Astrid Stark – well-known Capetonian dog groomer, cat lady and all-round pet whisperer – got a lot more than she had expected when she joined a tour of Oranjezicht, a neighbourhood she already knew rather well.
We were 20 strong: Germans, a Greek, Dutch people, Afrikaners, Souties …
“Cameron, from Cape Town Heritage Tours, was our guide. He’s a bit like the nutty professor.
“We had signed up for a geographical exploration of Oranjezicht, but from his mouth spilled history, politics, socio-economics, architecture, information about love trysts … and much more. I could hardly keep up. Utterly fascinating.
“I particularly enjoyed all the information about how the history of Cape Town is shaped by water, reservoirs, grachts, streams and so on. My brain nearly exploded.”
Search the internet and you will quickly find yourself slipping down a watery rabbit hole of canals, waterways, reservoirs, floods and drought.
Search for ‘Molteno Dam’, for example, and you will find yourself in the late 1860s when Buitengracht, Kaizergracht and Heerengracht, today’s major traffic routes, were canals that supplied water to the city.
The canals had to be covered due to public health concerns, and Cape Town was facing severe water restrictions, so the Molteno Dam was designed, and construction began in 1877.
Why Molteno, you might ask … I asked Wikipedia: Sir John Charles Molteno, a soldier, businessman and “champion of responsible government”, was the Cape Colony’s first prime minister.
An interesting aside on Molteno is that, among many other business and trade firsts, in 1841 he “undertook Southern Africa’s first experimental export of fruit, loading a ship with a range of fruits (necessarily dried, as no refrigeration existed yet) and sending it to Australia to test foreign markets”.
History is so damn/dam fascinating … and it is all around us.
Photographs by Astrid, who adds: “There are various tours, all over Cape Town, definitely not just for tourists. R100 per person if you book; R150 if you just drop in without a booking. If you have a curious mind … you’ll love it!”.