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OOn the slopes of Table Mountain above the suburb of Rondebosch, sits an old white house with an eclectic mix of pillars, barley-sugar turrets, and wrap around verandas. It began life as part of the Dutch East India Company’s grain storage system, hence its name, Groote Schuur, which translated means Big Barn. By the late 1800’s it fell to ruins, and was bought by Cecil John Rhodes to be used as his personal home.
Rhodes hired a young and unknown architect called Herbert Baker to turn the slightly dilapidated building into a functional residence. When the house was completed it had a warm Rhodesian teak interior, white washed walls, colonnaded gables and typical Cape charm. The gardens were a riot of colour with plumbagoes, hydrangeas, roses and fuchsias. People would picnic on the lawns on weekends, and grand parties were thrown in the evenings with the likes of Rudyard Kipling and the Duke of Westminster in attendance.
FFor years the house was used as the main home of the Prime Minister of South Africa, with a number of infamous faces taking up residence there. The last Prime Minister to live there was FW De Klerk, who was instrumental in setting the ball rolling for the country’s eventual freedom.
Groote Schuur Building
OOn the 4th of May 1990, then President FW De Klerk and Nelson Mandela sat down at Groote Schuur to begin talks on how to disassemble apartheid. The ANC was at the time still banned, although one of the outcomes of the talks as Groote Schuur was to unban ANC cadres and other anti-apartheid activists. At the Mandela Minute talks, it was decided that political prisoners would go free, political exiles would be allowed to return, and the nation-wide State of Emergency which was in effect would be gradually lifted. These were the beginnings of a democratically free South Africa.
The building sits on the same piece of land which houses both the Rhodes Memorial and UCT. One can now visit it as a museum with prior arrangement. When Mandela took over presidency of the country, he used the nearby Westbrook as his residence, making Groote Schuur more of a monument.
TThe house remains very much unchanged today with its great stone bath carved from a single piece of Paarl granite still in the grand bathroom. Many of the interesting antiques and books which have been added to the house’s collections over the years are still in pristine condition. Walking through the now quiet passages and rooms one can imagine all the things the house has seen.
Cape Town is South Africa’s oldest city, but its encircling mountains, Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head, have witnessed a longer history than that described by its surviving historic buildings.
The Western Cape was the first place that Europeans settled in the country, in 1652 when Jan van Riebeeck’s three vessels landed at the Cape. As employees of the Dutch East India Company, they had come to establish a halfway station for ships travelling to and from the East. Their influence is evident in the buildings, some of which are 350 years old, and culture of the Western Cape.
Experience music, dance and food from across the country, as well as Tsonga crafts and Zulu beer-brewing; and don’t forget the magical clicking language of the San people.
The first shebeens in South Africa were local bars and taverns where mostly working-class urban males could unwind, socialise, and escape the oppression of life during the Apartheid era.
Prepare to be enchanted by whitewashed fisherman’s cottages, seasonal wildflowers, seafood fresh from the sea, and wines with complexity and conscience.