Knysna: from two tarred roads to bustling tourist town

2016-07-14 13:09
Veronica Terblanche, 90, and Gladys Corbett, 92. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Knysna - Gladys Corbett remembers moving to Knysna 66 years ago, when it was only a small dorp with two tarred roads - a far cry from the now bustling town which attracts thousands of tourists every year.

“Houses here were scarce,” the 92-year-old says from the courtyard of the Garden Gates Retirement Village.

“But Knysna has always been beautiful. It’s a wonderful place to live.”

According to the 2011 census, Knysna had a population of 68 659, over 16 000 more than the 52 035 recorded in 2001.

While there are now more feet in town and more cars on its roads, Corbett believes her local municipality is performing “rather well”.

“Our streets are clean and our roads are in one piece. As long as everything works and nothing appears to be falling apart, I am happy. I feel lucky to call this my home.”

Rosemary Mackenzie nods in agreement.

The 85-year-old moved to the Garden Route town from Johannesburg after falling in love with the sights while on holiday almost 40 years ago.

“We packed up after deciding this is where we want to live. It was one of the best decisions we ever made,” she says.

Mackenzie and her husband bought a business and built a new life for themselves in the Western Cape in the early 1970s. 

Knysna Lagoon

“My parents followed, as well as my two children. There’s something special about this town, besides its natural beauty. Once you’re here, you can’t imagine life anywhere else.”

While the number of people who now call the town home has grown exponentially, she still considers her neighbourhood peaceful and countrified.

“And there’s always so much to do here! Who says you can’t be a tourist in your own town?”

She names the Knysna Lagoon as her favourite site.

The people who call the town home are also what make Knysna Margaret Owen’s “happy place”.

She moved to the country in 1985 after leaving then Rhodesia (Zimbabwe).

“This is one of the places where people smile when they pass you in the street. It’s the little things that make this area special.”

Margaret Owen, 88. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

Owen, too, has nothing but praise for her local municipality’s performance.

“My uncle always said you should judge a government by the state of its roads. Ours are pretty decent,” Owen points out.

And if she could implement anything to make life in Knysna better? 

“It would be lovely if the good old ice cream cart with the bell made a comeback,” she quips.

Veronica Terblanche, 90, was born and bred in Knysna and raised six children here.

“In 1955, this was a quiet town. Now it’s so much busier. It took some getting used to,” she concedes.

Along with the increase in the population, there has also been a rise in the number of English speakers in this part of the Garden Route.

English immigrants

“In my day the people who lived here were predominantly Afrikaans. All this English could be because of the number of immigrants; we have a large variety of nationalities here.”

Terblanche says if a municipality’s performance is measured by the number of complaints and protests by its residents, then her local government is tops.

“I am more than satisfied with their performance. We are lucky to have them.”

All four women agree that voting is important in a healthy democracy. Terblanche boasts she has never stayed away from the polls.

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain. It’s simple,” she insists.

Mackenzie, who suffers from a degenerative eye disease, says she will make her mark despite needing assistance to ensure she chooses the party she intends to support.

“You must be careful where you make your cross. A lot depends on the people in whose hands you put the future of your town.”

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