Leigh Dunn: The Coloured folk of Plett

Leigh Dunn: The Coloured folk of Plett

The Dunn and Harker families of Plett having a picnic at Robberg in 1948.

“The Coloured folk of Plett, how they were moved from the CBD by the Group Areas Act No. 41 of 27 April 1950, and a few related anecdotes”

– Presentation by Leigh M Dunn for the Van Plettenberg Historical Society, Plettenberg Bay on Thursday the 12th of July 2018 at 18h00

On the 24th of Jan 1993, family member – Shirley Harker spoke on “The Harkers of Plettenberg Bay”. The Historical Society then handed her the original foundation stone of the original Harker Residency of 1823, as a gift.

  1. The Time before the Group Areas Act in Plettenberg Bay:
  2. The Harker families of Plett owned most of Plett central (Church Street, Crescent Street, and Kloof Street, even Poortjies areas and also Harkerville)
  3. The well-known Nguni Restaurant at The White House theatre in Crescent Street was built by Thomas Harker;
  4. (The White House was not there, but the restaurant in front was their humble family home, as it stands today)
  5. It’s one of the very few Plett buildings that were not taken over by huge contractors, who try to change something so humble and beautiful, into modern structures that look totally out of place in our little town.
  6. The parking area below Zanzibar Lounge and the Chinese Shop below that parking area, used to belong to Reginald Carolissen, the husband of Dora Harker (whom I’ll tell you about soon);
  7. The little building just below the Chinese shop in Crescent Street where Colleen Kemp Physiotherapist used to be, then later it was a car dealer, and I think it is now an estate agent – that used to belong to Elizabeth Bertha Harker, the mother of my grandma Bertha.
  8. Albergo Backpackers in Church Street used to belong to Michael Muller, the husband of my grandmother’s youngest sister Gwendolene Harker
  9. Those are just a few starting off examples of how the Harkers owned most of Plett and of course most of Harkerville, starting with Captain Robert Charles Harker in 1823.
  10. My grandfather’s farm on the N2 at Harkerville was between The Potter and Strombolis, and today it’s still called “Die Hout Huis”, providing guest accommodation.
  11. It was taken from us.
  12. The rest of Plett central which did not belong to the Harkers, belonged to a few isolated families (which I will mention later. By the way. There were 6 white families living in Plett central, and that has been documented by Patricia Storrar. Luckily I did not live there those days, so you can’t ask me who those 6 families were). The rest belonged to government (like The Lookout Center that used to be the Police Station), and the rest of the CBD belonged to the St. Peter’s Anglican Church diocese, as I will explain shortly
  13. That’s why Formosa Place, is still St. Peter’s Anglican Church grounds, that’s why it’s called Formosa Place, because of the Parish of Formosa that the church falls under.
  14. The St Peter’s Anglican church still receives the rent from Formosa Place every month
  15. And the wooden structure right behind Formosa Place, in the Checkers parking area, where the new Hospice Charity Shop finds its home since early 2018, was one of the original classrooms of the St. Peter’s Mission school, all belonging to the Anglican Church diocese.
  16. That Hospice structure was a classroom in the school where my granddad was the principal (details and dates I will share shortly)
  17. Let’s get back to:

The Original Harker and Dunn families of Plettenberg Bay

  1. The History of the Dunn family of Plettenberg Bay

The first Dunns who arrived in South Africa originated from John Dunn (born 1824 from Scottish parents and grew up in Port Natal, later known as Durban). John Dunn was survived by 23 Zulu wives and 79 children. The British rulers in Port Natal at that time named him “The White Chief of Zululand.” His children were scattered all over South Africa.

According to research, one of John Dunn’s children was my great grandfather Michael Dunn (born 1851), who accepted a railway job in Somerset West.

He married Elizabeth King (a Coloured woman) from Heidelberg in the Western Cape.

(I have photographs of her. She was a beautiful Coloured lady. Could have hailed from the Malaysian slaves)

My great-granddad Michael Dunn died tragically in a railway crash during working hours, and his widow and children had to leave the railway house with immediate effect. That was in Somerset West.

