Uncertain future for Sayers’ Lane

A screen shot of the vacant land on Property 24 before it went on auction on Wednesday September 23.

The future of the Sayers’ Lane building site, where the remains of 164 people were excavated last year, once again hangs in the balance as the land is up for sale.

The 1953m² vacant plot on the corner of Palace Hill and Waterfall roads in Simon’s Town made news last year when construction of a three-storey block of flats was halted after it unearthed the human remains, believed to be those of crew from 18th-century Dutch East India Company cargo ships.

While most of the surrounding residents were not opposed to development on the property, they took offence to the design of the three-storey block of flats and the use of the name, Sayers’ Lane, which they say represents nothing of the heritage of Simon’s Town or the people who previously lived there.

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

And while HWC gave the go-ahead for construction of the three-storey block of 25 flats to continue after exhumation, no further construction has since taken place.

The property was then listed on Property 24 for auction on Wednesday September 23 with a reserve price of R5 million. It comes with approved building plans for a development of 25 flats, 37 parking bays of which 16 are in a semi-basement and 25 storerooms.

According to Rawson Auctions, the property was not sold and has been removed as a listing as their mandate to sell the property has expired.

Mr Bester, the owner of Michael Bester Architects CC, said his practice was no longer involved in the project and the current economic climate was not conducive to starting construction.

Following the excavations last year, the Simon’s Town Phoenix Committee, which represents victims of apartheid’s forced removals, called a meeting in response to allegations that had surfaced in the media, among them claims that Muslim remains might be present; that the site was in fact a mass grave; and that archaeologists had prematurely stopped excavation work and been gagged from speaking to the media and the public so as not to impede the three-storey block of flats to be built on the land.

At the time, ACO Associates archaeologist John Gribble, who worked on the excavation of the remains, told the public meeting that most of the burials were Christian as most skeletons were lying on their backs, their arms by their sides or folded over their chests or pelvis in an east-west direction.

According to the team’s research, he said, the remains belonged to crew from 18th-century Dutch East India Company cargo ships (“Archaeologists of Sayers’ Lane breaks silence,” Echo, September 12, 2019).

HWC chief executive officer, Dr Mxolisi Dlamuka said the remains are currently in temporary storage and the process for the reburial has been put on hold due to the national lockdown.

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 Areas 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.

Phoenix Committee chairwoman, Suzette Farmer, said the committee did not know much about the latest development on the property but would like to see affordable housing there.

Waterfall Road residents, Ghulaam and Razia Hoosen, who owned two of the terraced cottages and now live across the road from the property, said the site’s fence had collapsed and unmarked spikes on the pavement were a danger to passers-by.

Ms Hoosen said they had seen no signs advertising the property for sale and they found that strange.

“We want the land to be cleared and the property to be donated to the community with a garden of remembrance, or a community vegetable garden or even a few low cost cottages to benefit the community,” she said.

Former chairman of the Simon’s Town Historical Society, David Erickson said the developer of the block of flats ignored recommendations from the Simon’s Town Architectural Advisory Committee, the Simon’s Town Historical Society and local residents. He said the community should motivate the return of the property .

“ A community development for the community is proposed, consisting of a number of single-storey terraced almshouses, combined with a landscaped garden of remembrance which should commemorate the 167 individuals which were buried on the land as well as the 20 families who lost their homes due to the forceful removals,” he said.

Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, said the City would be issuing a notice to the owner to instruct that the method of fencing be made less hazardous.