
On Sunday 7 August 1795 at 12:00pm the skirmish commenced, when the British marched towards Muizenberg in a column formation, for speed and manoeuvrability, through Fish Hoek and Kalk Bay, supported by the the big 4th rate America and Stately, and the smaller Echo and Rattlesnake from the sea with their carronade cannons
In a hurry the Dutch constructed defences, and assembled the guns from various sources. Two 4-pounder field guns with their large wheels were the easiest to be transported with horses to the site. A couple of days later a 13-inch mortar and a howitzer, a kind of short, heavy cannon, and also a powder wagon, a kind of box on wheels with a steep roof, arrived at the fort. These were used for dropping explosive shells, instead of solid shot, on the British infantry. Next the Dutch sent two big 24-pounder cannons and their gun carriages.
These were meant to be operated from mounted positions as ship or battery guns. Apparently they arrived without their wooden platforms. Weighing 2500 kg, they quickly sank into the sand and impossible to aim. Two more 4-pounders were sent to the fight. In the Dutch’s retreat to Zandvlei they would’ve taken the 4-pounders. However the large 24-pounders, mortar and howitzer were left behind, and captured by the English. The Dutch most likely disabled them before deserting them.
Because the Dutch fort was built so close to the sea, it was within range of the ships guns. The warships anchored close to the rocks and in half an hour fired 800 cannon balls at the defenders. The column of British soldiers and troops then overran the position. Some of the Dutch and especially the Pandouren or native troops fought well, but Dutch morale was low and they abandoned the fight. The Pandouren were Coloured or Khoisan men who were either slaves of the Dutch or free men subject to the authority of the VOC. By 2:00pm the Dutch retreated around the corner to Zandvlei.
The fighting continued for weeks, but the British eventually pushed the Dutch back to Wynberg Hill. On the 14th of September 1795 a fresh assault with reinforcements was made on the Dutch. On 16 September 1795 the Dutch finally surrendered the Cape to Britain.
This first, temporary, British occupation led to the second in 1806, which was permanent, and is the reason we speak English in South Africa rather than French. The consequences of this little skirmish was huge.
Today, next to the Main Road in Muizenberg is a crude rock fort started by the Dutch in 1795 and expanded by the British from 1796 onwards. Higher up the mountainside, below Boyes Drive is a crudely built defensive protective wall in front of a trench (parapet) that was probably built by the Dutch.