Oranjezicht is a middle-class suburb with shady streets and gracious Victorian homes in the Cape Town city bowl. It is haughtily perched above the City on the mountainous massif which overlooks Cape Town and the vibrant Waterfront. Oranjezicht is popular with families because of its old, large and often lavish homes, lush gardens, top schools, tree-lined streets and peaceful residential feel. At the same time, the buzz of the commercial district is only a stone’s throw away. It’s a good place for those who like to be close to good restaurants, love to enjoy the vibrant street life, mingle with locals wandering around and shop in local shops with local designers.
For generations the Khoe had ‘as part their grazing cycle moved with their cattle in summer across the slopes of Table Mountain, Table Bay, modern Sea Point and Hout Bay, traversing the area on which Oranjezicht would be found many years later. They had no permanent dwellings and did not engage in arable farming. In the areas they occupied, the Khoe needed good water above anything else, since grazing is of little value without water. To the Khoe, land and water were to be used equally by those who need it. However the Dutch brought a different concept of land use and introduced the European system system of privately owned land which could be fenced off. The area that would become Oranjezicht Estate was particularly important for the Khoe and the later Dutch Settlers as a source of water.
The early Dutch settlement lay in the path of traditional Khoikhoi grazing and conflict broke out. As a defensive measure, Jan van Riebeeck, the company commissioner, created a defensive barrier along the eastern boundary of the settlement that would also prevent the Khoikhoi from raiding their livestock. This barrier also cut of the Khoe from the springs in Oranjezicht. The first land grant in the area had such an abundance of water that it supplied vegetables to the settlement and the passing ships. Pipes were also laid from Stadtsfontein spring into the burgeoning settlement town to supply the 612 Europeans and 310 slaves that lived in it.
In 1709, a Huguenot named Durand Soulli, who earned a living as a shoemaker in Drakenstein before moving to Cape Town, was granted a triangular piece of land, less than one morgen in size, on the slopes of Table Mountain against the Plattekloof Stream. His widow inherited the property and in turn, in 1761 sold the house and garden with moveables to Michiel Van Breda, who in turn bequeathed the property to his son Pieter. It is his son, Michiel transformed Oranjezicht from a farm that mainly supplied naval vessels with vegetables to an expanded estate that was covered mostly with vines.
In 1812 water was rolled out to all householders for the first time, and each homestead was supplied with a pumps that were operated with a long swing lever. The only remaining pump, Hurling’s Pump, can be seen at the corner of Sir George Grey Street and Prince Street in Oranjezicht. The pump which was declared a national monument, is adorned with a gargoyle by famed Cape Town sculptor Anton Anreith.
In 1877 the demise of the Oranjezicht Estate was signalled when The City of Cape Town bought 12 morgen on which to construct water reservoirs. Five years later also acquired rights to impound the water from the many springs on the estate. Without water the farm became quite useless, and the owners were forced to pay urban rates and taxes too. Members of the Breda family continued to live in Oranjezicht well into the 20th century, but more and more land was sold until ultimately there was little left except the double-storey house in Sidmouth Ave. On I April 1955 the homestead was demolished to make way for a sports club and lawns.
The Oranjezicht City Farm
Oranjezicht is not to be outdone by Tamboerskloof, with it’s own farm that hosts programmes that promotes diversity, inclusivity and sustainability. The Farm is situated adjacent to the historic Homestead Park and was established on a bowling green that was unused for decades.
The farm’s mission is to encourage social cohesion across communities, skills development, to educate residents, their children and others about food and the environment, to beautify public spaces and to highlight the sustainable use of under-utilised green spaces in the City Bowl.
The Farm also hosts a community farmers-style market at the V&A Waterfront, where independent local farmers and artisanal food producers punt their wares every Saturday. Some of the proviand that can be bought at the market include veg, fruit, bread, organic dairy, free-range eggs, honey, muesli, cooked and raw foods , edible plants and seedlings, compost and gardening supplies and equipment.
Historic sites in Oranjezicht
Stadtsfontein Vault Spring is one of the city’s original harnessed springs, Main Spring Vault, was renovated two years ago from its original 1813 structure as part of a heritage project. It is one of Cape Town’s two perennial springs.
Molteno dam The emerging Cape Colonial settlement built canals or “grachts” such as Buitengracht, Kaizergracht and Heerengracht, for water supply. These canals however, soon turned into a public health concern and had to be covered. The officials of the day decided to build a dam up on the Table Mountain slope above the growing city, to store water from the mountain’s springs.
Oranjezicht’s Homestead Park. The barn is part of the remaining remnants of the Van Breda family’s original Oranjezicht farm homestead and outbuildings, constructed between 1769 and 1777. Other surviving historic elements include the surrounding erf walls, a fruit weighing scale and a bell tower north of the barn
Graaf Electric Works, the first power plant in South Africa, was opened on 13 April 1895 when the first electric streetlights in Cape Town were switched on. It was build by David de Villiers Graaf, nicknamed “Octopus Graaf” for his tendency to get his tentacles into all sorts.