To worsen matters, his wife then died at a young age, (probably financial and other stress)

and the children then grew up orphans, reared by a “White” family in Somerset West – the Van Wyk family. My granddad, who was one of those orphans, was the only one who got educated. All the other siblings went to work as taxi drivers and business people in order to survive.

At the age of 21, after completing his seminary studies at the Zonnebloem College in Cape Town, Michael William Dunn got his first job at the Diocese of Formosa in Plettenberg Bay in 1912.  That was the time that only 6 white families and a clergyman namely Reverend Breach, lived in Plett, other than the coloured families who lived there.

Between 1906 and 1910, the only building on the island called Beacon Island was an old shed, in which the locals kept their whale boats. It was late in 1910 that Norwegians arrived in Plett in 7 whailing ships fitted with guns. They then built a factory on Beacon Island and three other buildings.

Dunn was English speaking. The other Coloured families were speaking Afrikaans which is a mix between Dutch and Malaysian.

He became the first Coloured Headmaster of the first Multi-racial school in Plettenberg Bay, which was started in 1901 by Bishop Bull of the Anglican Diocese, namely the St. Peter’s Mission school in Bull Street (named after the bishop), where the Old Rectory hotel now opened on 15th August 2017.

The spa building of the Old Rectory hotel was the school where my granddad taught from 1912 until 1942.

My cousins Desiree, Caryn and Lynne from Toronto in Canada came to see the Old Rectory Hotel last year, when it opened, to see Granddad’s old school now being renovated. (I’ve put a post on facebook about their visit to that site).

I was told by so many locals who went to school there, how the school children would go and play on the beach during intervals, and then run back when hearing the school bell. One of them was Sally Johansen. Another was Iris Dickson. And when the school had a function or a special event, the children would receive their refreshments on Hobie beach during school time.

Then in 1942 the school moved to Main Street Plettenberg Bay (where Foschini is).

The school in Main Street became the Lions Hall in 1969 (The Lions is a society like The Rotary Club). My parents as teachers had to invigilate at many school concerts in the Lion’s Hall for many years. As a child, I attended a wedding in The Lions Hall in 1987, therefore I wildly guess that in the early 1990’s, The Lions Hall was renovated to become “The Square” where Foschini now is.  

Even though I am referring to the midst of the Apartheid years, the white and coloured communities sometimes did work together. They were segregated, but at peace with each other.

In 1978 my parents were very involved in the bi-centenary celebrations of our town since its establishment in 1778. Among the dignitaries at the festivities were Prof. Chris Barnard and State President B.J. Vorster. My Uncle Mike Harker and aunt Shirley Harker who were both councilors of our town, sat right next to those guys at the newly renovated Beacon Island hotel.

As a child growing up in the 1980’s, my dad sent me once a month to the old Plett Primary school behind the Post Office, just below Cornuti. I had to go and pay Mrs Mary Matthews, because she gave me piano lessons.

I remember always ringing the bell on the wooden gate. Then a prefect would come and open the gate for me. Usually a girl. She was shy and I was shy. I was not used to seeing white children at school. So I followed her very uncomfortably up the wooden stairs into the staff room to Mrs Matthews. That was once a month. I even behaved myself differently among the white children, I even walked differently.

  • The History of the original Harker families of Plettenberg Bay

Captain Robert Charles Harker was born in Ireland in 1781.

Harker retired as Major in the British army, but continued to use his rank of Captain. He was moved to Plett in October in 1823.

Captain Harker had an illegitimate son from an unidentified Coloured woman from Plett in 1825.

 (Captain Harker was the Post Master and the Justice of the Peace – in other words he was a judge and a postmaster. A very well respected man in the whole of Plett. So therefore the scandal was kept undercover)

That boy was named Henry Adolphus Harker, and was born on 1st October 1825, and was taken from his mother, to be raised by a “White” family namely the Sinclair family who was related to Captain Harker’s wife Maria.

After Maria Harker died in 1834 and became the very first person to be buried in the Historic Harker graves in Beacon Way (on the side of Poortjies) in Plett, which was then still part of the original Harkers’ property.

After his wife’s death, then only Captain Harker took his “Coloured” son and had him christened in George. He was christened in the Dutch Reformed church, and not in the Anglican Church where they belonged, because of the embarrassment of having a coloured son by someone else His “Coloured” son – Henry Adolphus Harker had a son with exactly the same name.

