Why Nelson Mandela Renamed His Presidential Residency Genadendal

Posted by The Cape Country Meander on Wednesday, January 01, 2014 with 4 comments
Genadendal is often overlooked as the demure sibling of the bustling picturesque town of Greyton just 5 km away. While not a foodie hub, and with more of a hamlet feel, than that of a town, it’s no less charming. Genadendal certainly has much to recommend a visit particularly in terms of its intriguing history. Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, South Africa’s first democratically elected president visited this tiny town in 1995. He was so affected by its “tangible and intangible history” that he renamed his presidential residence in Cape Town, Genadendal. It means “valley of grace” and for good reason. The historic town square marks the site of the first mission station and the first teacher’s training college in South Africa. It was on this very square that people of all races were encouraged to read and write and become more than just manual labourers on farms. Of the beautifully preserved cottages, one was home to the official founder, Moravian Missionary, George Schmidt.

Naming a town and revolutionising a community

In the early 1700s the original inhabitants of the then Cape Colony, the Khoi-khoi, were in chaos. They were starving and dying of a smallpox epidemic. Their nomadic, pastoral way of life was disintegrating. Many had been forced off their land and onto settler farms as slave or cheap labourers. When Schmidt arrived in 1738, he set about establishing a small pioneering, industrious community. He renamed Baviaanskloof (baboons ravine), Genadendal. He insisted that people of all races were educated and were encouraged to learn skilled trades. The community thrived, trading and selling their goods throughout the colony. Soon, disgruntled Dutch Reformed clergy from Cape Town and local farm owners forced him to abandon his work and he abandoned the mission and left the country in 1744. Although Schmidt’s time in Gendendal was short his impact had a lasting effect. The town claims its place as the first permanent Khoi-khoi settlement in the country. Today’s residents can proudly trace their ancestry as far back as six generations or more. Plus, owing to Schmidt’s initial pioneering educational efforts, the first teacher’s training college in South Africa was established at Genadendal in 1838, the year in which slavery was formally abolished. When the Act was passed freed slaves seeking refuge flocked to the town. Sadly, the teacher’s training college was closed in 1926 by the white dominated government who felt coloured (mixed race) people were better suited to labouring on farms.

Oldest pipe organ, first fire engine, character museum

In addition to an incredibly pretty well conserved town, this is where visitors can see the oldest pipe organ in South Africa and the country’s first fire engine. The Genadendal Mission Museum is housed in the old teacher’s training college. If you’re lucky you’ll get to hear the community church choir animatedly singing or the jazzy sounds of the spirited brass band. You’ll also get to see the local weaving initiative’s exquisitely crafted authentically hand-woven products, which are available for purchase. Do plan to stay a while. You’ll want to soak up the atmosphere. You’ll need to book in advance for lunch at the Moravian Restaurant. You’re likely to get something typically hearty and South African on the menu. Alternatively, pack your own picnic lunch and sit quietly under the trees in the town square. Genadendal really is a remote, otherworldly experience that won’t disappoint.