New take on history

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Cottage No 4 located on the side of Constantia Main Road has become and eyesore. A proposal to restore and utilise the landmark building as a heritage centre has been made.
Cottage No 4 located on the side of Constantia Main Road has become and eyesore. A proposal to restore and utilise the landmark building as a heritage centre has been made.

While the mention of “Cottage No 4” will likely elicit a look of puzzlement on most faces at present, the Constantia Ratepayers’ and Residents’ Association (CRRA) hopes that the building will in future become known as a place to go to learn about the history of past and present Constantia residents.

Situated approximately 500m before Chardonnay Deli in Constantia Main Road, the white-washed cottage is conjectured to have been built in the late 19th century.

Today the building is in a dilapidated state and described by many in the community as an eyesore.

The CRRA believes that its proposal to restore and utilise the landmark as a heritage centre will be a win-win situation for both the property’s owners – the Richard Harris Family Trust and the City of Cape Town – and the Constantia community.

John Hesom, manager of CRRA, says they have been collaborating with the Constantia Heritage and Education Project (CHEP) over the past couple of years and suggested using this property as their base.

CHEP, a registered NPO, was started in 2016 by a group of former and current residents of Constantia and established under the auspices of the venerable Terry Lester, the pastor of Christ Church.

“CHEP aims to establish a Constantia Heritage Centre in Constantia which can become a public archive for future generations and serve as an educational facility. Such a facility would, for example, foster the continued conducting of oral history interviews with their existing network of forced removals survivors,” Hesom says.

“These will be recorded, edited and archived. They have also assembled several historic artefacts of Constantia origin for display at the proposed centre.”

He adds that CHEP, bearing in mind that it is an NPO which will need to raise funds from both the community and from official sources, has proposed to lease the property. At this stage, they can commit to a monthly rental of R5 000 which could be reviewed in the future.

In addition, the CRRA has secured funding to renovate the building and has a team of builders ready to do the work.

“The Simon van der Stel Foundation has approved, in principle and subject to all the necessary relevant authorities’ approval, that a grant would be made available for the appropriate restoration of Cottage No 4,” Hesom says, adding that the CRRA and CHEP are in a position to act immediately once the go-ahead is given.

In what has been described as a “complicated situation”, the front façade of Cottage No 4 located on Erf 2133 Constantia is owned by the City and the rest is owned by the trust.

Marian Nieuwoudt, the City’s Mayco member for spatial planning and environment, says as the building only encroaches slightly onto City land, the maintenance requirements remain with the owner of the building, the trust.

In response to People’s Post query if the City was in favour of CRRA’s proposal, the City stated its environmental management department would explore options with the property management department on how to safeguard the heritage asset.

“Such proposals can then be presented to the owner of erf 2133 and the ratepayers association,” the City said.

CRRA presented this proposal to the trustees in a letter dated 29 May 2020.

“We have made several approaches to the Harris family, but there is a reluctance to discuss meaningfully,” claims Hesom.

Hesom adds that Rev Terry Lester has also tried to open communications without any success.

People’s Post also tried to engage with the trust to ascertain their view on the proposal but at the time of going to print they had not responded.

An application for the proposed demolition of structures: Erf 2133 Constantia (which included the demolition of Cottage No 4 and Cottage No 9) was submitted to Heritage Western Cape (HWC) by Aikman & Associates (an independent Heritage practitioner) on behalf of the Richard Harris Family Trust in 2015.

At the time, the proposal read that the trust wished to erect a boundary wall along the Main Road frontage of the property.

“In order to do this, the cottage there that extends into the road reserve will have to be demolished,” it read.

HWC subsequently declined the demolition orders for Cottages 4 and 9 “due to their intrinsic and contextual heritage value”, granting an 111B grading for both cottages, confirming them as “heritage resources which are significant in the context of a townscape, neighbourhood, settlement or community”.

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