The Tenth Voice: Simon’s Town Heritage. Camissa. For Patric Tariq Mellet.

   for Patric Tariq Mellet
                    by Melanie Steyn

Martello Tower sparkles white. The gull
that perches there can see our past:
A bird’s eye view of all the streams that flowed
To reach this very minute. Come and fly
We’ll navigate the streams. After all,
We’ve seamen and sailors enough to help.
No knot too hard to tie: the blends and splices,
Whatever we need to secure the ties that bind.

And now, with Roman rock astern, we swoop
More distant years away to see the lXam,
The Khoi, both kinds of saints, and friends
Like Mary Kingsley.   Africa, Europe,
The East, all fed the waters that carry us.
We have a fleet of figureheads to choose.
Our strength is in diversity, the streams
That flow across our water-challenged land.

Our gull can see the future too. It looks
Ahead but has no voice to give advice.
Is it our albatross, and will it live,
Or die? Our diverse rivers can save its life
If they recognise their strength and run
Together, converge, become a flowing force,
A new Camissa, that hitches our hearts in a knot
To weather all storms, a blessing of Sweet Waters.

Today Patric Tariq Mellet calls himself a “heritage whisperer.” He has been fighting for equity and justice in South Africa since his early teens and spent many years in exile as a cadre of the ANC. Remaining true to his liberationist calling, he is aggrieved at the poor state of governance, endemic corruption and lack of adherence to the goals of rolling back poverty and improving the advancement of those trapped in hopelessness by the Political Estate in 21st century South Africa.

He does research into the peopling of South Africa and pays special attention to the “Coloured” group – a label that he rejects. His argument is that the group is African and heterogeneous, with many strands enriching its identity. His shares the fruits of his research generously a visit to his blog, Camissa People,, is highly rewarding.


You can read about him on the SA History Online site:

Ninth Voice: Simon’s Town Heritage. Klawer Valley.

forced removals ruin

 Klawer Valley
                   by Melanie Steyn

Remember once we lived in paradise.
We were a perfect, live, community.
It’s not that life was easy. It was joy,
That quiet joy that means your home is yours,
That you can manage your daily work, and sleep
A sleep much like your children’s, sweet and deep.

Remember once we lived in paradise,
In Klawer Valley near the naval base.
We ran between the fiery aloes to see
A neighbour half a mile away, to take
Some milk, and we’d come home with fruit or meat.
Oh yes, it was like that in paradise.

Remember once we lived in paradise.
Remember edible mushrooms came out after rain,
The pink klipblom, and sometimes a sweet red disa.
My favourites were the protea pincushions, gold in
The golden light.   Oh yes, it got cold and dry,
And just like anywhere else, there were problems and fights.

But don’t forget that once we lived in paradise.
They came and told us they needed that land for a dam,
Evicted us and dumped us in the dust.
When we commemorate our homes each year
We see no dam. Each visit shows our homes
More derelict, more desolate.

Some tiny violet fynbos grows where once
We laid our heads, with yellow Cape weed at the door.
The parent rocks are claiming our stone-built homes.
These haunted ruins, broken like our hearts,
Will soon become a hill, no more, but we
Remember once we lived in paradise.

Simon’s Town was declared a white area on 1 September 1967. Forced removals had started two years before, with residents of Luyolo (a township established in the early 1900s for workers from the Eastern Cape who were extending the rail line from Simon’s Town to Kalk Bay) were removed to Gugulethu in 1965. About 1500 people had been living there at the time.
Other families affected by the forced removals were from Red Hill, Dido Valley, Glencairn, the Kloof, the Kraal, Seaforth, Goede Gift and Simon’s Town central, as well as Noordhoek, Sunnydale and surrounds. They were forced to move to Ocean View, Retreat, Heathfield and Grassy Park.
The ruins on Red Hill in a beautiful area called Klawer Valley, en route to the Lewis Gay Dam, are particularly poignant as the land was never used for anything else and the families return every year to commemorate what they had and what they lost.  As in so many cases. They are still fighting for restitution.



News 24 City Press: (2017)

The Eighth Voice in the Simon’s Town Heritage: The Saints

The Saints
by Melanie Steyn

I’m one of the saints, my name John Cotton,
From Tristan da Cunha we came to fish.
We came in our numbers to flee collapse:
The economy they said was bust.

