Western Cape Province of South Africa

the hart of the western cape

A view of the Iconic Table Mountain, In the Western Cape

 

The Western Cape is a province of South Africa, situated in the south-western part of the country. It is the fourth largest of the nine provinces in terms of both area and population.

History of the Western Cape

The Ancients

Human communities had lived in the Cape Peninsula and Western Cape by hunting, fishing and collecting edible plants for many thousands of years. They are the ancestors of the Khoisan peoples of modern times – the Bushmen (San) and the Hottentot (Khoikhoi). The Bushmen were hunter-gatherers while the Hottentot were mainly herders. Both groups were thought to have migrated southward, ahead of the Bantu-speaking peoples whose ancestral home lay well to the north.

The Portuguese

Portuguese sailors encountered such ferocious storms around the Cape Peninsula that they christened it “Cabo Tormentosa “(Bay of Storms). In 1580, Sir Francis Drake sailed around the Cape in The Golden Hind and the ruggedness and breathtaking beauty of the peninsula caused him to write – “This Cape is a most stately thing, and the fairest Cape in the whole circumference of the earth”. The unsurpassed beauty of Cape Point where the winds have blown relentlessly for generations, marks the meeting place of two great currents, one from the equator (Agulhas Current- the strongest north-south current in the southern hemisphere) and the other from the Antarctic (Benguela Current), causing turbulent seas and monstrous waves.

Antonio de Saldanha was the first European to land in Table Bay. He climbed the mighty mountain in 1503 and named it ‘Table Mountain’. The great cross carved by the Portuguese navigators in the rock of Lion’s Head is still traceable. Table Bay became known as ‘Saldanha’ until 1601 when the dutchman van Spilbergen named it ‘Table Bay’.

The Dutch

In 1652 the Dutch East India Company, yielding to repeated petitions and recommendations from their ships’ officers, at last decided to establish a post at Table Bay. They sent three small ships, the Dromedaris, the Reijger and the Goede Hoop under the command of the 23-year-old Jan Antony van Riebeeck, a ship’s surgeon, to establish a stronghold on the shores of Table Bay. Their objective was to grow vegetables, barter for livestock, with the Hottentot tribes, and build a hospital and a sanctuary for the repair of ships. Jan van Riebeeck’s first fort, subsequently replaced by the existing Castle of Good Hope, was Cape Town’s first building.

Simon van der Stel, who arrived as Governor in 1679, was destined to exercise marked influence on the Colony for the next 20 years. He enlarged and beautified van Riebeeck’s garden and built a slave lodge (today the Cultural History Museum) at the entrance. It was during Simon van der Stel’s governorship that the Huguenots, who had been driven from France by the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, arrived from Holland.

The British

During the war between Britain and Holland (1780-1783) a British fleet sailed to take possession of the Cape, but was attacked and disabled by the French. The French then landed two regiments at the Cape to assist the Dutch in the defence of the Colony. Part of the large hospital on the outskirts of town was assigned to them as barracks. (After 1795 the building was wholly occupied by troops and in time the adjoining Ziekenstraat became more appropriately known as Barrack Street, a name it still bears).

In 1814, Lord Charles Somerset became Governor, and the following year he inaugurated the first mail-packet service between England and Cape Town. This was the beginning of the Union-Castle Company’s connection with South Africa. The Union and Castle lines amalgamated in 1900.

Cape Town became a municipality in 1840. A liberal constitution was granted to the Cape Colony in 1853 and the first elected Parliament met on 30 June 1854. On 28 November 1872 complete self-government for the Cape Colony was promulgated by a proclamation of Sir Henry Barkly, who laid the first foundation stone of the present Houses of Parliament in 1875.

Cape Town Today

The 1994 election saw the inauguration of the first black State President, Nelson Mandela, who headed a government of national unity. The Mother City and the Western Cape are home to South Africa’s parliament and are a major international tourist attraction. Tourism remains the most important economic key to the development of the Western Cape. There are about 75,000 people employed in the tourism industry in this area. Two out of every three tourists to South Africa include a visit to the Western Cape in their itinerary.

