The Two Rivers Urban Park is of National Heritage Significance!

23 JUL 2021 — 

Yesterday, the Council of Heritage Western Cape (HWC) considered our application for Provincial Heritage Status (called Grade II status) for the Two Rivers Urban Park (TRUP). Our application had been pending for more than a year, during which time the developers secured approvals to proceed with the redevelopment, which we are now going to challenge in Court.

When we submitted our application in February 2020, we said that “The River Club is part of the Two Rivers Urban Park and a Provincial, if not a National heritage site.” Yesterday, the HWC Council agreed with us. They decided that the TRUP is of very high regional significance, so much so that they believe it should be a National Heritage Site (Grade I status) and will submit the nomination to the South African Heritage Resources Authority (SAHRA), which is the only body able to declare national heritage sites. The South African Astronomical Observatory was declared a national heritage site in December 2018. Now we can look forward to the entire TRUP being declared a National Heritage Resource.

But for that to happen, we need your financial support for going to court to review the redevelopment approvals to ensure that the developers do not start to build on the land before it is graded. Please donate at our fundraising site to Make the Liesbeek Matter!

Why is Heritage Western Cape convinced that the Two Rivers Urban Park is a site of outstanding heritage value?

In 2005 UNESCO adopted a resolution on the importance of celebrating liberation and resistance heritage. As a result, the South African National Heritage Council (NHC) initiated the Resistance and Liberation Heritage Route (RLHR) project to recognise the universal value and significance of this part of our history. In 2013, a research paper at the Human Sciences Research Council’s Social Sciences and Humanities Conference noted that “Some of the potential liberation heritage sites that are linked to the first phase of the liberation struggle in the Western Cape include the area along the Liesbeeck River, which is the location of the first KhoiKhoi resistance against land dispossession.” This research translated into an HSRC technical report on The Liberation Struggle and Liberation Heritage Sites in South Africa in November 2013, which confirmed that it was “along the Liesbeeck River the first free burghers were allocated land by Jan Van Riebeeck to farm and this was the area of the first Khoikhoi resistance against land dispossession…”

A subsequent paper presented to a Historical Association of South Africa’s Conference in 2014 argued that the first heritage site that deserved memorialisation was along the Liesbeek River, because this was the area where the first acts of resistance by the Khoikhoi took place. The researchers then proposed “that the existing memorial site at Two Rivers Park, Observatory, be upgraded to a national heritage site.”

In the following year, a report assessing the pre-colonial and proto-historical significance of the Two Rivers Urban Park site commented as follows:

“The history of this landscape is ancient and tragic. Not only does it mark ‘the beginning of the end’ of Khoikhoi culture but it also symbolises the process and patterns whereby the indigenous inhabitants of Africa, the New World, Asia and Australia-New Zeeland, succumbed to the tidal wave of colonial globalisation. Although there are no tangible remnants of the actual places of conflict, forts or outposts or graves, the topography and ‘place’ survive albeit greatly transformed by more recent layers of development. The valley of the Liesbeek, Black rivers the confluence and remnants of the Salt River estuary exist today.  In the context of the history of South Africa this is an historical place. It is suggested that the Liesbeek River itself is worthy of declaration of a grade ll Provincial Heritage Site along with the remaining open land, the confluence and wetlands.”

On 27 February 2016, Chief Zenzile Khoisan published an article in the Weekend Argus on the historical defeat of the Portuguese admiral D’Almeida by Khoi Warriors. In the article, he noted that “The annual commemoration of the battle is an emotional experience for many of the indigenous leaders who believe the area where it took place, now incorporated in the proposed Two Rivers Urban Park development plan, should become a heritage precinct, as it was also the site of another major conflict between colonial forces and the local Khoi.” He went on to quote Ron Martin, chairman (sic) of the First People’s Museum Foundation and member of the National Reference Group on Khoi and San Land Claims, who argued that this site holds both the key to our country’s past and to an important part of the collective future we wish to secure.

In 2016, the Department of Transport and Public Works of the Western Cape Government commissioned a baseline study to inform heritage grading of the TRUP. The report, presented in October 2016, noted that the TRUP “is an outstanding example of a historically evolved landscape extending from pre-colonial to colonial times, where the links to the riverine landscape have played a significant and multivalent role in its use … Potential sites have been identified for commemoration of the First Nation’s history and struggle.” The authors argued that “the entire TRUP is of symbolic value to the First Nation as a visible example of historical exclusion and loss of rights, division and apartheid. The partial remnant of a ‘pristine’ and unbuilt landscape serves to re-enforce notions of what the landscape represented to those who were excluded.” They concluded that “The entire TRUP site itself could be regarded as being of outstanding historical, symbolic scenic and amenity value, or a Grade 2 site.”

