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GREENMARKET SQUARE, CAPE TOWN

I am a great fan of Greenmarket Square and visit it every time I go to Cape Town. As a boy growing up in Cape Town, then a eurocentric colonial era town, my earliest memory of Greenmarket Square was as a cobbled car park. Apparently, Greenmarket Square's decline started in 1905 when City Hall was built and its activities transferred to the Grand Parade. Today the natural order of things is restored with the Parade now a car park and Greenmarket Square the throbbing  street market 'city hall' heart of Cape Town.

Greenmarket Square was first established in 1696, some 44 years after the Dutch arrived. It received its name, presumably, from its first use as a market square where fresh vegetables grown in the nearby Company’s Garden were sold. Slaves were also sold here, though that was not uncommon around Cape Town. There are half-a-dozen sites within the center of town where slaves were sold, the most notorious being the Old Slave Tree (now gone) in Church Square pretty much right outside the door of the Dutch Reformed Groote Kerk (a proximity that provides a clue to why segregation and Apartheid was succoured by the Church over thre centuries!)

What I like most about Greenmarket Square is mix of old and new - the Dutch era Town House, the home of the Michaelis Collection of art, the glorious art deco buildings and the colourful African buzz among the market stalls. It has always represented the best of Cape Town in transition. By the 1980s the Square had become a flea market for counter-cultural, gay and or elderly Whites selling bric-a brac and clutter that with the collapse of Apartheid was soon taken over - liberated - by multi-cultural African traders selling much the same ethnic goods to tourists. I witnessed the transition, even took some photos. See next post below. (Coming Soon).

But back to Greenmarket Square. I always found it a wonderful meeting place. I recall meeting a journalist from New Zealand who said that based on his two weeks in SA that we, the country, was hell-bent on a genocidal holocaust. He said that he had met no anti-Apartheid Whites in his two weeks in SA, that I was the first White to express any liberal pro-democratic opinions. I scoffed at that remark and told him to go and talk to the people on the Square. It was the heart of my beloved liberal Cape Town, after all. Despite everything, good and bad, Greenmarket Square retains its wonderful optimism. I wish I could be there to see it in a 100 years time!

The first two images are from 'OUR SOUTH AFRICA'. (I guess its author, C. Graham Botha, a Cape Archives pal of the faker A. A. Jurgens RDPSA FRPSL, never intended it to include Black South Africans.)  The third and fourth PCs are self-explannatory and show the Old Watch House / Town House that is now the Iziko Michaelis Collection Art Gallery. The last B/W PC  I found and updated after I wrote the preceding. Interestingly, to the left of the Town House is the low, no-thatch 'Old Thatched Tavern'. In the 1970s I  dug up a pumpkin seed bottle in the Bellville dump that was embossed with the name of this pub. It is shown in Al Lastivico's book on SA Bottles , I think.

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Here are a few pretty poor photos showing aspects of Cape Town in the mid-to-late 1980s. They do, I hope, provide some sense of the time and what was happening around town and beyond. Further to this thread, I start with some images of Greenmarket Square. In the second photo you can see the Methodist Church in the postcard  above.

The downside of this Wordpress Forum add-on is that it only allows five images per post. So, I will perforce have to add others below this. This will include the African musicians and dancers who were first to colonise Cape Town's inner city centre, some 'cheeky Cape Coloured' carousing, some unarmed SADF conscripts looking on curiously, a posh Greenmarket Square coffee shop under siege from the homeless, a multi-racial Battle of the Bands at Green Point Stadium with buttocks - White girls going Native!  Oooh-weee! Fear and loathing in Triomf! I recall a pop festival here in the 70's where White kids tore down the fences separating them from Blacks, not something that is common knowledge today. And finally a few images of a segregated beach, the Strand, I think.

Okay, so this is not Philately but it is History.

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Some carousing. "Lag, lag elke dag" (Afr. laugh, laugh every day) because if you can't you will surely cry!

The second photo shows a habitue of the inner city centre, a relatively cool and benign guy I knew only as 'Hendrix'. The story went around that Jarman Street 'hippies' had given Hendrix a cap of acid (LSD). I am not certain about the truth of that but it was widely believed at the time given his slow drain-bamaged demeanour.

