History of Oranjezicht City Farm

The historic Oranje Zigt manor house

[one_half]

The site of the Oranjezicht City Farm comprises part of the original Oranje Zigt Farmstead.

This was at one time the largest farm in the Upper Table Valley, and was occupied by the Van Breda family for 7 generations.

The owners of the farm “Oranje Zigt”:
  • 1709 – 1726 Durand Souljer (Soullier)
  • 1726 – 1731 Johannes Strydom
  • 1731 – 1758 Pieter van Breda
  • 1758 – 1777 Michiel van Breda
  • 1777 – 1804 Pieter van Breda
  • 1804 – 1851 Michiel van Breda
  • 1851 – 1870 Dirk Gysbert van Reenen van Breda
  • 1870 – 1888 Gerrit Hendrik van Breda
  • 1888 – 1901 Michael Alexander William v Breda
  • 1901 The Oranjezicht Estates (Pty) Ltd

Pieter van Breda was born in Sas-van-Gent in Zeeland, part of Flanders, in 1696. He arrived in SA in 1719 on the ship “Spieringh”. The farmstead and outbuildings were built between 1769 and 1777 by his son, Michiel van Breda. The family gradually enlarged their holdings until the estate covered the largest part of Table Valley, 213 morgen in the 19th century (182 hectares). Terraces were made for the cultivation of vines, but the main income came from the sale of vegetables and fruit. During its peak period of production (1816-1834), the farm’s labour included 40 slaves.
[/one_half][one_half_last]
The Van Bredas were known in colonial society for hosting many important visitors to the Colony, who were entertained on the estate on a lavish scale. Pieter even had his own house orchestra of 30 flute and violin players, in uniform. They performed in one of the many gardens, on a raised bandstand with white-painted stone facing and low stone walls, surrounded by a circle of trees.

Behind the house, tiers of terraced fields with stonework fronts stretched towards the mountain. Pathways were lined with pine trees. On the east side were several water springs. In front of the house was a large circular fishpond in the centre of a turning circle, surrounded by a cobbled courtyard. A wide oak-lined avenue of trees formed the main entrance to the homestead.

There were also 2 slave bells, the main one hanging suspended between two pillars. Sounded daily at set hours or in case of emergency, it could be heard from Signal Hill to Woodstock. (The bell itself was displayed at Koopman de Wet’s House in Strand Street and then taken to the Castle for an exhibition and apparently never returned, but the tower is still standing in Homestead Park, restored in 2011). On sale days the bell sounded and a flag was hoisted, the signal for ships’ officers, burghers, and their wives and children to visit the estate to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables. Produce was brought to a tree in the cobbled yard where it was weighed on a scale hanging from an oak tree. The original hooks for this scale are still present and visible in 2012, embedded in the tree standing in what is now Homestead Park.

The second Michiel van Breda was an influential person in Cape Town as Burgher Councillor, member of the first Legislative Council and as chairman of the first Council of Municipal Commissioners. He also was regarded as an innovative horticulturist in the Cape (successfully cultivating a coffee tree, among other exotics, on the estate), and was instrumental in establishing the Merino wool industry in the Overberg. In 1847, following his death, the estate was entailed (on 13 February 1851) with the intention to keep it in the Van Breda family, but the Oranjezicht Purchase Act of 1877 enabled the Municipality to buy more than 12 morgen on which water reservoirs were constructed. In 1882 further portions had to be released and the Municipality also acquired the rights to impound water from the many springs on the farm.
[/one_half_last]


[one_half]
Without water the estate became all but useless to its owners, who also now had to pay urban rates and taxes, and in 1901 the land was sold to a syndicate, “Oranjezicht Estates Limited”, and the suburb of Oranjezicht was established on the farm, with the Oranjezicht farmstead becoming Erf 858 on the corner of Upper Orange Street and Sidmouth Avenue. This erf was purchased by the Cape Town Municipality in 1948 for twelve thousand pounds, the unique double storey house with its wood-floor balcony supported by 6 columns and extensive collection of antiques designated for conversion to a civic museum.

However, this museum never materialised and on 1 April 1955 the Council decided to demolish the original farm homestead. This decision was put into effect in 1957. Some antiques and other contents of the house were sold at public auction, but the choicest pieces were taken to furnish the chambers of the City’s mayor (where they remain to this day according to the City’s Heritage Management unit). In 1989 the remainder of the property was declared a national monument by the National Monuments Council and it henceforth had to be administered and maintained in terms of the National Monuments Act 1969, repealed and replaced in 1999 by the National Heritage Resources Act. An outbuilding of the farm, a barn which dates back to about 1790, still remains as part of Homestead Park, and has been used by Boy Scouts since the middle of the 20th century.
[/one_half][one_half_last]
After the demolition of the original farm homestead in 1957, the sloping portion of Erf 858 where the house and turning circle had been located was levelled and a bowling green installed by Council. This subsequently fell into disuse, and in the 21st century became a refuge for vagrants and place for drug deals to take place, accumulating rubbish and detracting from the quality of life in the community.

A number of local civil society organisations began to take a greater interest in the welfare of the site, including the Oranjezicht Heritage Society and Reclaim Camissa. In 2009, the Oranjezicht-Higgovale Neighbourhood Watch (OH Watch) began to organise clean-ups of rubbish and cutting of weeds and overgrowth, as well as cutting the grass on the bowling green. In 2011 OH Watch helped Council pay for and install new perimeter fencing around Homestead Park and the disused bowling green, as well as installing new locking gates.

In late 2012 and early 2013 the bowling green was converted into the Oranjezicht City Farm, restoring a small portion of the once vast farm to its earliest use.[/one_half_last]

References

Oranjezicht: Recalling the past, cultivating the future A history of Oranjezicht commissioned by OZCF, written by Patricia Davison and Adrienne Fold, published in 2015 and available for purchase.

The Slave Experience“, Slavery in South Africa, Iziko Museums of South Africa

Johannes van Breda – personal correspondence, September 2012.
“The Home of the Van Breda’s” – Cape Times – Saturday 31 March 1923.
Vertaalde weergawe van “Schetsen uit het Kaapsche leven” deur JH Verduyn den Boer.
“Romance of Oudekraal and the Oranjezicht Estate – Van Breda Family Homes for Centuries”, Cape Argus, May 28 1932.
Vintage Cape Town -Historic Houses and Families in and around the Old Cape, by C Pama, 1973.
The Farm that Died, by Ralph Pentecost, 1992.
Portrait of Cape Town, by Joy Collier, 1960.
Die Burger 25 Februarie 1989 – “Stadsfonteine en opstal in Oranjezicht verklaar”.
Endorsement I1255/89 on Title Deed T1286/48.
A Man-Made Landscape at the Cape: 1652-1900, by Gwen Fagan.

h/t: Oranjezicht Heritage SocietyReclaim CamissaOH Watch

Special thanks to Johannes van Breda