Three decades of visionary collaboration between a global mining company with strong South African roots, and many of the country’s leading heritage experts, culminated this week in a ceremony to mark the latest addition to the Western Cape’s list of provincial heritage sites. (Somerset West, Monday 28 October).
Minister Anroux Marais, the Western Cape Provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport, unveiled a Provincial Heritage Site plaque at Vergelegen in Somerset West. The magnificent 319-year-old wine estate owned by Anglo American plc has now been formally recognised as a treasure trove of history, culture, architecture and horticulture.
“The high historical value of Vergelegen in the first decade of the 18th century is now acknowledged,” said Minister Marais, referring to the original founder, William Adriaan van der Stel. The Cape Governor transformed the land from a military outpost into a highly productive model estate, selling produce to the Dutch East India Company, then the leading commercial power in the Indian Ocean region.
Guests included Anglo American South Africa deputy chairperson Norman Mbazima, who is also chairman of Vergelegen; Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka, CEO Heritage Western Cape; Dr Antonia Malan, Chairperson Heritage Western Cape; Anroux Marais, Western Cape Provincial Minister of Cultural Affairs and Sport; and Vergelegen Managing Director Don Tooth, who has led the revitalisation of Vergelegen since its purchase by Anglo American plc in 1987.
“This event is the culmination of a great vision that began with Gavin Relly, then chairman of Anglo American,” said Tooth. “From the start, the purpose was to restore and develop this historic jewel to reach its full glory, and to open it to the public for all South Africans to enjoy. We are completing the circle today, recognising that this heritage belongs to the nation.”
This declaration protects the historic core, which comprises the beautiful homestead and complementary buildings, 17 extensive gardens, the central working farm area, and a planned arboretum. These span 1120 hectares of the vast 3020 hectare estate, set between the Helderberg and Hottentots Holland mountain ranges.
The remaining 1900 hectares of the farm are also conserved for future generations, following their promulgation last year as a private nature reserve with the same protection status as the Kruger National Park.
During the ceremony, Heritage Western Cape CEO Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka said: “Elements of globalisation began to manifest themselves on this farm. It demonstrates how certain elements of our history converged in one place.”
Referring to the first meeting of the ANC caucus in 1990 under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, in the seclusion of Vergelegen before it was opened to the public, Mr Dlamuka said: “In the dark days during the ending of apartheid, a map was designed here for the future of a democratic dispensation.”
Dr Antonia Malan, Chairperson Heritage Western Cape, said: “This farm represents layers and layers and layers of stories.” Congratulating the nomination team which compiled the dossier on the historic importance of Vergelegen, she said: “It is a culmination of many years of interest and work.”
About 100 000 visitors – half of whom are based beyond South Africa’s borders – now view and enjoy this magnificent estate every year. However, despite its multiple attractions, it appears that Vergelegen’s management is still not ready to rest on its laurels.
Work has already begun on a broad framework for the 60 hectare arboretum, to be planted with trees reflecting the history of the estate. This will become a tranquil area of woodscapes and pathways where families can walk and relax in peace and safety.
“Vergelegen has a layered history and we have honoured those layers in everything we have done. However, heritage is a living thing – you have to continue to grow your heritage,” concluded Tooth.
Vergelegen is open Monday-Sunday 09h00-17h00 (last entry 16h00). Entrance R10/adults and R5/pensioners and scholars, pensioners free on Mondays. To find out more about Vergelegen: www.vergelegen.co.za. To find out more about Heritage Western Cape: https://www.hwc.org.za/