Henry Adolphus Harker the Second was my great-grandfather, and was born in Plettenberg Bay on 14th December 1881.

In 1904 he got married to Elizabeth Bertha de Reuch (She did not speak Afrikaans. She spoke Hoog-Duits, which is Dutch)

She then became Elizabeth Bertha Harker (my great-grandmother), the one who owned the property in Crescent Street below Zanzibar parking.

My great-grandfather Henry Adolphus Harker had a fishing boat. He caught fish for a living. I was told how his wife would never sleep at night if he was out on the sea. Many great mariners died in Plett’s waters. There were many good ghillies. The brothers Angus and Archie McCallum were some of Plett’s best ghillies during the 1st half of the 20th century. They were men with no fear of the sea, and could even predict the weather patterns. They earned up to R2, 50 or even R3, 50 a day, plus food, and plus wine as an optional extra. But to a coloured ghilly, alcohol was not an option. It was a necessity to survive those seas.

Henry Adolphus Harker’s eldest daughter (my grandmother) Bertha Dinah Harker was born in 1905. The other Harker siblings were Cornelius (he had property in Poortjies where Plett Primary is now, but first it was a sports field and it had a police office there) (1907), Dora (who lived where Zanzibar Lounge is) (born 1909), Henry (lived in Kloof Street Plett) (born 1910), Selina (born 1913), Rowland (lived in Kloof Street Plett)(born 1914), Alice (the one who moved to New York) (born 1917), Millicent (she got married Muslim, moved to Cape Town and got a new name Maimuna) (born 1919), Michael, husband of Shirley Harker (born 1921) and Gwendolene (who owned Albergo Backpackers, long before it was there) (born 1925).

  • The day when these two Historic Plettenberg Bay families became one family

Michael William Dunn and Bertha Dinah Harker got married in the St. Chad’s chapel in Harkerville on the 27th of June 1934 where they were the very first recorded wedding. [I am in possession of the original marriage certificate]

Bertha Dinah Harker was the headmistress of the St. Chad’s School at Harkerville at the time of their wedding. And Michael William Dunn was the headmaster of the St. Peter’s Mission School in Plettenberg Bay.

That was the moment that the Harker and Dunn families of Plettenberg Bay became one family.

My granddad Michael William Dunn built “Victoria Cottage” in Kloof Street in Plettenberg Bay central in 1937.

The property stretched all the way from the house behind FNB right up to Atmar Center, and the bottom part of Atmar center below Pep Stores, was also part of the Dunns’ property.

Their firstborn son (my dad) Mac Dunn was born in Victoria Cottage in 1938. Then their last born Derrick was born there too in 1944.

One of my granddad’s students Rachel Krigga (now Rachel Cedras and aged 76), tells me how far she had to walk from the church grounds near Poortjies where they used to live. She used so walk so early in the morning, in the rain and the cold, with bare feet. She then always made a halfway stop, at my grandfather’s place in Kloof Street, where my grandmother used to dry Rachel’s wet feet with a towel, and give her a cup of hot milk, every morning, before she would continue her walk to the little school in Bull Street, which was quite a long walk downhill still, in the cold and the wet weather.

My mother Joey and I are the last of the original Dunns still residing here.

…and from the Harker side we have the youngest daughters of Shirley Harker namely Sybil and Louise still living here.

They also own the original Harker residence cornerstone, from the official Harker residence belonging to Captain Robert Charles Harker and his wife Maria. That Harker residence property stretched from Beacon Road (where Plett Primary and the Harker graves are, to the area of Old Plett, between Church Street and Poortjies).

We are also in possession of many family heirlooms from as far as Somerset West, Harkerville and Plettenberg Bay, including building plans, newspaper articles and documented accounts, even marriage and birth certificates.

  • The Move (because of the Group Areas Act of 1950:

I spoke to one of the students of my parents in 1969 at the time that they had to be moved from their school in Main Street, to the school in New Horizons, namely Mirah Windvogel (now aged 64), and she told me that the students had to walk all the way from the old school in Main Street Plett to New Horizons. The teachers had to move the stuff on bakkies. They did not have trucks. 1 July 1969 the school moved to New Horizons.

