Q&A with the Cape Town Heritage Foundation

What is the organisation's biggest achievement over the last year?

Our small but dedicated committee managed to put together a full and varied outings programme for our members. From February to December, we offer two outings per month. We are of the opinion that the outings play a crucial role in creating an awareness and appreciation for our heritage.


Photograph from a recent outing to the Western Cape Archives


We also commented on a very broad spectrum of heritage applications in terms of the National Heritage Resources Act. We have reached out to several Heritage Bodies in this regard, thereby ensuring a stronger heritage voice.

What about the biggest challenge?

Manpower! We are looking for heritage minded persons with knowledge and expertise to join us and volunteer their time. Sadly, most voluntary, non-governmental bodies find it hard to get volunteers, particularly the younger generation.

What are your top priorities for the year ahead?

To continue being a role player in creating an awareness and assisting with the management of Cape Town’s heritage.

We will therefore continue putting together a great outings programme, commenting on development proposals and working hard to do research and install blue plaques all over the city. Also keeping our FaceBook page and Instagram account updated and interesting, even controversial. Try to get the conversation going.


One of the Foundation's blue plaques


What is exciting for your organisation at the moment?

Our small, younger, and energetic committee that propose exciting ideas.

What has been the hardest thing to say no to in recent months?

A proposed new development of an apartment block in Sea Point. It is situated on a very visible site adjacent to the Sea Point Fire Station. Our argument was that a very sensitive development is required here that would not overshadow the nearby heritage buildings and that would ensure that this visual axis be strengthened. We lost our appeal. We hope that the developer/architect team will after all give us a sensitive development.

What advice would you give someone starting out in heritage? 

Get to your library and read the wonderful books that have been published over the years about the heritage of our country. Also work the internet to reference particular topics. Get as wide-ranging knowledge as you can to put things into context and be able to 'fight your corner'. Also listen to the 'old guys' who have been around for so long and have the history of what we have and what we are losing.

What resources would you recommend to the community?

Getting social media platforms up and running. They are an excellent way of getting the message out there and involving the population.


A screenshot from the Foundation's facebook group


What in the sector makes your blood boil?

The apathy of Authorities towards our heritage. There are so many important heritage sites that belong to either Government or the City that are in desperate need of maintenance or a suitable tenant. The standard reply we get is limited funds and that heritage issues get a minor allowance in their budgets due to other more crucial needs.

What is your favourite heritage site and why? 

As we are actively involved within the municipal boundaries of Cape Town, naturally we favour every heritage site within this area as all of them are unique and collectively they contribute towards making this city a special place.


Panorama of Cape Town by TD Ravenscroft


What about a favourite blue plaque?

We are particularly proud of all the school blue plaques. We run this initiative in collaboration with the Centre for Conservation Education (endorsed by the Western Cape Education Department).


Rondebosch Boys’ Preparatory School Main Building

How did the organisation get started?

Cape Town Heritage Foundation is one of the oldest Heritage Bodies in the country. It was founded in 1959 as the Simon van der Stel Foundation, a National Body with branches all over South Africa. Sadly, many of the branches do not exist anymore. 

Who has had the greatest influence on your organisation?

Naturally the founders who had the foresight. Over the years Cape Town Heritage Foundation had formidable role players such as Hans Fransen and Gawie Fagan.

Any awards you want to tell us about?

The prestigious Simon van der Stel Gold Medal is still awarded on an annual basis. As a national entity, HASA facilitates this important event on SA’s heritage calendar.

Tell us a bit about your core team? 

We are all volunteers who care about the history and the built heritage of Cape Town. We come from all walks of life, and age groups, but all share a love of our city and its history.

What one thing would you recommend right now to make positive change in the sector?

Working social media to get awareness of what we are losing and motivating the public to get involved.

What is heritage to you?

This organisation is mainly involved in the tangible heritage such as buildings, squares, neighbourhoods, and streetscapes. We feel the preservation of this heritage is of crucial importance to ensure that the environments we live in maintain a balance between the successes of previous generations and the dreams of future generations.


The Castle


Answers provided by Ian Pretorius (Chairman Cape Town Heritage Foundation) & Andrew Jones (Deputy Chairman Cape Town Heritage Foundation)