We came with our knowledge, our trek-fishing skills,
We worked till we dropped, then worked some more.
And land skippers help us to this day
Locating the shoals we trawl with nets.

The waiting and hope, the pain and sweat,
And oh the sweet joy when we beach the cod end
The silver katonkel and yellowtail
That give us our supper, our cash, our life.

We sell our whole catch to human sharks
And these days the plastic harvest is good
But bring down our boats, let’s try our luck,
This fishing is in our blood and hearts.

St Helena island and its two dependencies Ascension and Tristan da Cunha islands feature in the history of the Western Cape. St Helena island was unpopulated when the Portuguese landed there 1502. From 1588 the British began to use St Helena as a port of call for all of their vessels travelling to the East. Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of the Commonwealth at the time, granted the British East India Company a charter to govern St Helena as though it were part of England.

In 1795 as a result of the conflict in Europe involving England, France and Holland, Governor Brookes and his Council of War in St Helena, assembled a St Helena Force of 600 settlers and slaves to attack the Cape using ships of United East India Company, as it was now called. The British Crown had also assembled an invasion fleet and the St Helena Corps joined the force and took part in the Battle of Muizenberg in August 1796. The first ‘Saints’ to stay on in the Cape probably go back to the time of this invasion.

The largest group of ‘Saints’ to arrive in the Cape were those that became unemployed as a result of the economic pressures caused by the changeover from UEIC rule to direct Crown rule in 1836.




Camissa People: Cape Slavery and Indigene Heritage. PT Mellet.

The Seventh Voice in the Heritage of Simon’s Town: A Boer Prisoner of War


Boer Prisoner of War
                           by Melanie Steyn

Dolf de Wet at your service, Sir.
Queen Victoria? No, not at hers.
I’m a bittereinder! No, I won’t sign.
Her men, her orders burnt my farm
Caught my wife like an animal
Fenced her in with my kids to starve.

Jan my friend is a hensopper
I won’t hold it against him – not much –
He can stay in your camp at Bellevue
He’ll make toys, and can play rugby too.
Take me from this prisoner ship
I’ll play cricket in Sri Lanka, thanks.

Greed and cruelty, politics played,
This is your legacy – never forget –
Racism deep in my blood and yours
Grows, a seed with a system of roots,
Grows, a scourge, and a curse on our land.
Christian gentlemen? Well, we may be,
But toxic tendrils ensnare both our souls.

Boer prisoners of war were initially held on ships in Simon’s Bay, but a camp called Bellevue was later established. Prisoners who would not sign an oath of allegiance to the Empire, were called “bittereinders” and shipped to other British colonies like St Helena, Sri Lanka and India. Those who signed were called “hensoppers” and stayed in the camp.

The British officers taught the prisoners to play rugby and encouraged matches. The prisoners also produced artefacts. There were young boys and a few black men among them.

The first concentration camps were established by the British during this war. When the British entered Pretoria in June 1900, they thought the war was over, and expected the Boer republics to surrender. Instead, they conducted guerrilla warfare, using small raiding parties and disrupting supply lines, for instance. The British felt they would never win the war because the Boer soldiers would go home between raids to rest, eat and convalesce, hidden by the womenfolk. So, they adopted the scorched earth policy and burnt down the homesteads on the farms. They placed the women and children who were rendered homeless in concentration camps. Conditions became appalling and during the first eighteen months that the camps were in operation the mortality rate reached a total of 26,370, of whom 24,000 were infants and children under 16. About 50 children died every day. The final death toll was 40,000, of whom about a third were people of colour.

The heroic Englishwoman, Emily Hobhouse, a welfare activist, visited the camps and campaigned for better treatment. Her reports caused an uproar when they were published in England, but the British government never treated her with anything but contempt. The suffering of the women and children played a big part in the Boer decision to surrender in the end.


Here I must tell two stories from my family.  First, my mother’s mother, Catherina van Rooyen, was a prisoner in a Free State camp. She said only one thing to me about it, which reflected her beautiful and generous spirit. She said that she felt sorry for “those English boys” because she could see that they hated to see the women and children suffering and dying, but they had to carry out orders. She was ten years old at the time but looked at the English soldiers, her captors, with the eyes of a wise old soul.

