Jaap Evert ABRAHAMSE | Menne KOSIAN | Rowin van LANEN
(Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands, Amersfoort, The Netherlands)
Keywords: Mutual heritage. The Netherlands. South Africa. Dutch neo-renaissance architecture.
The Dutch were a seafaring nation, and the Netherlands became a colonial power, adding Surinam and Indonesia to their territory. Dutch colonial heritage has been studied extensively. In South Africa, the Dutch presence was not as lasting. Their Cape Colony fell in English hands, causing an exodus to the Transvaal. The sovereign Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek (ZAR) was one of the Boer states battling the Zulus, the Sotho – and the British Empire. The ZAR won the first Anglo-Boer War (1880-81) and during a brief interlude they could dream of a Boer Arcadia. The discovery of gold in 1885 provided them with the means to modernize the country and its infrastructure. Dutch architects, engineers and planners were hired to develop this ‘Golden Republic’; from an isolated frontier settlement, its capital Pretoria turned into a modern European-style capital. In only fifteen years a very interesting, but undervalued building production was created from scratch – the only link from the Transvaal plains to the nearest harbour being a 600-kilometer ox-wagon trail. This is not colonial heritage: the ZAR was an independent state. It is controversial because of the involvement of black and coloured people, and the continuous state of conflict. Most Boers even loathed the Dutch, the creators of their buildings. It has hardly been studied; first the Transvaal was claimed by the British, and while the rest of the world decolonized, South Africa chose for institutionalized Apartheid and isolation. In the present society, facing economic instability and violence, its survival is uncertain, as no one seems to claim its ownership. The Cultural Heritage Agency is involved in research of this heritage, which covers a crucial chapter in the bloody history of South Africa. In this paper we will argue that data collection, documentation, and research are crucial, whatever happens to these buildings.
Relevance for the conference: This paper is about an international cooperation between states and ngo’s to research and protect controversial heritage
Relevance for the session: This paper deals with virtually unstudied controversial heritage that is between a rock and a hard place as no one is really claiming its ownership.
Innovation: This is multidisciplinary research of a topic that can only be studied effectively by a multi-national team.
• Jaap Evert Abrahamse, ‘The making of an architect. Dutch émigré architects to the ZAR and the context of architectural education in the Netherlands 1850-1900’, Karel A. Bakker, Nicolas J. Clarke & Roger C. Fisher (eds.), Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens. A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa, Pretoria 2014, 6-21.
• Jaap Evert Abrahamse & Nicolas Clarke, ‘The Lure of the Golden Republic. Architectural exchanges between the Netherlands and the ZAR 1887-1900’, Karel A. Bakker, Nicholas J. Clarke & Roger C. Fisher (eds.), Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens. A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa, Pretoria 2014, 25-47.