Let sleeping bones lie

* The hospital constructed by the Dutch East India Company in 1760 was situated behind the brick building which is diagonally across from Erf 4995, Sayers Lane.

The former chairman of the Simon’s Town Historical Society is convinced that archaeological works were prematurely stopped at the controversial Sayers’ Lane where the remains of 164 humans were recently excavated.

David Erickson said the archaeological survey for the property, located on the corner of Palace Hill and Waterfall roads, was incomplete as the area near Admiralty House had not been examined at all.

“The site lies within the Simon’s Town heritage protection overlay zone and clearly is a place of cultural significance, with particular reference to the Muslim community and the Phoenix Committee who represent people displaced during the forced removals,” he said.

But Heritage Western Cape (HWC) chief executive officer, Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka, denies the allegations, saying the team of archaeologists from ACO Associates had planned to finalise the process by Friday August 30. In fact, he said, they had finished a day earlier and were busy clearing the site.

He said the area referred to by Mr Erickson did not fall within the development footprint and had therefore not been excavated.

On Friday August 30 Dr Dlamuka said all human remains had been removed and the archaeological survey had been completed and that the site had been inspected by two HWC archaeologists.

He said the developer was free to continue construction of the three-storey block of flats as long as he had the necessary approvals from other statutory authorities in place as the development did not fall under the jurisdiction of HWC.

The site was closed earlier this year after human remains, believed to be that of crew members from the 18th-century Dutch East India Company cargo ship, the VOC, were found on the property.

HWC issued a permit for the remains to be removed and an archaeological team from ACO Associates was appointed by the developer, Micheal Bester from Regent Blue Sayers’ Lane, to exhume the remains.

Mr Bester had purchased the property in 2004 and the exhumation of the remains halted the construction of the block of flats.

In 1813 the property housed 20 single storey terraced cottages known as Sayers’ Lane and Waterfall cottages, built by the Royal Navy Works Department.

Residents of the cottages were forcefully removed in 1965 under the Group Area’s Act and the cottages were demolished in 1972. The property is adjacent to the old brewery and the registered national monument, Studlands which was built in 1797.

Mr Erickson, said a hospital had been built near the site by the Dutch East India Company in the 1760s. It could accommodate about 250 patients but during the 10-vessel expedition in the 1780s many of the sailors contracted communicable diseases and upon their arrival in the then Seamon’s Bay, the hospital had not been able to handle the number of patients and hundreds had reportedly died.

The bodies, he said, had been buried in a shallow mass grave.

Mr Erickson who is also a member of the Simon’s Town architectural advisory committee (AAC), said Mr Bester initially told the committee he wanted to build “affordable” apartments for Navy officers and submitted plans to the effect at a Simon’s Town AAC meeting in 2009.

However, a further set of plans with a number of revisions, which increased the number of flats from 23 to 25 and added a fourth storey was later submitted to the City of Cape Town and was approved in August 2017 without the knowledge of the AAC.

Mr Bester said he was aware of the allegations made by Mr Erickson but said they were not correct and that he was liaising with Mr Erickson and the relevant authorities.

He declined to comment on the exhumation and said a public statement would be made once the archaeologists had completed their report.

Before plans could be approved, HWC demanded that an archaeologist conduct a survey of the site as it was in a heritage protection overlay zone.

In 2006, Cape Archaeological Survey conducted an archaeological monitoring by digging nine test pits between the depth of 1.5 and 1.8 metres on the property but no human remains were found. The report compiled by director of Cape Archaeological Survey, Mary Patrick, indicated that animal bones and ceramic remains were found there.

In 2017 the Echo’s sister paper, Athlone News, reported that Ms Patrick was involved in the process of removing remains from Black River cemetery which is adjacent to Klipfontein Road and the Black River Parkway. The property at that stage was owned by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

Mr Bester who is also an architect and Anglican priest, conducted the archival research for the removal of the remains.

Ms Patrick declined to comment.

Waterfall Road residents, Ghulaam and Razia Hoosen, who live across the road from the property, said they find the name of the flats, Sayers’ Lane, disrespectful. They say it has nothing to do with the people who lived there or their history.

Their house had been in the Hoosen family from 1911 until 1969 when Mr Hoosen’s father, Mohammed, was forcefully evicted but he managed to stay on and rent the property from the then council.

Two of the terraced cottages were owned by the Hoosens and after demolition of the cottages, a road now Palace Hill Road, was built in the 1980s separating the Hoosen house from the Sayers’ Lane property.

“It’s forceful removals all over again, this time the forceful removal of the dead,” Ms Hoosen said.

They would like to see a garden of remembrance on the property and want the dead to be left in peace.

Member of the Phoenix Committee, Mary Kindo, said she could not comment until a meeting with all the interested role-players had been called and all relevant information had been collected.

ACO Associates archaeologist, Tim Hart said he could not comment as it was a “sensitive matter.”

Dr Dlamuka said the remains would be relocated but where to, had yet to be determined.

Mayoral committee member for human settlements, Malusi Booi, said he was not aware of the proposal for affordable housing as the City’s human settlements directorate had not investigated any historic sites in Simon’s Town for possible development of social housing or state-subsidised housing opportunities.