The second story is about my grandfather, Marthinus Hendrik Steyn. He was a prisoner of war, a bittereinder, who was sent to India. The officers there also organised sports teams, and soon discovered that he was an excellent all-round cricketer. He had refused to sign a pledge to be loyal to the British Empire, but he did accept an offer to become an honorary British officer and tour India playing for the enemy side! His last words to my father were, “The umpire has given me out, and I’m taking a slow walk back to the pavilion.”




Simon’s Town Museum.
New World Encyclopedia:
Personal reminiscences: Melanie Steyn

The Sixth Voice in the Heritage of Simon’s Town: Mary Kingsley

Mary Kingsley
by Melanie Steyn

My mother cocooned herself in a darkened room
The doctor my father flitted to London to serve
The Earl of Pembroke, and I was left to digest
The library, a caterpillar of books.

West Africa called when I was free at last.
My entrée was my trading and my stock,
So I could learn about their faith and land
And nurse the Fang and study vegetation.

I was told I discovered the Karkola River no white
Had seen. I laughed off their impertinence.
When England began a war for diamonds and gold
I came to nurse the Boers in Simon’s Town.

My coffin rolls its legacy of love,
Forever, my friends, in your cerulean seas.


Mary Kingsley was an exceptional woman, quite unlike Victorian women generally. However, she refused to wear anything but socially acceptable Victorian clothing throughout her travels in Africa. This illustrates that she was used to accommodating contradictions in her mind. Her parents’ marriage, for instance, was a paradox in itself. Her father was a successful doctor, who married his servant four days before their child, Mary, was born. Her mother was unwilling or unable to adjust to her new status and became a life-long invalid, who preferred to remain in her room with her shutters closed.

Her father got her a German tutor, because German was the dominant language in medicine at the time, and he thought she might one day be of professional assistance to him. He also encouraged her to enjoy the extensive library in his country home. Mary loved both of her parents and was heartbroken when they died within a short time of each other. Her frail younger brother tried to persuade her to become his house-keeper, but she was attending lectures and developing a taste for adventure.

She had educated herself broadly and was astonishingly progressive. For example, she believed in the Almighty, but used the name Allah quite as often as she used God. She also made contributions for instance to the fields of botany and anthropology. She travelled to West Africa and got to know the Fang, who were cannibals at that stage. This was long before the concept of field work was established. She found that they considered her untrustworthy when she approached them directly and asked to do research, so she bought stock, hired helpers, and went as a trader. The Fang learnt to trust her, and her intervention even saved one of her companions from being killed and eaten by them. She also studied their religion objectively and helped them with her medical knowledge.

She opposed the British war effort in South Africa and went there specifically to nurse Boer prisoners of war. She worked in the Palace Barracks in Simon’s Town, converted to a temporary hospital in 1900. Unfortunately, she caught the enteric fever that killed so many of the prisoners and died at the age of 37.  She had asked to be buried at sea and she was given a military funeral with full honours. She had wasted away so much that her coffin was too light to sink when she was committed to the ocean near Cape Point. It had to be pulled back on board to have an anchor attached to it.

She is generally considered to have been a modifying influence on the racist and chauvinistic attitudes of her society at the time.



New World Encyclopedia:


Fifth Voice in the Heritage of Simon’s Town: Sir Robert Harris


Amiralty House.   Top: Piet Cronje.  Bottom: Kildonan Castle.

Sir Robert Harris
by Melanie Steyn

You’d hardly think, looking at our numbers,
It could be done. Thousands of prisoners of war!
Would you believe four thousand six hundred taken
At Paardeberg. Bearded, stubborn and starving,
Some seemed relieved. Good relationships
With soldiers here. Still, there was a war
So we used ships. Contact with townsmen forbidden.
For six weeks two thousand five hundred and fifty
Were placed on board one ship: Kildonan Castle.
We did our best. Did you see the rugby?
The blighters learned fast. Played us as well.
I hosted Cronje. Yes, he had one night
Before St Helena. Imperturbable.
His wife and son, grandson too, all came.
A reception at the station, guards and all,
And dinner with us. De la Rey and Steyn
They say were the brains; no hero, he.
But I’m not sure. Quite inscrutable,
I have to say, such dignity, you know.


