A moving ceremony was held at Cape Town’s Castle of Good Hope on Saturday to mark 350 years since the first cornerstone of the once-feared structure was laid in 1666.
“It went very well,” said Castle Control Board CEO Calvyn Gilfellan of the imposing five cornered building established to fend off rolling attacks between colonial powers wanting to get their hands on the prized fertile land on the southern tip of Africa.
Instead of leaving the building whose corners are named after William of Orange III to the ghosts of slaves and prisoners who toiled and perished there over the centuries, it was getting a new life as a place of healing, reconciliation and understanding.
Gilfellan stressed that it was a commemoration, and not a celebration.
They had invited the symbolic number of 350 guests, but the event turned out to be much bigger, with Cape Town’s famous minstrels stepping out for their annual parade near the entrance where many of their own forefathers would have screamed for mercy or carved out graffiti on the thick stone walls.
Built on land reclaimed from the sea just outside Cape Town’s bustling central business district, it is not only having a spiritual makeover, but is also halfway through a R108m physical revamp.
At Saturday’s ceremony, religious leaders from the various faiths practised in South Africa addressed the guests and traditional leaders from African and Khoi cultures conducted a healing ceremony.
Buchu was burnt and holy water was drunk.
“Everybody, without being briefed, spoke about how important it is to not forget the past, but to move forward,” said Gilfellan.
“The older generation spoke about our difficult heritage,” he explained. “They agreed that they should become more vocal in the conversations about monuments and symbols because they are part of our humanity.”
The castle is believed to be the oldest colonial structure in Africa and had replaced an older fort built out of clay and wood by Jan van Riebeeck, who has been blamed by many, including President Jacob Zuma, for the country’s tangled politics.
Construction of the castle was for the Dutch East India Company that Van Riebeeck worked for and which had stopped in the Cape halfway between the Netherlands and the Indonesia to set up a refreshment station.
Background notes prepared for the ceremony said that Time Magazine had once placed the Dutch East India Company alongside Microsoft and the Ford Motor Company as companies that had had the most influence on the world.
It was built by craftsmen from many European countries working with the Khoi Khoi, slaves in Africa and from the east and housed the first formal seat of government until 1811.
High profiled prisoners included King Cetswayo, Adam Tas, Adam Kok, Chief Sekhukhune and King Langalibelele.
Khoi translator Eva Krotoa, who helped the early Dutch settlers with translations, also spent time at the castle.
It also has four museums, hosts indigenous language classes, skills development classes and had 169 084 visitors in 2015.
According to Myths and Legends of South Africa, the castle was also frequented by ghosts, one of whom disappeared when a skeleton was dug up near Table Bay, and has a secret tunnel linking it to the present-day Parliament building.
“It is my sincerest wish that every South African citizen and visitor would seize this opportunity to truly make the Castle theirs,” said Calvyn Gilfellan, CEO of the Castle Control Board. News24