The Platteklip Wash, where Cape Town’s washer women plied their trade in the mid to late 19th century, is part of the Table Mountain National Park and rests on the slopes of Table Mountain, adjacent to Oranjezicht.of business. Graaff Electrical Lighting Works is now a historic monument next to the Molteno Reservoir in Oranjezicht.
St Cyprian’s School, an Independent, Anglican Girls’ School, was founded by Bishop Gray in 1871. The gateway and walls of this property date from the end of the 18th century and are situated on a portion of the historic Nooitgedacht estate.
The kramat (grave site) of Tuan Sayed Abdul Malik, a beautiful green and white attractive Mausoleum whose arched windows and domes , is situated on the grounds of St Cyprian’s School. Sayed Abdul Malik was an imam and spiritual healer who came to the Cape towards the end of the 18th century. He is revered for buying slaves , converting them to Islam and freeing them and was held in high esteem by Cape muslim slaves and free blacks.
Things to do and see in Oranjezicht
Relax in De Waal Park, an urban park in Oranjezicht, is an oasis of greenery in the middle of the City Bowl. Today the park serves as a hub for many recreational activities such as dog walking, bird watching, picnics and summer concerts. The park originated when the City of Cape Town purchased land from the Van Breda family who owned the farm Oranjezicht and was named after its founder, David Christiaan de Waal.
Shop at Gardens Shopping Center. The Center advertises itself as the “hang-out of the well-known and well-heeled”. You will be able to find anything from supermarkets, chemists designerwear to real estate brokers.
Get back to your roots at Oranjezicht City Farm , adjacent to Homestead Park was previously a bowling green constructed in the 1950s and unused for decades. Part of the original farm, ‘Oranje Zigt’, established in 1709, it became the largest farm in the Upper Table Valley in the 19th century. Today the site hosts the Oranjezicht City Farm, a collective that seeks to re-connect the Oranjezicht neighbourhood and the rest of Cape Town through design, gardening activity and outreach.
Get adventurous and take on the India Venster hiking Trail. This relatively easy route is not for the faint hearted – it involves some scrambling over boulders and inching along sheer drops. The reward are the awesome sea and city views and a real sense of achievement when you reach the top. Part of the route is directly under the cable car and at one stage it feels like you you can almost jump up and touch the cable car.
Oranjezicht were subdivided into separate properties over time and as a result the architectural is reflected through influences such as the arrival of different settler group with their cultural practices, functional requirements and changes in building technology. As a result you will find houses build in a variety of styles such as Cape Dutch, Victorian,Edwardian, and Cape Dutch revival. However, the overall effect is far from haphazard and represents a scenography that captures the passage of time and and the alternate influences of Cape Town perfectly.
Oranjezicht, in the South African context, almost represents a tired cliche. It’s product of slave labour, dispossession, the labour of dispoosed indigenous people and extreme racial segregation that took on a caste like form, in which white people of any class were above almost all non whites. Little has changed, with the descendants of Autshumato, the Khoi leader during Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival, still relegated to cooking, cleaning and raising children in a neighbourhood that is more than 70 % white. Although South Africa enjoys democracy for more than 20 years, factors such as generationally accrued wealth, a pervasive racial caste phenomenon, lifestyle immigration, semigration and no concrete counter measures will ensure that Oranjezicht and it’s sister neighbourhoods Vredehoek and Tamboerskloof will remain unblushing monuments to South Africa’s ugly past. There also global factors that counters diversity in neighbourhoods such as Oranjezicht, such as economic restructuring; the withdrawal of the state; and the lack of social housing initiatives.
Despite its prominent position, perched above the city on the slopes of Table Mountain, Oranjezicht projects an aura of cool detachment from the rapidly Africanising city beneath the soles of it’s feet. It’s a place for the individual, a retreat for the artist, a haven for young families , a safe harbour for weary expatriate retirees and a bosom for tattooed hipsters that assuade their anxieties by surrounding themselves with copy cutouts of mom and dad. Locals walk their dogs in the lush De Waal Park, go for charming strolls around the Molteno Dam, brisk jogs along the mountain periphery , gossip in quaint neighbourhood cafeterias or just enjoy the beautiful panoramic view of Table Mountain, the City , Harbour and the ocean.
The locals don’t have to go far to escape the sweltering suburbia with Kloof Street in the more promiscuous Tamboerskloof just a dart throw away, where a quick tipple and a pinch in the dark can be had in less time than it takes to lose one’s innocence. Those that are adventurous enough and mastered the art of side stepping and bag clutching may dare to mingle with the hordes in the Company’s Garden or attempt to secure proviand further afield than the Gardens Shopping center, that prides itself as “a quiet, personable shopping alternative” for the “well-known and well-heeled”.