When they arrived at their new school premises, the premises were covered with snakes, stones, rocks, it was a terrible experience. They had to clean up and work and it took quite some time, because the area used to be dense forest!!!)

Well, in 1961, Plett had a permanent population of less than 5000 people, (so I am sure there were more snakes.)

The first street lights in Plett were switched on at 8:30am on the 1st of December 1964 by Mayoress Kate Martin. Yet New Horizons township only received electricity 15 years later in 1979, and the teachers remember how they spitefully left the lights burning for an entire week, so that the whole community could see that their school now was lit up.

  • The Harker families lived together in central Plett, all the years, so when they had to be moved, because of the National Group Areas act, the Harkers decided to buy a group of family plots in Ashleigh farm (currently known as New Horizons township) and became the very first residents there in 1968
  • The very first house in New Horizons was the home of Robert and Mary Harker on the corner of Keurboom Road, right opposite the new library. It now belongs to the family of Smakes Witbooi.
  • My mother Joey moved to Plett in 1964 as a young teacher
  • Here in Plett were no lootings, no riots, no burning of tires, no burning and destroying public places, no obscuring the N2, and no political violence.
  • Plett was a peaceful place.
  • The only Black family was the Grootboom family
  • Johannes Grootboom was a sidesman in the St. Peter’s Anglican Church, and his wife Margaret was a housewife. They had many children and my mother taught them all. Christina, Hermina, Justine, James, Johannes, and Regina was the youngest.
  • Their daughter Justine’s son is a pharmacist in Clicks at Market Square at the moment. (What a beautiful and proud achievement for Plett)
  • There was no Bossiesgif, except for the Grootbooms living there.
  • The next Black family was the Skosana family who moved to Plett from the Transkei in the Eastern Cape, to come and be domestic workers in holiday homes.
  • And there were no other Coloured families owning property in the Plett CBD except the Harker and Dunn families, with the Harkers owning most of the land.

George Langdown refused to move, and made Sunday Times Headlines on the 11th of February 1973. People were evicted from 1968 in the Plett CBD, my granny Bertha in 1972, and George Langdown was the last coloured person in 1973, who refused to move, so they forcefully moved him and demolished his house in Langdown Street, with a bulldozer. Since then it was named Langdown street.

