Cape Town, South Africa’s ‘Mother City’ was where Europeans settled for the first time on the southern tip of Africa. This was a very colourful beginning that put South Africa on a very interesting path.
The Khoikhoi, an uncomplicated tribal community in southern Africa, had many peaceful and brief encounters with passing Portuguese explorers from the mid-1400s. Why did the Portuguese never considered laying a claim to the territory? No one knows. But as the French, Dutch and British empires were expanding, Europe was hungering for exotic goods from the East.
The trade route around the Cape became very busy. The senior officials of the Dutch East India Company received a proposal in the mid-1600s. It was a plan to set up a small stopover port in Table Bay. Over 600 sailors were dying per season on the ships heading for the East. This was mainly due to scurvy (an illness from a lack of vitamin C). Sailors were also suffering from complications due to a lack of fresh water and fresh supplies on board. The idea was to have the ships spend a few days in Table Bay, replenish their supplies, get medical attention and rest the sailors on terra firma. Ships could pack more paid goods on their voyages from Europe and not have valuable space taken up with large volumes of fresh water, supplies and even dead bodies.
Jan van Riebeek settled Cape Town
Jan van Riebeek (a ship’s doctor), who had had some experience sailing around the Cape, was given the job of setting up the station. He ensured the company it was not going to be costly. He only accepted the role in hope of using it as a steppingstone to a higher position in the company in the Far East.
On the 6th April 1652, three impressive ships arrived and anchored in Table Bay – The Drommedaris, The Reijger and The Goede Hoop. Van Riebeek took his duties on with vigor. He set about building a fort, planting fruit orchards and vegetable gardens and ensuring a supply of fresh meat from the cattle-herding local tribal Khoikhoi.
And so, from a simple rest stop, the settlement developed into a well-equipped harbour with a pier, a hospital and a shipyard. The community grew, families joined their fathers and husbands, and so the story of the Europeans on the southern tip of Africa began.
Van Riebeek’s Cape is also known as ‘Tavern of the Seas’ and Cape Town, one of the top tourist destinations in the world. It is rich in history as it has welcomed the arrival of not only passing sailors, but French, Dutch, Malay, British and many more eclectic cultures. Each culture has remained evident in the local culture, place names, architecture, foods and spirit of our Mother City of this Rainbow Nation.
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