Admiral Sir Robert Hastings Penruddock Harris KCBKCMG (12 October 1843 – 25 August 1926) was a Royal Navy officer who went on to be appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Cape of Good Hope Station in 1898. He became a Vice-Admiral 1901. He lived in Admiralty House during much of the South African War.

The causes of the war have provoked intense debates among historians and remain unresolved today. British politicians claimed they were defending their “suzerainty” over the South African Republic (SAR) enshrined in the Pretoria  convention of 1881. However, the British had hardly taken any interest in the area until gold was discovered on the Witwatersrand in 1886.  Many historians stress that in reality the contest was for control of this, the largest gold-mining complex in the world, at a time when the world’s monetary systems, pre-eminently the British, were increasingly dependent upon gold. Although there were many Uitlanders (foreigners, primarily British) working in the Witwatersrand gold-mining industry, the complex itself was beyond direct British control. Also, the discovery of gold had allowed the SAR to make progress with modernization efforts and vie with Britain for domination in Southern Africa.

After 1897 Britain—through Alfred Milner, its high commissioner for South Africa—demanded the modification of the Boer republic’s constitution to grant political rights to the Uitlanders. In an effort to prevent a conflict between Britain and the SAR, Marthinus Steyn, president of the Orange Free State, hosted an unsuccessful Bloemfontein Conference in May–June 1899 between Milner and Paul Kruger, president of the SAR. Kruger did offer to make concessions to Britain, but they were deemed insufficient by Milner. This angered many British people, too, for example, William Schreiner resigned as Cape Prime Minister in protest.

The Boers, realizing war was unavoidable, took the offensive. On October 9, 1899, they issued an ultimatum to the British government, declaring that a state of war would exist between Britain and the two Boer republics if the British did not remove their troops, which had been building up along the border. The ultimatum expired without resolution, and the war began on October 11, 1899.

The British government was embarrassed by the army’s initial lack of success against what they called a backward, incompetent and rural enemy. They underestimated the Boers who only had 27 000 men in their commandos. During the early stages of the war. Britain suffered a number of significant defeats, and the Battle of Paardeberg, where the popular Boer general Piet Cronje was ultimately forced to surrender, gave British morale a considerable boost. So many prisoners of war were taken there that Sir Robert was hard-pressed to accommodate those that were sent to Simon’s Town. Initially, he used prisoner ships and then built a camp called Bellevue, where the conditions were better. Cronje spent one night in Simon’s Town before being deported to St Helena, and he was received with honour. This kind of behaviour was what prompted some commentators to say this was the last “gentlemen’s war.” It was of course also a “white man’s war.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Simon’s Town Museum.

The Fourth Voice in the Heritage of Simon’s Town: PRIZE SLAVES

Kidnapped and captured, released and enslaved,
Free men or prize slaves or cargo for sale,
Simon’s Town took us and kept us a while,
Free Blacks were brothers in Black Town then.
Home was Luyolo, where Zola* was born.
Children in Sayer’s Lane played and were free.
Kloof was their playground; St Francis their church.

Fate was not done with us: forcibly moved,
Townships awaited us far from our homes,
Ripped from our roots, we were not left in peace.
Kidnapped and captured, released and enslaved,
Free in our minds, but just cargo to move.
Justice must come, or our souls will not rest.
Justice must come; we have waited enough.


*Zola Skweyiya, Cabinet Minister from 1994 to 2009.


Slavery was abolished in 1834 and the abolition was implemented at the Cape of Good Hope about four years later. “Prize slaves” were slaves liberated by the Royal Navy from slaver ships of countries that still allowed slave trading. The Royal Navy ships would challenge them on the high seas and confiscate their human cargo. These ‘Liberated Africans’ were brought to the nearest English colony, branded and placed, usually with farmers, as indentured labourers. This was a kind of compulsory apprenticeship.

So ‘Prize Slaves’ or ‘Liberated Africans’ unfortunately became victims of the demand for cheap or unpaid labour, which resulted in unfair contractual relationships that often lasted beyond 20 years.

Large numbers of indentured labourers were brought to the Cape from different parts of the world, from St Helena, all over Africa and from India and the Indonesian Archipelago. ‘Prize Slaves’ continued to pour into Cape Town until 1856 and anything from 8,000 to 12,000 were brought in total. They were only really freed by around 1870.



Camissa People: Cape Slavery and Indigene Heritage. PT Mellet.