  • There were no Indian people living in Plett by the 1960’s except Toppa Reddy who came to Plett as one of the constructors of the new Beacon Island hotel which was designed by world-class architect Prof. Helmut Hentrich of Dusseldorf in West Germany and opened in 1972. But if you ask the Plett coloured folk of 1972 what that new modern hotel looked like to them, you’d hear that George Langdown said the following: “That hotel looks out of place here in our bay. It looks like nothing but a huge ship that’s been stranded on the rocks”.
  • I wish to say the same about that ugly new court building. It looks out of place here in our little town
  • Well, I still have close contact with Toppa Reddy’s son Stanley Reddy who is now 60 and living in Johannesburg
  • During that same year, Joe Moodley, age 75, who still works at Beacon Island at this moment, was also transferred to Plett from Durban, to work at the new hotel. He here married a coloured lady Margaret Payle and they are still living in the Beacon Island flats in Piesang Valley. I went to school with their children Jessica Moodley and Alistair Moodley.
  • Joe Moodley was the first head porter for Sol Kerzner who owned the Beacon Island Hotel in 1972 when it opened.
  • The other Coloured families of Plett all lived in Keurbooms River; Bitou (Bitou was the area that stretched from Old Nick down to Wittedrift); the Coloured folk also lived in Redbourne area, with the Griekwa people moving to Kranshoek during Easter of 1920.  
  • Then in the Crags there were Coloured families, as well as “Basters”.
  • Basters were Coloured people who were “light skinned” and wanted to be classified as “White”
  • They did not mix with the Coloured people
  • They did not even attend the school where my grandfather was the principal.
  • They even had their own “Baster school”, at the Crags.
  • Some of the Basters were the Dicksons and the Barnados. Winnie Barnado got married to Dick Earp-Jones in the 1980’s. (Inter-racial marriages were against the law, so Winnie obviously somehow had herself classified as white)(It happened, because my grandmother was offered two ID documents as I will explain)
  • The following were the most well-known Coloured families in Plett, from the different areas:
  • The Windvogels lived in Gansvlei (Goose Valley Area); The Macleans, McCullums, Kamfers, Plaatjies, Bruiners and Figeland families came from Bitou; The Barnados lived in The Crags; The Windvogels lived in Wittedrift;
  • All the rest of them later moved here from other places.
  • All those who now reside in New Horizons, lived on the St. Peters grounds, (St. Peters Anglican church owned lots of ground in the CBD. That’s where George Langdown lived and refused to move.
  • St. Peter’s ground spread all the way from Church Street, right down to Poortjies)
  • Most of the Coloured families who did not have their own homes, lived on the St. Peter’s grounds, before being moved to Ashleigh farm, opposite Weldon farm, but later given the name New Horizons township.
  • Most of the Coloured people were fishermen, ghillies (a ghilly would carry your fishing gear and help with bait etc), they were also carpenters, builders, and their wives were domestic workers, and later a very few of them also became teachers, nurses and police officers.
  • All the shop assistants in Plett were white people.
  • The top positions in Plett for white people were: working in butcheries, weighing the meat. (How times have changed).
  • Those days they had to weigh the sugar, weigh the rice, and weigh the flour. Even weigh the tomatoes, my mom says.
  • Nothing was pre-packed. It was weighed, put in a paper bag, and sealed with selotape. (very environmentally friendly. I wonder who invented the stupid plastic shopping bag)
  • And the Coloured people had to call the white shop assistants “Mies” and “Baas”.
  • (If you don’t understand Afrikaans, “Mies” is “Miss”, and “Baas” is “Boss”)
  • Isn’t that ironic?
  • The one who serves, is actually the servant, but has to be called “Baas”?
  • In fact they were the servants, because they were the shop assistants, so they had to serve you.
  • Nowadays you don’t see a white shop assistant. They could be floor managers perhaps, but most shop assistants nowadays are Coloured or Black.
  • The first public buildings in New Horizons were: (Theodora Creche – donated by Doctor Andrew Roberts and his wife Sally Roberts (the parents of Dinah Eppel, and the Roberts family home was where Down to Earth restaurant is now, right on the Bitou river) Theodora crèche opened its doors on 1 Aug. 1968 and Shirley Harker was appointed the principal;
  • Formosa Primary was opened on 1 July 1969 and when my grandfather Michael William Dunn died, Reginald Cariolissen the husband of Dora Harker became the principal;
  • At that time New Horizons had no shop, no church, and just a few private homes. They had church in a classroom in the school.

My granny’s new house in New Horizons was obviously not as spacious as her home in kloof Street, but still she loved gardening. And I remember playing on that lawn as a child as well.

The sad moment when the house in Kloof Street was demolished, to build  the Melvilles Corner parking area in 2002.

(That made news headlines, seeing that my granddad built the house in 1937, then Victoria Cottage became the first Publicity and Tourism Bureau in 1991, and the Belhambra tree that was planted on that property in 1881 when plots were demarcated in the Plett CBD, also had to be uprooted)

(When they demolished that house, the mayor Euan Wildeman told my dad that we would be paid out a land claim, but we did not get a cent from Bitou Municipality or from anyone. We stood and watched them demolish Victoria Cottage and my dad took the photos)

  • There were obviously many sanctions against our country because of the Group Areas Act and because of the Apartheid laws.
  • South Africa was not allowed to trade with the major countries of the world.
  • I saw at the Opening of the Plett Afridocs festival, how Miriam Makeba herself encouraged the UN to implement sanctions against South Africa, and how she only moved back from Belgium after Madiba’s release in 1990.
  • It’s really sad, when you think about it.
  • And the exact year when those sanctions were finally lifted against our country in 1992, the first ever “non-White” Miss South Africa was my cousin, Amy, also a direct descendant of the Harkers of Plettenberg Bay. (I told you that Scottish and Zulu blood makes a beautiful mix)
  • I also have relatives all over the world, because during the 1970’s, many of the more affluent Coloured families decided to rather immigrate, because they were not willing to expose their children to the rife Apartheid laws and segregated education.
  • So other Harker descendants abroad at this moment are: The Philander family in New York; The Alison family in England and Germany; and the Brookes family in Queensland in Australia.
  • I visited my relatives in Australia about 20 years later in 1999, and I visited a few other relatives abroad as well. This year I was in Germany and Austria, visiting my cousin who is married there. I went for her mom’s 80th.
  • How blessed and fortunate I am, and all thanks to the Apartheid government, that chased so many of my relatives abroad. Because they are doing so much better there today, than they would ever have done here. And I have the bonus opportunity of traveling there whenever I like.
  • The Land Claims by the Coloured folk of Plett:

