Westfort Village Tshwane
Tuesday, August 30, 2016 - 07:53
Thread Categories: 
2016 campaign nomination
2016 Top Ten Endangered Site
Thread Location: 
Local Champion: 
Westfort Heritage Foundation

Westfort Village is the residue of the Westfort Leprosy hospital, established in 1897. Its first phases were executed to the design of the ZAR Department of Public Works under Sytze Wierda and Klaas van Rijsse. Its development continued until 1947 when the last construction phase was affected. In the mean time it had grown exponentially when, with the closure of the leprosy asylum at Robben Island, Westfort – it is thought that pre-fabricated structures at Westfort originally served on Robben Island – became the only leprosy institution in South Africa, serving a mixed race community of patients.

The site lost its medical use in 1997, was mothballed and abandoned, after which it was appropriated. It is now home to a vibrant multi-racial community. The originally isolated sites now being engulfed by fast-encroaching suburbia. 

The design of the original 1890s strongly reflects the Protestant tradition for institutions in the Netherlands and forms the sole surviving member of a global family of leprosy asylums, built in former Dutch colonies of Suriname and the Dutch East indies (Indonesia). It therefore has strong international significance. Its layout has strong links to Veenhuizen, a Dutch former institution and former leprosy colony in the north of the Netherlands, now on the World Heritage tentative list. It is also linked with the history of Robben Island, one of South Africa’s World Heritage sites.  

The site represents the evolution of both urban planning in South Africa as well as the development of medical care from home-based care to large-scale scientific institutions.  Apart from these associations it has high aesthetic value, set picturesquely against the southern slope of the Bronberg Mountains; age value; associations with persons of importance, such as Sir Arnold Theiler and Sytze Wierda; is a site of nation importance in the medical history of South Africa; and is of high international importance as representative of not only a shared South-African–Dutch shared heritage, but is a last remaining example of a near extinct institutional typology.  

It is a fairly intact ensemble, inhabited by a new, vibrant community, which has made it their home. This new community can become the new custodians of the site, if granted title and given the proper guidance. This community, if supported, could be enough of a public to gaurantee the survival of the site. 

The Threat

Westfort Village is near-forgotten due, in part, to its historic isolation, which has also been its salvation. That isolation is now being undone through suburban development right into Westfort itself. New piping has already gone through the site and roads are planned over extant buildings dating to the 1890s. These plans are being implemented without heritage approval and despite a 2013 SAHRA request for an HIA to be conducted. Re-zoning has been approved (sans HIA) and the whole site rezoned. Erven have been planned over graveyards. No vision exists for the core of the site.

The landscape, an important attribute of the site, has been severely degraded through eradication of the alien species that formed a valuable part of the historic layering of the site. At the same time the extreme poverty of the inhabitants of the site means no maintenance is undertaken, and where informal construction takes place, this is at the detriment of the value of the site. It is clear that no vision exists for the site, despite the fact that the development through and around it will severely jeopardise the resilience and integral nature thereof.  

Another threat is the lack of information on the site and its development. Two architecture studios, one at the University of Pretoria and one at the Delft University of Technology (The Netherlands) have brought to light many inconsistencies in past reporting on the site. The international significance of the site has been totally underestimated. 

Extracts taken from the nomination form for the 2016 endangered heritage campaign (compiled by Nicholas Clarke).

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