Finally, the remaining photos show the Siege of the Coffee Shop on Greenmarket Square. A recent South African impossibility, a multi-racial duo, play a little brunch-time music for the eating classes on the 'stoep' (Afr. porch) of the hotel. Some spontaneous F.U. dancing breaks out and soon there is insurrection Cape Town-style. The only confrontational thing about it was the dancer's being told to "Go dance somewhere else! Not in my coffee shop" I feel sorry for the Security Guard! It amazes me that the resistance of these dispossesed people to White privilege was to celebrate life by laughing and dancing to a chant of "kan 'n man dan nie" (Afr. can a person not do this?). I love the last photo showing two uptight White men, the blonde one the Coffee Shop manager, the sour other a seated customer. The third White man wearily hides behind an expression that says this is all too tedious and beneath him.

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I took these photos when I was living at the top of Breda Street in a lovely colonial villa. (Those were the days!).

The first photo shows Hendrix during the Siege of the Coffee Shop on Greenmarket Square. He looks angry but I never knew him like that. That's Julie on the left under the mass of red hair. The woman centre is the mother of the child. The last time I saw Julie was in April 1994 outside SA House in London when South Africans queued around the block to vote in our country's first democratic elections. Did Hendrix influence our votes? The second photo shows a voteless man sleeping in a cardboard box on Greenmarket Square at noon. I wish I could believe he is 'all partied-out' Cape-style.

The third photo was taken in Bo-Kaap where I would park my car before walking into town and visiting the Computer Shops in Long Street, (Tony Meechin's 'Silicon Alley'), then down into Greenmarket Square. Perhaps this 'Burn Baby Burn' image is the future that Hendrix is predicting. Has it come to pass? I am not so sure.  Cape Town remains more of a 'Disco Inferno' than a wasteland of retribution. The fourth and fifth photos are taken at the Strand, near Gordon's Bay, close to the 'Wild West', Somerset West. By this time petty Beach Apartheid was largely being ignored.

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Okay, last leg and nothing here on Greenmarket Square. All from the same roll of film! Remember 35mm film?

The first image shows the Battle of the Bands in the old Green Point Stadium. This would appear to have ben a multi-racial event but why Blacks would want to go to hear Anglo-Saxon rock 'n roll makes no sense. No wonder the young man's arms are crossed. Boring! Perhaps the moment's saving grace is the sight of White girls 'going Native'. Outside the stadium lies a back-up plan, an 'Armed Response Unit'  just in case a riot breaks out rather than the anticipated love-in. The topless pot-bellied old White boy poodling past in his slip-slops and shorts is so Capey Town! 

The remaining items are just bits of grafitti that I saw. Regarding "Botha has AIDS", I was told by Africans sceptical of the USA's good intentions that AIDS stood  for 'American Imperialist Death Strategy'. Botha was known to his fellow Nationalists as 'Die Groot Krokodil' (Afr. the Great Crocodile). AIDS was originally believed to have passed down from chimpanzees to humans. Given Botha's black deeds, you can be forgiven for thinking that AIDS passed down from the 'Groot Krokodil' himself. The bottom-line is that Botha was a mass murderer who was allowed to get away with crimes against humanity for the sake of national reconciliation, something he defied until he died!

The lizard-like dancers are weird and wonderful, like geckos on the wall. But geckos almost never shake, shake, shake! Finally, Santa, held up at gun-point over Christmas. Is Apartheid and Capitalism stealing the artist's pressies? 

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Finally, back to the beginning in a faraway euro-centric century in another millenium in another country.

Here is a postcard looking up Longmarket Street towards Signal Hill. You can see the spire of the Methodist Church on the top left of Longmarket Street, indicating where Greenmarket Square is to its right.  Longmarket Street runs down the western side of Greenmarket Square while Shortmarket Street, out of view, runs parallel down the eastern side.  This view is presumably across Adderley Street. The general dealer, jeweller and goldsmith, Emil Burmester, one of the great benefactors of Cape postal history, had a shop nearby at 78 Adderley Street about this time. I bought this postcard hoping that one of the two shops was his. Sadly, however, he did not have a corner shop.

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.... and finally back to Greenmarket Square.  Here is a photograph from the Robert Hill Collection, 'The Old Town House on Greenmarket Square, has a Fire Drill'. This is the same photograph Ralph Putzel used in his Encyclopedia, (page 324, Vol. 1). Putzel does not date this but my guess is that it is the very late 1920s, very early 1930s. It certainly seems an authentic drill!

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