In 2017, HWC’s Impact and Assessment Committee reviewed the baseline report and confirmed “The Committee agrees that the overall site is of at least Grade II heritage significance if not higher.” This prompted the HWC to consider provisional protection of the TRUP area under Section 29 of the National Heritage Resources Act to prevent imminent developments foreclosing heritage protection.

The Committee also asked for further information related to the National Khoisan Legacy Project and the National Liberation and Resistance Project of the Department of Arts and Culture (Province) and the National Government. A Supplementary Report was then tabled in October 2017 which noted that “The Khoisan Legacy Project has identified the Liesbeek River as a significant linear space in the history of the Khoisan peoples because it was the first frontier and from where their people were excluded from the rights in land. …The entire TRUP is of symbolic value to the First Nation as a visible example of historical exclusion and loss of rights, division and apartheid.”

The report also spoke about  “a landscape of memory” and of the need to celebrate “living memory”, alerting us not only to the importance for First Nation history but also to us to the narrative of prisoners associated with the area, Chief Langalibalele and King Ceteswayo, the role of the Oude Molen as the first industrial colonial milling site, the proximity to Ndabeni, a site of forced removals under apartheid, the crossing point at Vaarschedrift and to the social history of the women who traditionally used the Liesbeek to wash clothes.

Because of the imminent threat to heritage resources posed by the LLPT redevelopment application for the River Club, in April 2018 the HWC gazetted a notice for Provisional Protection of the River Club. The Gazette noted the high cultural values of historical, social, aesthetic, architectural, scientific and environmental significances in the TRUP which, it said “possesses a strong sense of place.”

When Heritage Western Cape issued their Final Comments on the River Club HIA in February 2020, they declared that “The River Club is an integral part of a highly significant cultural landscape that is, at the very least of Provincial significance, but more realistically and given South Africa’s history, is one of National significance. Indeed, the TRUP as a whole could be regarded as one of the single most historically significant sites in the Country.”

And the City of Cape Two Rivers draft Local Spatial Development Framework (LSDF) also contained a Heritage Impact Assessment, which, in February 2020, noted that the area containing the Two Rivers Urban Park “is an area of high cultural and visual significance… In many respects, the intangible heritage factors could be regarded as being of at least Grade II significance, probably of the highest order.”

It is clear there is overwhelming evidence that the TRUP is a critical heritage resource and that the confluence of the Black and Liesbeek Rivers, occupied by the River Club, is an integral element of that site. For example, as far back as 2015, it was suggested that “the Liesbeek River itself is worthy of declaration of a grade ll Provincial Heritage Site along with the remaining open land, the confluence and wetlands” and that “the confluence of the Black and Liesbeek Rivers has special significance as it this is possibly the least untransformed wetland in the study area.”

Every authority and expert who has considered the matter, has therefore confirmed the huge heritage importance of the TRUP and the River Club land within the TRUP.

The City of Cape Town, the Department of Transport and Public Works (DT&PW) and LLPT used the HWC Council meeting on the 22 July 2021 to raise procedural issues. This was the same tactic they used in the Ministerial Appeal Tribunal to delay and obstruct the efforts of HWC trying to grade the River Club land under the Provisional Protection Order. They lost that appeal but managed to drag it out for almost two years. The Tribunal findings lamented the fact that “Instead of aligning the scarce resources with experience skills and expertise to cooperatively solve complicated heritage issues,” officials from the City and DT&PW engaged in “fruitless and wasteful contestations” that was not in the public interest.

It is disappointing that the City and DT&PW again want to object that they were not consulted on the decision by a HWC Committee recommending the TRUP be put forward for assessment for National Heritage status grading. It is troubling that a government department would object to the opportunity to “cooperatively solve complicated heritage issues.”

An interesting report noted that UNESCO recently stripped the City of Liverpool waterfront of its World Heritage Status because of concerns about overdevelopment of the heritage precinct, including plans for a new football stadium. Sound familiar? Here in Observatory, we are getting not just a Century City in what should be a heritage precinct, but the land is also threatened by a plan to place a football Stadium for private use on public land within the TRUP. Like the people of Liverpool, we need authorities who care about heritage and the environment rather than protecting benefits for private developments.

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Make the Liesbeek Matter!