Even a land claim of a very small remuneration per family, will never be able to make up, what so many families went through, and how many losses they had, because of forced removals out of their homes

My granny received R19 000 for her property in Kloof Street, which was worth millions.

Further the government gave each one of the Harker and Dunn families an amount of R30 000, for properties worth far more than millions of rands. There is simply no comparison.

I remember when my dad got his R30 000 and had to give half to his brother Derrick in Johannesburg. Uncle Derrick then gave R5 000 to each of his 3 children. So to get R5 000 for something that could have given you millions in return, is just unbelievable.

Yet the family still looks back on the beautiful memories with gratefulness.

  • I end with a few Anecdotes:
  • How the Apartheid years in Plett does not only have bad memories but many good ones to many coloured families;
  • My dad who was born in Plett in 1938 had many white friends here in Plett. (Plett residents: Marie Monk and Joan van Rensburg knew my dad before the Apartheid years and they grew up together as peers and school friends, just to mention a few locals, also the late Dulcie Oosthuizen . And even throughout the Apartheid years, they, and many others, remained loyal to each other as true friends. Nothing stopped them)
  • One other little story of my Dad is: How he refused to help someone carry a heavy article into a “Whites only” section at the Old Post Office; (every shop in Plett had 2 entrances)
  • And the shops that did not have two entrances, the non-Whites had to buy through the window
  • My dad laughed a lot when he told me these things, and to me who did not grow up during those times, it sounds like total madness
  • I quote the following from page 76 of the book “Cry the Beloved Country by Alan Paton – the book that was written in London in September 1948 and been banned in South Africa because of Apartheid”:
  • “There is no time to talk of hedges and fields, or the beauties of our country. Cry our beloved Country. Cry for the broken tribe, Cry for the law and the custom. Cry for the man who is killed, for the women and children bereaved. Cry, the beloved country, because these things are not yet – at an end. The sun pours down on the earth, on our lovely land, that man cannot enjoy…There are voices crying – what must be done. A hundred, a thousand voices. But what do they help if one seeks for counsel, for one cries for this, one cries for that, and another cries for something which is neither this nor that. ”
  • As I mentioned, many of the light-skinned coloured people like my grandmother Bertha, were offered 2 ID documents. On her one ID she was white and could get special privileges. But then the family had to wait outside. And on the other ID she was coloured.
  • Well, My granny was also offered a renewable permit, to remain in her house in Kloof Street, because of her skin colour, whereas the other coloured folk were not. So she refused, out of loyalty to the rest of her family.
  • I was also told how the name “Bossiesgif” derived from the words “Bishop’s Gift” (as I mentioned this on a previous Historical society meeting in March 2018). (because most of the land that the coloured and Black people were living on, belonged to the Anglican church diocese).
  • The predominantly Afrikaans-speaking Coloured and Black folk could not pronounce the word “Bishops Gift” so it became “Bossiesgif”
  • In Conclusion:
  • I firmly believe that what our political leaders are endorsing currently, namely “The expropriation of land without compensation” is totally wrong.
  • Whether it was done by law, or under the Group Areas, or whether it is done the way it is being done in our country at this moment in time, it still remains wrong.
  • Even according to world Constitutions, and according to world religious Scriptures, it remains wrong to take something which does not belong to you.
  • Let us, as a unified Plett, stand up for what is right, let us stand together as different communities, and let us also continue to preserve what is ours, and what many of our ancestors have worked hard for.
  • Not through toyi-toying, not through strikes, not through riots, not through damaging and breaking down, but by proudly building up what is ours
  • I end with a quotation from page 261 of “Cry the beloved Country”:
  • “And now for all the people of South Africa, our beloved country – Nkosi Sikileli iAfrika. God save Africa. That men would walk upright in the land where they were born, and be free to use the fruits of the earth. What was there evil in it? Yet men were afraid, with a fear that was deep, deep in the heart. A fear so deep that it hid their kindness, or brought it out with fierceness and anger, and hid it behind fierce and frowning eyes. And such fear could never be cast out, except by love…”
A History of the Nuclear Struggle in South Africa

