Cape Town – With talk of decolonisation echoing through the halls of universities, talk of land reform resounding around the country and nationalisation and redistribution of wealth on the lips of almost every South African, what better place to start than the land’s oldest colonial building?
This weekend, the Castle of Good Hope turns 350, and it is fast-tracking its reimagining by unveiling four statues of men who, up until now, have been little more than footnotes in the country’s history books.
They include king of the amaHlubi, Langalibalele, whom the suburb of Langa is named after and who opposed colonial rule, and Zulu king Cetshwayo, who famously led the resounding defeat of the British army at the Battle of Isandlwana.
Another is Bapedi king Sekhukhune, who through force and political manoeuvring built his kingdom Sekhukhuneland and violently opposed British rule, handing the Boers a number of crushing defeats.
Khoikhoi interpreter Doman, who led the first resistance against the Dutch by setting up monopolies of trade, so as to grow his own people’s wealth at the expense of Jan van Riebeeck and his party.
Walking between the hallowed, majestic bastions of the castle, Leerdam, Oranje, Nassau, Katzenellenbogen and Buuren, through the govenor’s chambers, the castle barracks, old munitions storage facility and the gloomy torture chamber, on guided tours, one is reminded of the cruelty of the past.
The systems of oppression and slavery, the torturous punishment of those who tried to escape slavery, or had the temerity to worship their own gods, refusing to submit to the missionaries, who forced Christianity on the indigenous enslaved tribes.
The Castle of Good Hope, far from shying away from its dreadful past, seeks to remind us, lest we forget.
However, the castle is changing. From its original purpose as the main port of defence, to the housing of the governors of the Cape, to a tourist attraction, the castle has also become a vibrant events venue, recently hosting the inaugural Cape Town Flower Show.
Daily, there are visitors from the US, the UK, Australia, Russia, Belgium and elsewhere around the world, who come to marvel at a structure that ties together iconic parts of Cape Town – timber from the vast forests of Hout Bay in the 1660s, stone from Table Mountain, held together by powerful limestone cement made on Robben Island.
The Castle of Good Hope is as Capetonian as the people who live in the Mother City and from its colonial past, it is rising from the ashes to become a beacon of inclusivity, a shared history and identity.