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I heard the old men say

I Heard The Old Men SayI Heard The Old Men Say by Lawrence G. Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve just finished a long leisurely read through of this book by Lawrence G. Green. I classify it as history because he explores some historical byways of the Cape Peninsula, but more as a journalist than as a historian. As a journalist he must have kept copious notebooks, and draws on some of this material in his writing, but this particular book was sparked off by his purchase of a second-hand guide to the city of Cape Town, published in 1904.

He goes well beyond the guide book, however, telling stories about old people and houses of the city, its trees and flowers, its hotels and restaurants, its vaults and kramats, its churches and their bells. He is always on the lookout for forgotten mysteries, secrets that can be told when all the people involved have died, and so on. In these mysteries he is more inclined to titillate the reader than to be strictly historically accurate, so what he writes always needs to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Green claims to have solved three historical mysteries.

(1) Was Governor Simon van der Stel a coloured man.
(2) Was George Rex of Knysna an illegitimate son of King George III?
(3) Was a certain cottage the place where Dutch troops signed articles of surrender to the British in 1806?

Green concludes that Simon van der Stel was coloured, that George Rex was probably an illegitimate son of George III, and that the treaty was signed at the cottage.

I’m not sure about (1) and (3), but I have my doubts about (2). Green ignores all the historical evidence and reaches his conclusion on the Rex royal descent based on the supposed physical resemblances between George Rex’s family and that of George III.

My wife Val’s Green family has a similar legend of royal descent of her ancesttor William John Green, which Lawrence G. Green (no relation) has also dealt with in two of his other books, Thunder on the Blaauberg and Lords of the last frontier. A lot of the stories about that are also based on supposed physical resemblances, but the legend has been pretty conclusively refuted — a man could not be the father of a child born in Quebec if he only arrived there in the year following the child’s birth.

But even if Lawrence Green’s conclusion was off, not everything he wrote about those events was untrue, and his accounts contained a lot of useful family information that might have been lost if he had not preserved it. You can read more about our royal legend here Mystery cousins and royal legends | Hayes & Greene family history.

Zonnebloem College today

In this book Green also reveals more of his own political and social opinions than he does in most of his other books. In most of his books he seems to be studiously apolitical, perhaps to avoid offendi9ng the racist sentiments of at least some of his readers. But this one is more revealing. In his chapter on places of execution in Cape Town he emphasises how strongly opposed he is to capital pinishment. And he also notes that at the beginning of the 20th century Zonnebloem College was a beacon of nonracial education. That was at the height of the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa, when racism was at its height of approval, and so I was rather surprised to read it.

I think what Green Green (1964:185) has to say about Zonnebloem is worth quoting:

Zonnebloem, on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, a wine farm early in the eighteenth century, has survived because it was bought by Bishop Gray and used for the education of the sons of native chiefs. The wine cellar became a chapel. Girl boarders now occupy the old slave quarters.

White students attended Zonnebloem for many years, and one who left in 1906 wrote as follows, “Zonnebloem has peculiar characteristics of its own. Among these is the unrivalled opportunity it gives for becoming acquainted with a variety of people, habits and characters. How cosmopolitan Zonnebloem has always been! There have always been representatives of many peoples — Zulus, Xosas, Pondos, Basutos, Barotses, Bechuanas, Balolongs, Matabeles, Englishmen, Scotsmen, Welshmen, Irishmen, Dutchmen from Holland as well as from the Transvaal and a host of others. Yet there is never discord, but perfect unity between all, each respecting the other.”

Perhaps it is appropriate to recall this now, as Zonnebloem College has just celebrated its 160th anniversary.

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Visiting more old friends in and around Cape Town

Continued from In and around Cape Town: family and friends

On Thurday and Friday last week (27 & 28 August 2015) we visited more old friends in and around Cape Town.

We went to see Sam van den Berg, a former colleague from the Editorial Department at Unisa, and had dinner with him and his son Maritz at the Salty Sea Dog restaurant in Somonstonw.

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Maritz & Sam van den Berg with Val Hayes at Simonstown, 27 Aug 2015

Sam got into trouble with the higher-ups at Unisa for objecting to the poor quality of study material from the Education Faculty, which we believed amounted to fraud — taking money from students for rubbish. In those days (early 1990s) Unisa wasn’t interested in quality control. I hope that with all the talk of “transformation” there has now been some improvement, and that it is not just talk.

Then the following evening, after our usual day spent at the archives, we visited Jim and Jeanette Harris. Jeanette was an old friend of Val’s from primary school in Escombe, Natal, and they had not seen each other for many years. Jim had worked in a similar field to me, theologicval education and training for ministry in the Anglican Church, so we had a lot to talk about.

Val Hayes with Jeanetter and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

Val Hayes with Jeanette and Jim Harris, Diep Riview, 28 August 2015

Continued at More cousins and friends in and around Cape Town

In and around Cape Town

Continued from Vause family in Robertson

We travelled from Robertson to Cape Town and stayed in the Sun 1 Hotel on the Foreshore. We had stayed there before, when it was known as the Formula 1 Hotel. We like it because it is cheap, clean, and within easy reach of the Cape Archives. The main disadvantage is that it is in an area surrounded by office blocks and industrial buildings, so there is nowhere to eat nearby, though it is close to the Artscape Treatre.

Sun 1 Hotel, Cape Town Foreshore

Sun 1 Hotel, Cape Town Foreshore

During our stay in Cape Town last week we spent each moring doing research in the archives in Roeland Street, which is only a short drive from the hotel. The building used to be a jail, so it has a very high wall around it. We were mostly doing research into our family history. When the archives closed at 4:00 pm, we went to visit family and friends who had said they would like to see us.

The Cape Archives Depot, formerly the Roeland Street Jail.

The Cape Archives Depot, formerly the Roeland Street Jail.

Most places in Cape Town have good views, and the archive depot is no exception. On Tuesday when we came out we found the car battery was dead, and had time to take a couple of pictures while waiting for the AA to bring a new battery. We were glad that it decided to die in the middle of Cape Town and not on the road from Hondeklip Bay to Soebatfonteirn or somewhere equally inaccessible. It died with no warning. When we set off for the archives in the morning the car started fine, but it died as 1:08 pm, at least according to the dashboard clcok.

Devil's Peak, from outside the Cape Archives depot.

Devil’s Peak, from outside the Cape Archives depot.

One of the old friends I visitewd was Mike Preston, now living in a nursing home at Tokai. I had met him when I did a three months’ vac job as a student, with the audit firm of E.R. Syfret & Co, where Mike was an articled clerk. Mike was a car enthusiast, and one day after work we went for a test drive in an Austin Mini, then new of the market, and the salesman drove it on and off the kerb to show us the superiority of its rubber suspension. Mike remarked that it made every other small car look obsolete. Now we ourselves are obsolete superannuated has-beens.

Steve Hayes and Mike Preston

Steve Hayes and Mike Preston, Tokai, Western Cape

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