A History of the Nuclear Struggle in South Africa

18 January 2018, Mike Kantey, National Chairperson Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (CANE)

Download the presentation

Atoms for Peace

Address by Mr Dwight D. Eisenhower, President of the United States of America, to the 470th Plenary Meeting of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, 8 December 1953

“The United States knows that peaceful power from atomic energy is no dream of the future. The capability already proved, is here today. Who can doubt that, if the entire body of the world’s scientists and engineers had adequate amounts of fissionable material with which to test and develop their ideas, this capability would rapidly be transformed into universal, efficient and economic usage?”

Early resistance to nuclear weapons

The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) March of 1958

Going back in time

Historical forces drove the South African Government’s choice of nuclear technology

1961 South Africa gets a research reactor from the United States
1977 Nuclear weapons test site spotted in the Kalahari
1979 Ballistic missile tested with Israel near Prince Edward Island

Like Siamese Twins

The origins of nuclear energy are intimately tied to the origins of the nuclear weapons industry


Equipment failures and worker mistakes contributed to a loss of coolant and a partial core meltdown at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Power Station , 15 km southeast of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in the United States of America. Although no fatal results have been attributed to the near meltdown, Stephen Wing et al have shown some indication of elevated cancers in the wake of the accident. (“A Re-evaluation of Cancer Incidence near the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plant:The Collision of Evidence and Assumptions” in Environmental Health Perspectives, Volume 105, Number 1, January 1997

Meanwhile, back in South Africa …
PW Botha’s nuclear industry obtains German and French support

  • Koeberg Nuclear Power  Station
  • Pelindaba and Valindaba (enrichment and fuel fabrication)
  • Advena Central Laboratories (nuclear weapons production)
  • Vaalputs (nuclear  dump site)

A Cold War ideology of “Total Onslaught” leads to an Apartheid State of “Total Strategy”

  1. Koeberg Nuclear Power Station, 28 km north of Cape Town
  2. Pelindaba, west of Pretoria
  3. Brazil, near Kommaggas in Namaqualand
  4. Bantamsklip. near Gansbaai in the Western Cape.
  5. Thyspunt, near Cape St Francis in the Eastern Cape 

The Road to the PBMR

  • 1981-1986 Kelvin Kemm, a potential beneficiary of the PBMR through Silver Protea Technologies, is departmental head of Armscor from 1981 to 1986
  • 1989 Johan Slabber joins Armscor electronic systems supplier Integrated Systems Technology (IST), along with other AEC staff members
  • 1990 Armscor appoints IST to do a feasibility study on the PBMR as a source of propulsion in a nuclear submarine; under project leader Chris Oberholzer.
  • 1992 IST receives Armscor approval to investigate the PBMR’s commercial potential through Dieter Matzner.
  • 1993 Eskom  “investigates’” the PBMR option, claiming that  “building a new traditional Pressurised Water Reactor (PWR) such as Koeberg would be prohibitively expensive

Getting into GEAR: Alec strides forth

  • 1994  National Nuclear Policy Workshop, hosted by the ANC’s Science & Technology Desk (then chaired by Roger Jardine, later head of nuclear build beneficiary Aveng), calls for a review of the nuclear industry.
  • 1995 GEAR macro-economic policy chosen as the sole determinant of industrial strategy, including the principles of “mineral beneficiation” and the importance of “foreign direct investment” (FDI), leading to the encouragement of energy-intensive large smelters and metal-working plants.
  • 1997 A Joint-Venture Agreement is signed between Eskom and IST Holdings (Pty) Ltd to “build and license PBMR power plants in South Africa and other parts of the world”. The shares in the JV  will be 51% Eskom and 49% IST.
  • 1999 Alec Erwin becomes Minister of Trade & Industries and the PBMR’s official champion as along with Coega  as DTI’s  flagship for an aluminium smelter, powered by the PBMR, with a further commitment to purchase 30 reactors (six each for the five designated sites), and a drive for export sales