Five of the country’s six major insurance giants have their headquarters in Cape Town. The province is also the country’s leading clothing and textile producer, with nearly 600 formal manufacturers employing over 40 000 people and producing nearly R1,8 billion a year. Cape Town is the headquarters of the Southern African oil industry and many other industries involved with global commerce are locating their offices here. The Western Cape is viewed as being historically freer of labour unrest than the other provinces.

Geography

The Western Cape is bordered on the east by the Eastern Cape, the north by the Northern Cape, the west by the Atlantic Ocean and the south by the Indian Ocean. The subantarctic dependency of the Prince Edward Islands is included within the province’s administration. The Olifants, Berg and Breede Rivers are major rivers of the province. It is roughly the size of England or the State of Louisiana. Its capital city and largest city is Cape Town, and some other major cities include Stellenbosch, Worcester, Paarl, and George. The Garden Route and the Overberg are popular coastal tourism areas.

The interior forms part of the Karoo Basin and is mostly hilly and arid with a sharp escarpment in the north. The province is the southernmost region of the African continent. Cape Agulhas is the southernmost point in Africa. The total land area is 129,370km. It is roughly the size of England.

Vegetation is also extremely diverse. The Cape Foral Kingdom, one of the world’s seven floral kingdoms is almost exclusively endemic to the province. Most of the area is covered with Fynbos, being extremely rich in species diversity, with more plant species occurring on Table Mountain than the entire United Kingdom.

The arid interior is dominated by Karoo drought-resistant shrubbery. The Little Karoo and West Coast are semiarid regions and are typified by many species of acacia trees, succulents and drought-resistant shrubs. The Garden Route is particularly lush, with temperate rainforest covering many areas adjacent to the coast and along the mountain ranges. Typical species are hardwoods of extraordinary height, such as Ironwood, Stinkwood and Yellowwood trees.

Climate

The Cape Town area of the Western Cape has a Mediterranean climate. Inland and coastal temperatures usually differ as the mild, dry and very sunny summers warm the coast with temperature lows of 15 degrees and highs averaging 27 degrees, and inland temperatures are often 3 – 5 degrees higher than the coastal areas. Winter along the coast is chilly but hardly ever drops below 7 degrees and the midday highs see temperatures of 18 degrees. As mentioned before, the inland temperatures are higher, but inland residents can find themselves waking up to 5 degrees and warming to a perfect 22.

March and April, are the most idyllic months to visit the Western Cape area. Summer has started to subside, and although still sunny, the heat is pleasant and the wind dies down to a subtle breeze. Signifying the start of autumn, these weather conditions bring with it a spectacular change in the vegetation and vineyards. A sea of browns, orange and warm reds blanket the earth, giving the visitor breathtaking inland and coastal views.

Western Cape winters are spread across the months May to July, and even the chill in the air cannot hide the beautiful scenes of snow capped mountain tops, or take away the enjoyment of sitting in front of a warm log fire. With spring arriving in August and lasting to October, the land again transforms, but becomes one massive bouquet of flowers.

Even though the Western Cape climate is mostly pleasant, the famous “Cape Doctor” does take pride in battering the coast every now and then. At intervals, the wind forcefully sweeps across the landscape, clearing the air from pollution, and therefore the name “Cape Doctor” was given to these winds. They have been known to literally sweep locals and visitors off their feet!

And last but not least, is the beautiful “table cloth” that drapes over Table Mountain, and is a spectacular sight. The south easterly winds (Cape Doctor), that moves in from False Bay and up over Table Mountain, is filled with moisture. When this warm air meets the colder air at approximately 900 meters, a thick cloud starts to form that covers and rolls down the other side of the mountain. On the down hill slope towards the city bowl, the air again reaches the warmer temperatures, the cloud starts to disappear. This is of course the meteorological explanation for this amazing phenomenon. Legend says that the clouds were formed by a smoking competition. It is said that after a life on the ocean, a pirate named Van Hunks retired to the slopes of Devil’s Peak in the 18th century. Devil’s Peak is the mountain next to Table Mountain. Van Hunks was known to pass his days by sitting on the mountain and smoking his pipe. A smoking competition that lasted for days started when Van Hunks was approached by a stranger. After Van Hunks won the competition, the stranger revealed himself to be the Devil, after which they both disappeared into a puff of smoke.

