Constructed in the mid-17th century out of rock hewn from Signal Hill and slate gathered from Robben Island, the Castle of Good Hope is the oldest surviving colonial building in South Africa and one of the best-preserved examples of Dutch East India architecture. Originally perched on the coastline of Table Bay after land reclamation, the erstwhile fort is now a sprawling landmark on the corner of Darling and Castle Streets on the way to Cape Town’s bustling Foreshore.
We discovered the Cape Doctor certainly lives up to its name as we cross the moat and enter the Castle’s precincts to meet Doreen Hendricks, the Castle’s powerhouse Tourism & Marketing Manager. The interview becomes a fascinating journey about the possibilities of transformation and how the colonial past can be transformed into a reimagining of our future.
“The Castle was exclusive for many years, whether to a particular racial group or individuals on a particular career path. It was specifically designed and built to keep people out, but as a tourism heritage site we want to invite people in. We can’t change the structure of the building, but we can change the perceptions of people.
“Everything in the Cape started here at the Castle. Our slogan is, ‘The beginning of everything’. We also position ourselves as the centre for shared heritage in South Africa. Here you have the culmination of so many things and so many people. We are all connected in some way, and the Castle played a major role in that.
“We aim to bring people together and not only recognise differences, but also commonalities and move forward from there. That’s what we started doing in 2016 during our 350-year commemoration and what we are continuing to do going forward.
“How do we do that? A lot of people talk about deconolising history, but in the words of our good friend Professor Denis Goldberg, we do deconolisation of history. We give people a platform to have a voice, to tell their stories and to be recognised. We want them to remember, heal and learn through this process; whether it be via an exhibition, a debate, a community forum or a traditional ceremony.
“The Castle of Good Hope is a self-sufficient public entity. We generate income via our commercial tourism and event activities, which in turn help us fund community heritage initiatives. We rely heavily on partnerships to do development work and appeal to corporate South Africa to support us in order for us to grow our heritage, culture and education department. The fact that our Department of Defence is looking after the maintenance of the Castle, is a huge bonus.
Recently we launch a 350-legacy project, focusing on the passing of the history onto the youth of today. Even though the 350-commemoration was concluded in 2016, the story has actually just begun.We have created a timeline of the inclusive history of the Castle – from when it was first built up until 2016. The timeline, as seen above, includes untold stories of the past as well as the recognition of unsung heroes and warriors. These timelines have been rolled out in 72 schools nationwide with the aim of getting them rolled out into 400 more throughout the country. We want our kids to feel included and become excited about their heritage.
“We also know that the youth nowadays learn through technology, so we have developed an interactive website, virtual tour and video which would speak to them in a language that they understand. We are in the process of developing an app that they would be able to download onto their phones and tablets, which makes history available to them immediately and in a fun way.
“We are positioning ourselves as an exciting, forward-thinking heritage site. People – whether they are locals or tourists – want an experience. They don’t want to stand at a glass window looking in; they’re looking for interaction – touching, feeling, talking, engaging. We are therefore working hard to ensure our product is interactive.
“Over and above all the exhibitions, we also host a variety of events…. from flower shows to lifestyle markets, from music festivals to conferences and weddings.
“We want to open our doors to not only tourists, but to locals, to Capetonians. People whose lives have links here – and who may not even know it.”