Cape Town’s great quarry worry

Development plan in the city’s historic Bo-Kaap area stirs controversy




Arena Holdings PTY

News | Heritage

● A famous Cape Town quarry that helped build the city is now digging up its past. Strand Street Quarry on the side of Signal Hill has become a development conundrum: for some it’s an eyesore, for others the front line in a battle to save the city’s crumbling heritage sites. The City of Cape Town metro this week confirmed it is pushing head with a development plan for the 4.4ha quarry site near the CBD where slaves once hewed rock used to build the Castle of Good Hope. The site is now earmarked for recreational and sports activities, with various proposals already submitted, including a “people mover ”— cable car or funicular — service running up to Signal Hill. However with the concrete still wet across town at the multibillion-rand River Club site — the future Amazon regional office — the quarry project is stirring fresh controversy, with some civil society groups suspicious of the city’s intentions. The quarry is one of nine in the Bo-Kaap district, once known as the Malay Quarter, which dates back to 1760 considered by many to be the city’s oldest surviving residential area. With its colourful heritage homes and sweeping views, the Bo-Kaap is a worldrenowned tourist site. By contrast the quarries, source of much of the blue slate rock that built the early Dutch settlement, have disappeared or, as in the case of “Die Kraal” adjacent to Strand Street Quarry, been occupied by homeless shack dwellers. In March the city hosted a stakeholder meeting to signal its intention to redevelop the site, which will involve public consultation and a renewed call for development proposals. Deputy mayor Eddie Andrews insists heritage preservation is central to their mission. “It is envisioned that the redevelopment of the Strand Street Quarry will enable investment sympathetic to its context that will support local employment opportunities and tourism,” Andrews told the Sunday Times. “The Strand Street Quarry and its surrounds have significant heritage value. In April 2019 a number of sites in the Bo-Kaap, including the Strand Street Quarry, were declared national heritage sites ... Thus, the surrounding area hosts numerous sites of historic, religious and cultural value. Heritage conservation bodies are participating in preparing the development vision for the site.” Andrews acknowledged that the “people mover” plan, originally proposed by SANParks in 2013, might be considered. It features a mechanical “people mover” link from the quarry via the Lion Battery to the Signal Hill summit, with an onward shuttle bus service to the Table Mountain lower cable station. “The City of Cape Town is aware of this initiative — it could be included in the vision for the redevelopment of the site,” Andrews said. Not so, says Osman Shaboodien, chair of the BoKaap Civic and Ratepayers Association, who insists the city had neglected the site, once a playground and sports field — until the ablution facility was vandalised. Shaboodien says its unique history — a slave heritage site and erstwhile apartheid dividing line between race groups — should preclude any development not directly benefiting the Bo-Kaap community. “I am very sceptical that the city is looking at it from a perspective of what benefits the Bo-Kaap. We are watching with bated breath on how the city wants to deal with this situation. About six years ago they rezoned it, from public open space to something else, to facilitate a business to buy into that piece of land,” he said. The development plan should also address the occupation of “Die Kraal” quarry, a crime hotspot and tourism deterrent, Shaboodien says. “You cannot look at the quarry in isolation from the surrounding area.” Community activist Franciscus Baars says several Bo-Kaap residential developments — including a high-rise building — were approved by the city despite community objections. “What you are witnessing is the influx of developers trying to gerrymander and fiddle with all these rules of different types of protection,” Baars said. “The people in this community are being blindsided at all times [by development plans]. The credibility of authorities, be they national or municipal, is in question to the point where there is significant division within the community itself — it’s good old fashioned divide and rule tactics.” The SANParks plan, first circulated in 2013, proposes linking the Table Mountain cableway with the tourist stream up Signal Hill and the Bo-Kaap via some form of motorised service. Shack dwellers at the quarry are hoping to be accommodated there. “It would be nice to have houses here if it is possible,” said Kauthar Hendriks, who lives with her small child in a one-room shack leaning up against the quarry fence. She and about 10 neighbours fetch water from the mountain and a tap at “Die Kraal”. “They can’t just put us out of here. We will just find another place on the street,” she said.