Economy

The Western Cape economy contributes roughly 15% to South Africa’s GDP. More sophisticated sectors such as finance, real estate, ICT, retail and tourism have shown substantial growth, and are the main contributors to the regional economy. The value of residential property has increased significantly.

Many of South Africa’s major insurance companies and banks are based in the Western Cape. Most of the country’s petroleum companies and the largest segment of the printing and publishing industry are found in Cape Town.

After Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape’s manufacturing sector is the third-largest contributor to the national manufacturing sector. The clothing and textile industry remains the most significant industrial source of employment in the province.

Cape Town remains the economic hub of the province, encompassing industrial areas such as Epping, Montagu Gardens, Parow and Retreat.

Agriculture

The sheltered valleys between mountains are ideal for the cultivation of export-grade fruit such as apples, table grapes, olives, peaches and oranges. A variety of vegetables is cultivated in the eastern part of the Western Cape, while the wheat-growing Swartland and Overberg districts are the country’s breadbasket.

The inland Karoo region and the Overberg district around Bredasdorp produce wool and mutton, as well as pedigree Merino breeding stock.

Other animal products include broiler chickens, eggs, dairy products, beef and pork. The Western Cape is the only province with an outlet for the export of horses, earning millions in foreign revenue.

The province is also a leader in the export of ostrich meat to Europe, with its abattoirs turning out R1-billion in export products every year. In addition to meat, fine leatherware and ostrich feathers are also exported to destinations all over the world.

The rich fishing grounds on the west coast are protected from exploitation by a 200km commercial fishing zone and a strict quota system. Snoek, Cape lobster, abalone, calamari, octopus, oysters and mussels are among the delicacies produced in these waters.

Tourism

The Western Cape’s heady mix of mountains, vineyards, and oceans appeals to millions of visitors annually. More than any other province its attractions border on iconic and, as a result, the province is the most popular for foreign visitors. Certainly Cape Town’s big 6 (now 7) attractions – Cape Point, Robben Island, Groot Constantia, Table Mountain, Kirstenbosch, V&A Waterfront, and now The City Walk – have become central to any stay in the Western Cape and the Mother City.

Table Mountain

Table Mountain is a national monument. It is a natrual wonder of the world that is often used as a symbol for Cape Town and South Africa. On days where there are no clouds, the mountain can be seen from 200 kilometres out at sea. It is called Table Mountain because it is so flat on top that it looks like a table. On the either side of Table Mountain there three named hills. They are Devil’s Peak, Signal Hill and Lion’s Head.

Robben Island

Robben Island is just off the coast of Cape Town. There was a jail on the island where political prisoners were kept. Political prisoners are people who are sent to jail because they challenged the government. Many leaders of the Freedom Struggle were sent to Robben Island, including former President Nelson Mandela. Today, the jail is a museum and a World Heritage Site because of its importance to our historical heritage.

Castle of Good Hope

The Castle of Good Hope is the oldest building in South Africa that is still standing. It was built between 1666 and 1679 by the Dutch East India Company (VOC), a big trading company from the Netherlands. The castle has five corners, like a star. Each corner has a name: Buren, Nassau, Katzenellenbogen, Leerdam and Oranje. The names come from the title of the Dutch ruler of that time, the Prince of Orange. The stone that was used for the castle walls came from Robben Island.

Wine

The farm house at Groot Constantia. It was built in the Cape Dutch Style, which is only found in South Africa. Today, the house is a museum. Source: www.cmm.co.za/cmm_history.htm] The farm house at Groot Constantia. It was built in the Cape Dutch Style, which is only found in South Africa. Today, the house is a museum.

The wines of the Western Cape are known all over the world. Groot Constantia is the oldest wine producer in the country. It was part of the farm of one of the old Dutch governors of the Cape, Simon van der Stel. There are wine farms, or estates, all over the province, like in the Boland, Swartland, Olifants River Valley and the Klein Karoo.

 

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