Remembering battle history

2017-08-01 06:01

The Muizenberg Historical Society is set to commemorate a battle that changed the Cape.

The anniversary of the Battle of Muizenberg takes place on Monday 7 August, and the society has planned a number of activities to mark the event.

Society chairperson Glenn Babb says the battle is given “far too little prominence” among historians.

“You won’t even find a reference to it in Encyclopedia Britannica. One of our members approached the military archives in the United Kingdom and also drew a blank,” he says.

“We believe the battle was of lasting and profound importance. The battle and the takeover of the Cape by the British ushered in modern colonialism – until the British invasion of the Cape, the British had been content to allow the private sector and commercial interests to husband British interests in Africa, Asia and even America.”

A catalyst for colonialism“Fearing the takeover of the Cape by the French after Napoleon had invaded the United Provinces of the Netherlands and the Prince of Orange had fled to England, the British acted quickly and sent Admiral Elphinstone, Viscount Keith, with a small fleet to protect the Cape against the French who would have been able to block the Indian route to British merchantmen.”

This battle was the catalyst for a whole new approach by the British towards colonies, Babb explains, who instead of allowing trade to determine decisions in the territories, installed colonial offices. This sparked a rush among European powers to occupy as much land in Africa as possible, he explains.

Importance of the skirmish“All of this started with the Battle of Muizenberg – the English were still smarting from their defeat in the American Revolution and were not going to allow the locals to define their own future. That is the importance of a small skirmish in Muizenberg in which no more than 30 people lost their lives (not all from wounds either).

“South Africans should know how the Battle of Muizenberg sparked the development of colonialism. All of the population was involved in the attempt to repulse the English. The battle also determined that English is a major language and that we are not French- speaking. The French had made the Cape a ‘little Paris’ in the 1780s, and, who knows, the flair may have brought them back.”

The society will commemorate the battle with an event on Sunday at 11:00 in the ballroom of Casa Labia. There will be presentations on the political reasons for the British taking the Cape and an account of the battle and the subsequent retreat. This will be followed by the firing of two cannons. Entry will be free for members and R50 for non-members.

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