"In Cape Town's Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens are the remains of a hedge of bitter almonds, planted by Jan van Riebeeck in February 1660 to protect the settlement, the grain farms and the forests from the Khoikhoi, who inhabited the area when the Dutch arrived. Planted in a half moon and punctuated by watch-towers, it effectively isolated the settlers from the African continent. The bitter-almond hedge grew into the apartheid divisions that ran through every aspect of life in South Africa, and that invaded the psyche of the nation"
(Martin, 1996: 3)
"In many ways that hedge still exists today, both physically and metaphorically. Almost 300 years later, the architects of apartheid continued Van Riebeeck's act of separation by legislating the "hedge" into existence through the Group Areas Act."
Map of the Cape Colony ca 1660 (Böeseken, 1948: 52)
What you will find at this cache location is a very important plant. It is a remnant of a boundary wall planted on van Riebeeck's orders over 350 years ago. The boundary wall included this hedge, thorn bushes, wooden walls, and watch towers. It stretched from here to Wynberg Hill (Bosheuyel) and along the Liesbeeck River to the mouth of the Salt River. The above map shows the hedge forming the border of the colony. In his journal, on February 23 1660, van Riebeeck recorded the initial planting of this hedge, stating: "Within the compass of this hedge, the whole settlement and all the grain farms, forests, etc. will be beautifully enclosed as in a half-moon, and everything will be well protected" (Thom 1954 Vol.III: 185-186).
This barrier cut off the indigenous Khoikhoi from the grazing land they traditionally used. van Riebeeck recorded an encounter where the Khoikhoi confronted him about land rights and asked him "Who should rather in justice give way, the rightful owner or the foreign intruder?" (Thom 1954 Vol.II: 95-96). In response to this demand to withdraw, van Riebeeck said that the territory had been won in battle and now belonged to the VOC. The Khoikhoi then asked for at least the right to collect "veldkos" (bush food), specifically wild almonds (Brabejum stellatifolium) from their traditional lands. Van Riebeeck denied this request as well. He needed the very same wild almond plants to form his barrier hedge to keep the Khoikhoi out (Goodwin 1952).
Efforts to protect the hedge began as soon as it was planted. Van Riebeeck even issued a Plakaat (a posted law) forbidding everyone "not only from making passage through ... the said hedge, but not even to break off from it the smallest twig, no matter what the reason is supposed to be, on pain of being banished in chains for 3 years" (van Zyl 1908: 16). Today, there are only two surviving portions of van Riebeeck's hedge, the Kirstenbosch section and another in Bishops Court. The declaration of the Kirstenbosch portion of the hedge as a National Monument was made in Government Notice No. 529 of 6 April 1936. The Bishops Court portion of the hedge on Wynberg Hill was declared as a national monument in 1945.
The Bishops Court portions of the hedge can be best experienced by completing the "View from the Top" cache (GC211PM). That cache is also hidden amongst the branches of the hedge, and you walk along it on your way to gz. Photos and a bit more information can be found here
The complexity of acknowledging and preserving much of South Africa's heritage can be illustrated in the mixed reaction to this plant and what it represents. This hedge can be seen to represent the colonial legacy of domination, separation and exclusion. It could also represent a legacy of determined settlers who planned on staying. The difference between this hedge and the wall that used to barricade the colonists from the Native Americans on the island of Manhattan (now Wall St.) is not in the barrier itself, but in what came after.
In 2001, the plaque commemorating the Bishops Court portion of the hedge was vandalized. The South African Heritage Resources Agency (SAHRA) removed it and asked for public opinion on if a new plaque should be made, and what it should say. The following (rather long) quote sums up the task ahead for all of us (and I include geocachers) concerned with the importance of public places and their significance.
"As much as statues and plaques bear the brunt of people's anger, precisely because they are tangible markers of national heritage, the simple act of removing them does not erase history from people's memories, from their lives, or from the city spaces they share. The past persists in spaces, in words, and in the intersection of the two. While any combination of cities and words may be available for use, we cannot simply organize cities and words into just any combination. We are bound to work with, and even work through, the city spaces and rhetorical practices into which our lives are thrown. Recognition that rebuilding Cape Town as a post-apartheid city demands the past not get erased or become forgotten, that Cape Town residents are bound to work through the spaces and practices into which they are thrown, was captured in questions asked of visitors to the 2002 exhibition on Riebeeck's legacy, "Do you think that SAHRA should replace the plaque? If so, what words would you inscribe on a new plaque?"
The question of choosing the right words to mark the hedge challenges the people of Cape Town to recall what many would probably just as soon forget, but what they cannot forget. But it is not only that. It is also the challenge of having to put into words what they know all too well in their hearts and minds about the racial geographies of colonialism and apartheid. Their challenge is finding words to do more than remember, to do more than describe the landscape, to do more than pass judgment on the boundaries of Dutch colonialism. The question of choosing words to inscribe a new plaque invokes the broader question of truth and reconciliation faced by South Africans since the end of apartheid rule. Truth and reconciliation require reinterpretation of the separation of self and other across boundaries of difference built into the landscape, memorialized in monuments, and expressed in words."
(Marback 2004: 257-258)
Maybe, if you are so inspired, you can share your thoughts as to how best to commemorate or acknowledge this important plant, or other aspects of South African heritage, in your logs.
More information about the hedge can be found at these links
For information on all aspects of Kirstenbosch, click here.
The Garden is open 365 days a year from 08:00 - 19:00 (September -March) and from 08:00 - 18:00 (April - August). The entrance fee is R35 for adults and R20 for South African students with student ID cards. Fees for school children (6-18 years old) are R10. Children under 6 years old and Botanical Society members have free entry. SA senior citizens have free entry on Tuesdays, if it is not a public holiday.
Böeseken, A.J., 1948. Geskiedenis-atlas vir Suid-Afrika Kaapstad,: Nasional pers.
Essop, T., 2004. Budget Speech 2004/2005: Department of Environmental Affairs and Development Planning (21 June 2004). http://www.capegateway.gov.za/eng/pubs/speeches/2004/Jun/76350 [Accessed: 22 March 2010]
Goodwin, A.J.H., 1952. Jan van Riebeeck and the Hottentots 1652-1662 South African Archaeological Bulletin, 7: 7-53.
Marback, R., 2004. A Tale of Two Plaques: Rhetoric in Cape Town. Rhetoric Review, 23: 253-268
Martin, M., 1996. The Rainbow Nation: Identity and Transformation. Oxford Art Journal, 19: 3-15.
Thom, H.B. (ed.) 1954. Journal of Jan Van Riebeeck, 1651-1662 Vols I-III, Cape Town: Balkema.
Van Zyl, C.H., 1908. The Batavian and the Cape Plakaten - An Historical Narrative. South African Law Journal, 25: 4-25.
The cache container and its contents was provided complete and readymade as a (booby) prize at the nICE Event in Cape Town (GC2480V). Thank you for a great event, we hope we've put the container to good use.
Dr. Antonia Malan was kind enough to fact check this entry for us.