A property development project in Simon’s Town has been brought to a halt after it was discovered that the project was taking place on a burial ground that dates back nearly 300 years. The remains of the deceased are currently being exhumed and are reportedly planned to be re-buried at Seaforth. However, residents of Simon’s Town, as well as the Simon’s Town Architectural Advisory Committee, are objecting to the continued development of the property and are dissatisfied with the level of public consultation thus far.
“It’s a very interesting story, indeed,” said former chair of the Simons Town Historical Society and member of the Simon’s Town Architectural Advisory Committee, David Erickson.
“It’s a small plot [being developed] and it lies in the heart of the heritage protection overlay zone (HPOZ) in Simon’s Town – otherwise known as the conservation area. It’s very close to some registered national monuments.”
“There was no public consultation about the development. The developer made an application to the council for permission and that application came to the Simon’s Town Architectural Advisory Committee during 2008 or so… it came before the committee several times because the committee wasn’t happy with the design.”
Erickson explained that the Architectural Advisory Committee found the planned development to be “too modern” and “not in sympathy with the other buildings in the area” or the history of the environment.
“The Royal Navy built a series of cottages in 1813 to house dockyard workers and the cottages were then sold into private ownership in 1833 and 1834… I should also mention that these cottages lie on the very site that is being excavated at the moment.”
“The Group Areas Act eventually came into effect and the removal of the owners and occupiers from those cottages began in 1968. The cottages then fell into a state of disrepair and were subsequently demolished in 1972…”
“The plot has remained more or less derelict since then but it’s a very pretty area surrounded by trees and it was full of grass before this work started.”
The Dutch East India Company built a hospital in close proximity to the site concerned between 1760 and 1765, according to Erickson.
“The capacity of the hospital was 250 patients but the need for the hospital was underlined by the terrible mortality rates experienced in shipping between Holland and the far East. In 1782, for example, 10 East India ships left the Netherlands carrying 2653 men. Of these, 43 percent died before reaching the Cape of Good Hope. When they eventually reached the Cape, 915 survivors were admitted to the hospital [which only had capacity for 250].”
Many of the people on these ships suffered from various diseases and not all of them would recover.
Those who eventually died at the hospital had to be removed and buried as quickly as possible. According to Erickson, the plot of land being developed is mere meters from the former hospital’s location and, coincidentally, it appears that the deceased currently being exhumed were buried without any ceremonies.
Meanwhile, Simon’s Town resident, Razia Hoosen says the community is concerned about the heritage at stake and that they would like to preserve the location.
“We are trying to make everyone aware that this is taking place. It’s not going to be low-cost housing and this is actually a burial site. We’d like to preserve this place,” she said.
“We’d like the place to become a memorial garden or a garden of peace and resting for the people who passed on.”
It was acknowledged, however, that the land concerned was sold privately and that one of the primary concerns remains the modern design of the project.