2001 COSATU Resolution
Passed unanimously at its 7th National Congress

Enter AREVA and the French Connection

  • French nuclear industry giant Areva is offered “industry technology rights and cooperation” in  the PBMR reactor programme.
  • Areva says the deal could include fresh fuel supply, waste management and power transmission & distribution.
  • CEO Anne Lauvergneon is appointed to the President’s Economic Advisory Committee.

The State of the Nation, 2007

  • President Mbeki commits to the nuclear industry in 2007.
  • Nuclear Energy Policy approved by Cabinet on 8 August 2007,
  • The lack of adequate consultation leads to the founding of the Coalition Against Nuclear Energy (CANE), whose founder members include the Namaqualand community, the Pelindaba Working Group, and the Koeberg Alert Alliance, among others 

Before the Crash of 2008

  • The PBMR having been fairly well abandoned in the short term, tenders were issued for either a Toshiba-Westinghouse AP1000 or an Areva EPR, then under stuttering construction in Finland. Projected costs of these monsters were about R120-billion each.
  • In his 2007 Budget Speech, Trevor Manuel warned that “in an economic discussion, it is not appropriate to throw numbers around without a sense of rigour or without some interrogation”
  • Here’s what the August  and London-based Financial Times  had to say:

    The [UK] government’s energy review team … concludes that by 2020 nuclear power will remain more expensive than wind generation and about the same cost as electricity produced from power stations burning specialist green energy crops, unless electricity prices rise or it receives state financial help …

Christmas 2008: Eskom throws out the nuclear baby with the radioactive bathwater

  • Long-standing spokesman Tony Stott indicated that Eskom would no longer be driving the programme:
  • The future of nuclear is bigger than just Eskom now …The government will now play a bigger role in taking it forward because the nuclear build is important for the development of the country’s capabilities.
  • Former Director General of the Department of Public Enterprises, Portia Molefe states that a “nuclear task team” would develop “a framework for procuring a nuclear technology partner to support both the nuclear power station build programme and the associated industrialisation process.” 

Current decision-making processes with regard to “Nuclear-1”

  • The current implementing agent for electricity production is Eskom, which is currently governed by the Department of Public Enterprise .
  • The erection of a nuclear power station cannot proceed without two steps: 
    1. The Environmental Impact Assessment (DEAT) 
    2. The Nuclear Licensing Process (the NNR)
  •   The Department of Environmental Affairs recently granted permission for a nuclear power plant of unstated origin to be erected at the Koeberg site.

Civil society and public involvement

Deficits in accountability and transparency

  • Despite being utterly flawed, the Integrated Energy Plan and Integrated Resource Policy were hastily approved by Cabinet.
  • Substantive opposition to nuclear energy was overruled by “policy considerations”.
  • The nuclear energy policy itself was drawn up in defiance of the ANC’s own constituency and without adequate consultation among the broader public.
  • The Environmental Impact Assessment process was only intelligible to a handful of the reasonably informed and has been taken on appeal.
  • Much of the information selected and presented as “science” is provided by the proponent (Eskom) and many of the “scientists” have been employed by the proponent in the past, or hope to be employed again, so there is no sense in “biting the hand that feeds you”.
  • The decision-making process itself is equally opaque and no real public justification is ever given for decisions taken, other than vague generalities and abstractions: “it’s good for the country”, “it will create jobs”, and so on.

A Russian WWER under construction

Our demands

  • Since the National Nuclear Regulator has a critical role to play in monitoring and supervising the industry itself, from the cradle to the grave, it must be strengthened.
  • The dumping of nuclear waste in Namaqualand should be halted with immediate effect.
  • All information relevant to the current Nuclear-1 procurement process must be released without further ado.
  • The precise nature of the technology choice must first be identified before any EIA is possible 

The future is brighter, without nuclear power