Mission fence draws criticism

2014-06-23 00:00

A CONCRETE palisade fence recently erected around the Reichenau Mission near Underberg has drawn criticism from the province’s heritage body and others involved in restoring the mission mill.

“The Reichenau Mission complex is an important heritage asset,” said Peter Frow, a Durban-based engineer who was involved in restoring its mill to working order. “The buildings are constructed of locally quarried stone, dressed by skilled Trappist stonemasons in the late 19th Century. To juxtapose these with a modern concrete fence is extremely insensitive.”

According to the Reichenau parish priest, the Reverend Wanda Ngcebo, the fence was built about three weeks ago. “It was erected by the municipality together with the Reichenau Committee and the parish council.”

The fence forms a perimeter around the mission complex and part of it is right up against the wall of the mission mill.

Ngcebo said the fence had been erected to keep out cattle that had been defecating around the mission premises that led to tourists complaining about cleanliness. “And also for security reasons.”

Ngcebo said he was led to believe the fence did not conflict with any regulations of the provincial heritage agency, Amafa, “and that Amafa had told us to go ahead with the fence as long as it did not tamper with the existing buildings”.

However, Ros Devereaux, head of Amafa’s built environment section, said they had not been consulted about the construction of the fence. “We are not happy with the fence right up against the mill. They needed to clear that with us and we are taking up that issue.”

Devereaux said the KwaSani municipality had consistently not consulted Amafa regarding alterations to historic structures.

“We know from their minutes they have a very bad opinion of Amafa, which we will be taking up with them.”

Reichenau Mission falls within the Mariannhill diocese of the Roman Catholic Church.

“I was not aware of the fence,” said Bishop Pius Dlungwane. “I have not been contacted and informed about it.”

He added that the church didn’t want to “annoy” Amafa.

Built in 1887, Reichenau was the first daughter station of the Trappist Mariann­hill monastery near Durban. A particular feature is the mission’s mill that stands on a cliff above the Polela river, whose waters power the turbine running the belt system that works the milling machinery. The mill was restored to working order in 1985, but in 1987 floods swept away the turbine house. It was restored to working order again in 2009 by Frow and some fellow engineers and Fritz Kellerman was appointed mill manager. However, the mill is no longer in operating condition. Kellerman and his wife, Jacque, head up the Reichenau Restoration and Development Project.

It is understood the KwaSani Municipality allocated R5 million towards the Reichenau Mission in recognition of its importance as a tourist attraction. It is believed the fence was erected from funds drawn from this amount. However, municipal manager Caroline Nokubonga James and municipal tourism officer Zanele Zwane, who were both contacted for comment, had not responded by the time of going to press.

Attempts were also made to contact Jacque and Fritz Kellerman, but they also did not respond.

Ngcebo, who took over as parish priest four months ago, said it was hoped to boost tourism to Reichenau and the intention was “to embrace the rich history of the mission”.

However, the fence detracts from that history, according to Frow: “Tourists visiting Reichenau would want to see it as reflecting in both form and function an original German Trappist mission. The fence, however, makes it reminiscent of a German concentration camp.”

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