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Editorial Jul 2012

Previous Editorials

Cape Town’s Loss  - another  town’s gain. ( ’n Boer maak ‘n plan was never a truer saying! )

There is no doubt that this month  yet another grey cloud settled over Cape Town’s Cultural Heritage. Though still inadequate, our City and Province have the greatest heritage resource capacity of all South Africa’s Provinces and yet we continue to see our heritage assets  being lost, or worse still, destroyed.

Our Mother City is not just the oldest surviving formal settlement in the country it is also the richest in terms of cultural heritage assets, which once lost, are invariably never recovered.

However, Cape Town’s current heritage cloud has a distant ‘silver lining’, which is remarkable and which gives heritage societies like ours hope that cultural heritage conservation is still alive and well, though hidden in communities like ours where there’s still a chance that it might be saved.

The silver lining to which I refer is around Villiersdorp, a small town which is proud of its heritage and refuses to lose what it has and is anxious to acquire more.

Villiersdorp’s latest acquisition is the Steam Tug the “Alwyn Vintcent”, the last steam vessel in South Africa, which once served Cape Town’s Harbour for many years. Built in 1958 as a ‘pilot tug’ in Venice it was finally retired from harbour service in 1983.

The Alwyn Vintcent would have been scrapped were it not for a ‘stubborn’ Harbour Master and the enthusiasm of a group of Villiersdorp farmers who are obsessed with engines and

Vintage tractors, and refuse to see them fade away. Cape Town’s V&A Harbour Master, Capt Steven Bentley, has as much salt water in his veins as the Villiersdorp farmers have SAE 40 oil in theirs, and they make a perfect combination.
Together they have come up with a conservation plan  which will allow our children and grandchildren to see what steam power was all about, and maybe one day we may even see the Alwyn Vintcent afloat  on Tweewaterskloof Dam? If you don’t believe me, you don’t know those Villiersdorp farmers!

The Steam Tug  ‘Alwyn Vintcent’

Conserving our heritage requires commitment, dedication, resolve and hard work but it can be exciting, rewarding and  fun too. Andy Selfe, on the tug’s arrival in Villiersdorp wrote:-

 “So came the end of the Holiday of a Lifetime; four days along the road with the last steam vessel on the South African Register of Shipping, saved from the scrapper’s torch by a Bunch of Crazy Farmers! There is no way such an experience can be repeated!
                                                                                              Andy Selfe   1st July 2012

Cape Town’s seafaring heritage was founded on the sailing ships of old, but alas not one survives in Cape Town to show to our children and grandchildren. The steam era followed and South Africa’s Mail-Ships were once flagships of a commercial fleet. However, today South Africa has no registered commercial vessels even though it is on the World’s busiest route. There must be a strong relationship between our maritime heritage  and the jobs and economic activity it once stimulated. Like many others, those jobs have moved overseas so perhaps we must look deeper into our heritage legacy for the reasons. There may be some valuable lessons for us to rediscover!

Hout Bay Heritage Assn --  Helping to build Community Pride

You can read more about the Tug at http://wctec.co.za/andy/andy2.html

and follow the latest developments at

Pictures:- thanks to Villiersdorp Engine and Tractor Club.

Andy Selfe, Elgin engineer, farmer and ‘heritage zealot’ (left)  with one of his fellow enthusiasts after the four day journey from Cape Town. Congratulations Villiersdorp on your fantastic achievement which is a great example to all.  The skippers of those long lost tall ships of our history will be smiling!  

Well Done Villiersdorp